Life moves quickly in the NFL. Just a few days ago, the Buccaneers won Super Bowl LV in dominant fashion. On Wednesday, they’ll have their championship parade. But while all of the celebrating is still going on, attention for many has shifted to the offseason buzz of free agency and the NFL Draft.
To fuel the free agency talk, ESPN.com writer Jeremy Fowler ranked the top 50 players available and projected their best fits in a Tuesday article (ESPN+ subscription required). In that article, Fowler named three Bucs: Chris Godwin (No. 13), Shaquil Barrett (No. 15) and Lavonte David (No. 19).
For Godwin, Fowler says that his best fit is still with Tampa Bay, going on to mention the franchise tag as a likely possibility:
“Godwin is prepared for the franchise tag this year. It’s the cleanest way for Tampa to try to keep its Super Bowl core intact. He’s too good to let leave the building. The Buccaneers have at least five key free agents and want to keep as many as possible. That process starts with Godwin.”
Considering the number of pending free agents the Bucs are likely wanting to retain this offseason, the franchise tag may make good sense for a player of Godwin’s caliber. There’s no doubt that the team will try to work out a longer-term deal for the 2017 third-round pick, but if talks are delayed until next offseason, that wouldn’t be the worst thing. Ensuring that he’s on the roster in 2021 is the biggest key. How it happens doesn’t necessarily matter as much.
As for Barrett, who played on the franchise tag in 2020, Fowler says his best fit is also with the Bucs.
“Barrett has shown Tampa enough over two seasons to become a mainstay. He was never going to duplicate his 19.5-sack performance in 2019, but he was solid this year with eight sacks and spectacular in the NFC title game with three more. The Bucs are riding the Tom Brady window, and the best way to do that is by retaining one of the game’s best pass-rushers.”
One could argue that Barrett didn’t even need a second season to prove that he should be a mainstay for the Tampa Bay defense. However, the fact that he backed up a 19.5-sack 2019 season with eight regular-season sacks and four playoff sacks in 2020 can only help his case, as he’ll be a priority for the Bucs’ front office.
The final of the three Buccaneers to appear on Fowler’s list is David, a staple of the franchise since 2012. It would be a pretty big shock to see Tampa Bay’s decision-makers let the fan favorite walk, but Fowler names the Miami Dolphins as the veteran linebacker’s best fit, while also making note of the Dallas Cowboys and Tennessee Titans being two more strong fits:
“Miami’s defensive picture is nearly complete, and the image of David flying around with Jerome Baker at inside linebacker should excite coach Brian Flores. David comes from a 4-3 but has the flexibility and athleticism to play in Miami’s 3-4 base. David is a Miami Northwestern High legend, too. And Miami has $21.7 million in cap space.
Dallas makes sense here, too, but the Cowboys have money tied to Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch. Many teams with a 4-3 are either saddled with bloated contracts at the position or have an emerging young player who needs to be paid. Watch for Tennessee, which could have a need if Jayon Brown walks and knows what David can do.”
David has been a Buc for nine seasons, and at 31 years old, he’s still playing at a high level. Seeing him in a different uniform at any point in his career would undoubtedly be strange, and to be clear, Fowler isn’t saying the Bucs are letting him go. He’s simply mentioning other teams as good fits.
The only other player mentioned as a potential fit for the Bucs is veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson, who has been linked to the organization ever since Bruce Arians and Todd Bowles—his former coaches in Arizona—arrived in 2019. Fowler calls the Raiders the best spot for Peterson, but says to keep an eye on the Bucs due to that existing connection.
It’ll be interesting to see how Tampa Bay handles free agency coming off of its Super Bowl victory. Based off of Sunday’s postgame interviews and ensuing media spots in the days after, it definitely sounded like the hope is to keep this group together. Mike Evans has even told the team to use some of his money in order to keep the team together, head coach Bruce Arians said. So, don’t be surprised if the Bucs manage to keep most of their Lombardi Trophy-winning squad together.