The Bucs, continuing to open up more salary-cap room in advance of free agency, are opting not to exercise the 2018 option on veteran center Joe Hawley.
Hawley, 29, started 29 games at center in 2015-16 but was inactive for all but four games in 2017, kept as proven depth to insulate the Bucs against injury. He was due to make $2.5-million this fall, and still could return at a smaller salary but will get a chance to test the market as an unrestricted free agent first.
The option is a new wrinkle in the Bucs' contract model — safety Chris Conte, special-teams captain Josh Robinson and tackle Demar Dotson have the same option in their contracts for 2018, with no decisions made yet there. The option allows the Bucs to walk away from a veteran player, but since the contract technically ran out, their departure still counts toward the net gain/loss that determines compensatory draft pick allotment.
The Bucs have other decisions to make on the interior offensive line — Kevin Pamphile and Evan Smith, who split time at left guard, are both unrestricted free agents. Ali Marpet, who started two years at guard before moving to center last year, is entering the final year of his rookie contract.
The Bucs have already cut two veterans in running back Doug Martin and defensive tackle Chris Baker, and the three moves add about $13-million in salary-cap space, giving Tampa Bay about $73-million entering free agency.