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Keeping the defense intact is Tampa Bay’s top priority during free agency. Again.

According to Bruce Arians.

NFL: Super Bowl LV-Champion Tampa Bay Buccanners Boat Parade
Will the good times continue for defensive players such as Ndamukong Suh?
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Even though the 2019 season ended in disappointment, Bruce Arians and Jason Licht knew they had a good roster. Especially on defense.

“If we can keep this defense together, we can be really really good defensively for a long time,” Arians said back in December of 2019. “It’s a very young group, and the older guys are young. They’re guys who don’t age. It will be huge for us to keep them together and build off the way we’re finishing the last six, seven weeks, the growth in the secondary especially.

All I can do is recommend to the people upstairs that we need them. With the way we’re playing defense right now, if we can stay together, it’s showing that we’re turning the corner defensively.”

Not only did the Bucs keep the defense intact for the 2020 season, but Tampa Bay’s head coach and general manager also turned out to be 100% correct in their assessment.

The Bucs defense played a huge role in helping the franchise win its second Super Bowl. Todd Bowles and his crew were solid all year long, but they took their play to a different level once they beat the Washington Football Team in the first round of the playoffs. As a unit, they held the trio of Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Patrick Mahomes to a 59.6% completion rate that featured a combined five touchdown passes to six interceptions while allowing just 18.3 points per game throughout the final three weeks of the season.

In fact, the defense was so good that it’s once again the main focus of the offseason for Arians.

“Well we cleared the first huddle and that’s that we kept our coaching staff intact, other than [Antwaan Randle] El, and we’re happy for him.” Arians told reporters on Wednesday. “The next thing now is to keep the players intact, keep the team intact as much as we possibly can without risking future years. Jason and I will work together as hard as we can to keep the core guys. We started last year saying, ‘If we could keep the defense together, we would have a chance.’ We kept the defense together and then all of the sudden we got Tom Brady and that was the icing on the cake. It led to a Super Bowl. For me, it’s still keeping the defense together and then whatever is left – we’ll score enough points. It’s a matter of, for me, keeping the defense as solid as we can.”

The starting trio of Lavonte David, Shaquil Barrett, and Ndamukong Suh are currently up for grabs, but so are important depth players like Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Kevin Minter, Andrew Adams, and Steve McClendon.

How Tampa Bay figures out its free agency needs remains anyone’s guess, but at least now we have some idea of the direction it’ll take in 2021.

Per Football Outsiders, the Bucs finished as the league’s fifth-best defense in terms of overall DVOA. Bowles’ squad was sixth in weighted DVOA (reflection of your most recent games), while possessing the fifth-best pass defense and the league’s best run defense. The Bucs also finished with 48.0 sacks and 26 forced turnovers on the year.