Kellen Winslow on the hot seat?

We had a question in Friday’s NFC South chat about the future of tight end Kellen Winslow with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

A reader was critical of Winslow’s production in the 2011 season and asked if the Buccaneers might part ways with him. I said that wouldn’t totally surprise me.

Now, as I look at the details of Winslow’s contract, I’d be even less surprised if the Bucs released him. They don’t really need salary-cap space because they already have about $68 million, thanks in large part to unused cap space from 2011 that has been carried over.

But they could instantly free up another $4.8 million in cap space by releasing Winslow. That $4.8 million figure is what Winslow’s cap figure is slated to be in 2012 and the Bucs wouldn’t suffer any cap hit if they got rid of Winslow. That’s because the contract Winslow signed after the Bucs traded for him in 2009 was structured in a unique way.

He did not receive any signing bonus, so there is no outstanding pro-rated bonus money on a contract that runs through 2014. Instead of a signing bonus, the Bucs guaranteed about $20 million in base salary in the first three years of Winslow’s deal.

Winslow is scheduled to earn $3.3 million in base salary this season, $4.5 million in 2013 and $5.5 million in 2014. He also has some roster bonuses, workout bonuses and incentives clauses in each of the remaining years of his deals. But the Bucs are off the hook for the base salaries, incentives and bonuses if they were to cut Winslow before the start of their offseason program.

Winslow will turn 29 in July and he has a history of knee problems. He did not have a great 2011 season. He had 75 catches for 763 yards and two touchdowns. I’m sure new coach Greg Schiano and his staff will be watching Winslow’s film from last season very closely as they evaluate their current roster.

If they don’t think Winslow still can produce at a high level, it’s possible the Bucs could release him and add almost another $5 million to their load of salary-cap room. However, it should be noted Winslow might have one important voice in his corner. That's Butch Davis, who has joined the Bucs as a special assistant. Davis recruited Winslow to the University of Miami, shortly before he left to coach the Cleveland Browns. Davis also drafted Winslow in Cleveland in 2004. But Winslow and Davis weren't together for long in Cleveland. Winslow suffered a broken leg two games into his rookie season and Davis was fired 11 games into that season.