NFC South: E.J. Wilson

All four NFC South general managers have been doing some very astute salary-cap maneuvering when it comes to the veteran minimum salary benefit -- even Tampa Bay’s Mark Dominik, who seems to think the word “veteran’’ applies to anyone who has reached his 22nd birthday.

The minimum-salary benefit is designed to give teams that sign veterans a salary-cap break. It can be used on any player with four or more accrued seasons, who signs for the minimum base salary, which varies depending on the number of years the player has in the league. As a general rule, the cap hit for those players is $525,000, even though the player might actually earn far more in base salary. The cap hit can also escalate a bit if there is a signing bonuses involved in the deal.

Let’s use New Orleans safety Pierson Prioleau, a 12-year veteran to demonstrate because he the highest-possible minimum base salary. Prioleau is scheduled to earn $910,000 in base salary. He also got a $50,000 signing bonus. Under normal circumstances, Prioleau would count $960,000 million against the salary cap. But the benefit drops his cap figure to just $575,000.

The Saints also used the veteran minimum benefit on offensive lineman Jordan Black, linebacker Clint Ingram, safety Chris Reis, receiver Courtney Roby, cornerback Leigh Torrence, running back Patrick Cobbs, tackle George Foster and tackle Alex Barron. In the case of Barron, general manager Mickey Loomis did a very nice job of guarding his team against the cap. Barron’s deal, which was for $685,000, was structured with a split salary, meaning his salary and cap hit drop dramatically if he’s placed on injured reserved or waived while injured.

Barron currently is on the injured-reserve list and his cap figure has dropped to $228,000. It could be lowered even more if the Saints release Barron with an injury settlement.

Carolina general manager Marty Hurney was almost as active as Loomis with the benefit. He used it on six players – safety Sean Considine, quarterback Derek Anderson, linebacker Omar Gaither, receiver Legedu Naanee, cornerback E.J. Wilson and cornerback Cletis Gordon.

Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff used it twice and got some big savings because both of his veterans have a lot of years under their belts. Tight end Reggie Kelly and linebacker Mike Peterson each got $910,000 base salaries with $50,000 signing bonuses. Kelly and Peterson each are counting only $575,000 against the cap.

Tampa Bay, which is poised to have the league’s youngest opening-day roster, used the benefit on only one player. That’s defensive tackle John McCargo. His base salary is $685,000 with no signing bonus, so his cap figure is $525,000. The Bucs also protected themselves against injury to McCargo. His deal also includes a split salary, which would pay him only $353,000 if he is injured.
TAMPA, Fla. -- If LeGarrette Blount continues on Thursday night’s pace, he’ll need the NFL to expand to a 1,000-game schedule in order to have his second straight 1,000-yard rushing season.

I don’t mean to single out Blount, but the running back is as fitting a symbol as any of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their exhibition loss (31-14) against the New England Patriots. He ran for 1 yard on four carries. Heck, on Thursday night’s pace, quarterback Josh Freeman would need almost 100 games to reach 3,000 passing yards.

Freeman completed 5 of 10 passes for 33 yards. And we could go on and on.

Yes, they were playing the mighty New England Patriots and Tom Brady played just about the entire first half. But let’s not give all the credit to New England.

“We had a couple of mistakes out there as well,’’ Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris said at halftime when New England was leading 28-0.

There were missed assignments on both sides of the ball and 10 first-half penalties that cost the Bucs 85 yards. And all this comes less than a week after the Bucs looked like potential Super Bowl contenders in the preseason opener against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Take the Kansas City game for what it’s worth and do the same with the New England game. It all tells you the preseason really doesn’t mean much. It also tells you the Bucs have some more work to accomplish before the start of the regular season.

A few more observations on the Bucs.
  • The Bucs are planning on letting outside linebacker Quincy Black wear the radio helmet because they're going to keep him on the field for passing downs. Black didn’t look too good dropping into coverage on a touchdown pass from Brady to Aaron Hernandez in the first quarter. Then again, it wasn’t like Black got any help from the safeties.
  • Rookie Mason Foster seems to be the leading candidate for the starting job at middle linebacker and part of the reason Black is wearing the radio helmet is because the Bucs plan to take Foster out in nickel situations during the regular season. They let Foster stay on the field for some passing downs against the Patriots and that didn’t go very well. Foster got hit with an unnecessary-roughness penalty for what appeared to be a helmet-to-helmet hit on Chad Ochocinco. Tyrone McKenzie still may be competing with Foster for the starting job.
  • Speaking of Ochocinco, he had no problem getting by safety Sean Jones to catch a first-quarter touchdown.
  • Defensive tackle E.J. Wilson suffered an ankle injury. The severity of the injury wasn't known right away.
  • One of the few bright spots for the Bucs was cornerback Elbert Mack. He picked off a Ryan Mallett pass and returned it for a touchdown early in the second half.
  • As long as we’re scraping for bright spots, I’ll throw out rookie defensive end Adrian Clayborn. He at least got near Brady a few times and seemed active, which is an upgrade over anything the Bucs had at defensive end last year.