The 2023 offseason is going to be littered with unpleasant discussions and difficult decisions for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers front office. The enormity of Tampa’s list of pending free agents is daunting. The holes on the roster, while not insurmountable, all exist at critical positions.
Mixed inside the chaos of finding a new offensive coordinator, preparing for the post-Tom Brady era and establishing who they are going to be moving forward as a franchise, the Buccaneers have to make a decision on one of the greatest to ever don the pewter helmet.
Lavonte David will, no doubt, find his way into the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Ring of Honor. He has been the textbook example of excellence in a Buccaneers uniform. Whether the team around him was good or they were bad, as often was the case, David never wavered in performance or professionalism.
In a vacuum, the decision to keep David around is an easy one. Lavonte David is a top ten, arguably top five, player in the history of the franchise who, even in his thirties, has maintained a high level of production. The problem that the Bucs will run into is the issue is multidimensional—
The Bucs are about as far over the cap as imaginable this offseason and even though Jason Licht has worked around the cap in years past, some tough choices will have to be made. It’s unclear how much money Tampa be willing and able to allocate to the middle linebacker position. Fellow star linebacker Devin White is in line for a potentially massive extension so it may be a challenge for Tampa to continue into the future with both players.
The Buccaneers also have young free agents all over their roster which, if signed away by other teams may create more difficult voids for the team fill than a middle linebacker.
PFF has only two Bucs in the top 100 free agents, but they're high -- Jamel Dean fifth overall (projected to four years, $68 million) and Lavonte David sixth (two years, $22 million). Can the Bucs afford to keep either at those values? https://t.co/Q1RdDH2l2o— Greg Auman (@gregauman) February 2, 2023
There is also always the topic of Lavonte David’s age, which has to be a discussion point. David is 33 and to his credit he plays like a much younger man, but 33 is 33. The team may want to turn its attention to resigning some of the free agents on the roster who aren’t nearly as close to ends of their careers.
Following the 2020 season, David was one of the free agents the Buccaneers managed to keep when they were amidst their historic feat of returning all 22 starters from a championship team. The middle linebacker signed a two-year deal to stay in Bucs uniform and defend Tampa Bay’s championship.
The truly painful thing is now, two years later, David is 33 playing middle linebacker. Even though he is still playing at a productive level he likely only has 2-3 years maximum (maybe less) left on an NFL field for any franchise. This sandwiches the Buccaneers between the rock of letting young talent walk to resign an aging player when their team may not be ready to compete for a title again in the short-term and the hard place of letting one of franchise’s greatest players put on another uniform to finish out the final few seasons of his career.
No matter the outcome of the decision, David will always be treasured in Tampa Bay Buccaneers history and for a younger generation of fans who were not able to watch the era of players like Warren Sapp, Ronde Barber, and Derrick Brooks, LD54 represents the greatest homegrown Buccaneer they may ever see. For fans to watch David’s career play out and see both number 54 and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers come from the bottom to a dominating victory in Super Bowl 55, a game where David starred in a Hall of Fame matchup against Kansas City Chiefs tight end Tavis Kelce, is storybook, even if the ending may not be.
Perhaps this is simply the price that must be paid for being great. The Bucs’ recent stretch of greatness is something I don’t think Tampa Bay fans would trade away for anything. The Buccaneers experienced their time in the spotlight, had their fun in the sun, and with that extended exposure some sunburn is to be expected. The Buccaneers sold out to accomplish something great, something that no other team had ever accomplished before, and that vision came to life as Tampa Bay became the first team to win a Super Bowl in its own stadium. If the Buccaneers do lose Lavonte David as a collateral damage result of that decision, then while it may be hard to hear and downright miserable to go through, it was worth it.
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