This Bucs Nation Reader Award is going to hit a little bit different as we’re rewarding for the past but looking forward as it pertains to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers roster.
We’ve already done the Newcomer of the Year, Offensive Play of the Year, Defensive Play of the Year, and Game of the Year. Now, we’re looking at the pending free-agent Bucs Nation feels the team can least afford to lose.
Here are the candidates, in alphabetical order.
OLB, SHAQUIL BARRETT
Betting on yourself can be exhilarating and terrifying all at the same time. On one hand, you get the chance to live out your dream and maximize your potential. On the other, you get a chance to fail and prove all your doubters right.
Shaquil Barrett went ahead and bet on himself following the 2018 NFL Season leaving the Denver Broncos in search of an opportunity to earn a starting job. The opportunity is all Todd Bowles promised him, and it was enough.
Bad news for the Bucs this year was the fact Barrett’s sack total dropped 11.5 sacks from 2019 to 2020. The good news is, he still had eight of them.
In the playoffs, he had four more and hit opposing quarterbacks eight times in total. Aaron Rodgers specifically got to know Barrett far too well, taking three of those sacks himself.
Stepping in to replace Barrett in the roster’s current state, would be third-year outside linebacker, Anthony Nelson. In the 2021 NFL Draft, a prospect like Georgia’s Azeez Ojulari.
ILB, LAVONTE DAVID
From an emotional standpoint, this might the Bucs player most fans would hate to see leave the most. It took nine NFL seasons for Lavonte David to find the postseason, but he can say now he’s undefeated in the postseason and he’s a Super Bowl Champion.
What a year. He’s still criminally underrated after being snubbed for both Pro Bowl and All-Pro recognition. If there’s a team who shouldn’t be undervaluing David, its Tampa Bay. But does it mean they can afford to pay him what he wants? Therein lies the real question.
In 2020, David played all sixteen regular season games and all four playoff games. Young stud Devin White wasn’t able to say the same, and in two years time he’s missed more games than David has in the last three.
A defensive captain once again, David finished the season second in tackles, tackles for loss, fumble recoveries, and forced fumbles.
If they lose him, the Buccaneers would look to Kevin Minter when looking at the current roster, or they could draft a prospect like Nick Bolton out of Missouri as Daniel Jeremiah recently suggested.
WR, CHRIS GODWIN
Ronde Barber might be the only thing standing between Chris Godwin’s chances of being the best third-round pick in Buccaneers history if he plays out his career with the team. Of course, other third round picks have certainly had a profound impact on the Super Bowl roster as well.
Still, Godwin has only gotten better as his career has continued, and even though he struggled with injuries throughout the season, he still came through with 840-yards receiving and seven touchdowns.
If there’s one thing to make Bucs fans feel better about the idea of losing Godwin to free-agency, it’s Mike Evans. Scotty Miller has looked really good in two short years as well, and Antonio Brown figures to be a strong return candidate if Godwin leaves town.
Still, neither of those two can replicate the versatility Godwin presents, so losing him is not something to be taken lightly.
Looking at the current roster of players under contract for 2021, it’s Miller who steps up into the second receiver conversation while 2020 rookie Tyler Johnson certainly could challenge for a bigger role as well.
In the draft, Florida receiver Kadarius Toney has been fun to imagine in a Buccaneers uniform, though he likely won’t last for them to take him at pick 32.
Rashod Bateman from Minnesota is a young receiver who could look like a number two guy with Tom Brady throwing to him if they go that direction. Or Tampa Bay could try their luck at hitting third-round gold again, targeting someone like Nico Collins from Michigan if he lasts that long.
TE, ROB GRONKOWSKI
Who wouldn’t want them some more Rob Gronkowski? The blocking tight end turned receiver had arguably his best game of the year when it counted most and celebrated not only another Super Bowl win with his good friend Tom Brady, but also had his first sixteen game regular season since 2011.
It came with perfect timing too as the Buccaneers lost O.J. Howard early and had to rely on the combination of Gronk and Cam Brate to get them through the season and playoffs.
Brate and Howard are both under contract for next season, so if it’s not Gronkowski the team seems to be in good position talent wise. The concern of course, is going to be Howard’s health.
While each injury he’s suffered seems to be its own unique fluke injury for Howard, he’s missed one-third of his possible games through just four seasons.
In the 2021 NFL Draft, Florida’s Kyle Pitts represents the top tight end in the class, but he’ll go far too high for the Buccaneers. After Pitts, the next guy off the board in the group may be Miami’s Brevin Jordan or Hunter Long from Boston College. Both are day two guys, and still too rich for my blood, but given Howard’s injury history and the absence of Gronk they could be in play.
DL, NDAMUKONG SUH
Ndamukong Suh is already on record saying he wants to come back to Tampa Bay for at least 2021, if not longer.
Still, it doesn’t mean he’s coming back. The defensive front held it’s own with Suh being the focal point for offensive lines after Vita Vea departed, but really took it up a notch when Vea returned for the NFC Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers.
On his own, Suh came up with 44 tackles and 9 tackles for loss which ranked him fourth on the team. He also had six sacks, again ranking fourth for the Buccaneers.
Coaches and teammates alike have raved about Suh’s veteran leadership and presence on the field as well as in the meeting rooms. Plus, you have to believe Brady would much rather see Suh on the sidelines when he’s on the field instead of lining up against Donovan Smith.
According to the current Bucs depth chart Jeremiah Ledbetter would be the man stepping up to fill the void left by Suh. Of course, they could also target a free-agent or look to draft a lineman like Christian Barmore from Alabama this Spring.
There are your nominees and now it’s time for Bucs Nation to choose. I included depth chart data and NFL Draft prospects because I feel some of the decision you make should be made based off potential replacements for the players lost as well.
But it’s your vote, so use your own criteria as you will!
Who is the Buccaneers Most Valuable Free-Agent?
This poll is closed
OLB, Shaquil Barrett
ILB, Lavonte David
WR, Chris Godwin
TE, Rob Gronkowski
DL, Ndamukong Suh