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Free Agent Spotlight: Linebacker, Denzel Perryman

Our free agent spotlight series continues today with a look at a linebacker who is plenty familiar with the state of Florida.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers-Training Camp Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

This offseason, the Buccaneers will be doing what they can to first re-sign their own free agents and then—more than likely—look to make some bargain depth signings. It’s a departure from the splash-making offseasons that Tampa Bay has gotten used to, but it’s still going to be an interesting few months for the Super Bowl LV champions.

As the Bucs are considering their options on a day-to-day basis, that’s what we’re doing here at Bucs Nation. Who will the team go after to fill what little gaps it has? When it comes to the defense, may a new veteran linebacker be in the cards? If Lavonte David departs, the Bucs will need a replacement. But even if he doesn’t, adding some solid depth can’t hurt.

As we continue our free agent spotlight series today, we’re taking a look at former Los Angeles Chargers linebacker Denzel Perryman.

Denzel Perryman’s Career Thus Far

Los Angeles Chargers v Miami Dolphins Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

After a successful four-year career at the University of Miami that saw him total 351 tackles (240 solo), 27 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, two interceptions, six forced fumbles and eight passes defended, Perryman was drafted in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the San Diego Chargers. Taken with the No. 48 overall pick, the two-time First-Team All-ACC selection got his career off to a solid start. He played in 14 games as a rookie (starting nine) and finished the year with 73 tackles (64 solo), eight tackles for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble. He followed that debut with 72 tackles (56 solo), eight tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception in 2016.

Perryman missed a few games here and there in his first two seasons, but injuries really hit him in the 2017 and 2018 seasons. Ankle surgery early in the 2017 season limited him to just seven games, while an LCL injury and a hamstring surgery in 2018 allowed him to play just nine games. Ever since those injury-riddled years, Perryman hasn’t really made his way completely back. He played decently well in 2019, though he played just 14 games (10 starts). In 2020, the Coral Gables product played more of a rotational role, complementing younger guys in the middle of the Los Angeles defense. His 83.3 Pro Football Focus grade—a grade you should always take with a grain of salt—indicates that he played well when he was on the field. Now 28, Perryman is a free agent that Chargers Wire calls “on the fringe” in terms of whether or not he should stick around in L.A.

Why It Works

There are a few ways to look at Perryman. On the plus side, he’s an excellent run stopper. He has good instincts, is a good tackler and works well coming downhill to get to the ball carrier. He has displayed an ability to get in the backfield, especially early in his career. Over his first two seasons, he totaled 16 tackles for loss, four sacks and five quarterback hits. And in more of a rotational role this past season, he picked up a sack, three tackles for loss and two quarterback hits. Just last year, his PFF run defense grade (again, grain of salt) was the third-best among all linebackers in the league. That’s pretty impressive, and it certainly seems that Perryman would fit well with Tampa Bay’s league-leading rush defense.

There’s no doubt that the former Miami Hurricane can be still be a productive NFL linebacker late in his 20s, even if there have been perceived limitations with his coverage ability over the years. Some believe him to be better suited as a two-down linebacker rather than a full-throttle three-down guy. But what if the Bucs don’t need him to be any more than that? If Lavonte David returns and plays alongside Devin White in 2021, Perryman wouldn’t be the worst backup—especially with Kevin Minter also hitting free agency. And with a pretty solid chance that he’ll come at a manageable cost (more on that later), Tampa Bay may very well be able to add the former Charger while staying under the cap.

But...

Perryman has never been able to live up to his potential as an every-down, always-reliable middle linebacker. He’s been great against the run and has improved pretty substantially in coverage, but the question remains: Can you rely on him to be your guy? The jury may be out on that. Even if he were to only sign on as a two-down depth piece for the Bucs, the off chance that he would have to play a bigger role due to injury may be cause for concern.

Of course, it’s not like he can’t be serviceable, but it’s hard not to think he would feel like a step down from Minter, who has done an excellent job as a backup over the last two years thanks in large part to his familiarity with Todd Bowles’ defense. Perryman doesn’t have that same familiarity with Tampa Bay’s defense, plus he has been playing middle linebacker in a 4-3 for the Chargers over the last few years. Scheme-wise, he may not be an ideal fit.

Plus, Perryman does have a history with injuries. He has missed 27 games over his six NFL seasons and has yet to play a full 16 games. If you’re signing a veteran linebacker who you already have questions about in terms of potential and ability, you’re going to want him to at least be available. And with Perryman, you may just not be able to count on him for a full season.

What’s The Cost?

With his injury history and the fact that he’s nearing the wrong side of 30, you wouldn’t expect Perryman to demand a very large contract. He likely isn’t getting more than one or two years from any team and will probably come at a pretty decent bargain money-wise. In 2020, Perryman finished a two-year extension that he signed in 2019 and made just north of $7.5 million. It’s hard to imagine him making that much in 2021, especially if he’s going to accept a backup role. And if he sees the Bucs as an attractive option for him, Perryman is probably well off enough to sign a team-friendly deal.

What We Don’t Know

The truth of the matter is, we don’t know how Perryman is approaching free agency. Is he looking to find a team that values him as an unquestioned starter? Will he sign on with a team that has a young group of linebackers that he can help develop and complement? Or is he at the point in his NFL career where he will just be looking to sign as solely a backup, maybe in hopes of chasing playoff football and a Super Bowl ring?

There are a lot of questions in that regard, plus there’s the fact that we don’t know how Tampa Bay will view its middle linebacker situation. Will bringing David back be a priority? Is Minter going to return to fill the role that he has played so well over the last two seasons? If both of those guys are back, it’s hard to see the Bucs venturing out and pursuing a player like Perryman. But we truly don’t know what the team’s plans are as of now.

Make The Decision

Los Angeles Chargers v Miami Dolphins Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Perryman, a former second-round pick, had a complicated tenure in San Diego/Los Angeles. It wasn’t a disaster by any stretch, but it could’ve certainly been better. As he potentially looks to move on from the Chargers, would you want to see him land in Tampa Bay? Let us know what you think by voting in the poll and discussing your thoughts in the comments down below.

Poll

When it comes to Denzel Perryman, what would you have the Buccaneers do?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    Sign him no matter what
    (5 votes)
  • 22%
    Make an offer, but keep it reasonable
    (29 votes)
  • 22%
    Invite him for a cup of coffee and see where it goes
    (29 votes)
  • 31%
    Call him up if they have a need after the NFL Draft
    (41 votes)
  • 19%
    Don’t need him
    (25 votes)
129 votes total Vote Now