The Buccaneers will not only be talking to Doug Martin’s agent, David Dunn, about a contract extension before the running back hits free agency, but will also speak with the agent for free safety Chris Conte, who signed a one-year deal worth $1.5 million with Tampa Bay last spring, about a possible extension. The Bucs’ level of interest of course will depend on Conte’s contract demands.
Conte’s deal in 2015 featured a $1 million base salary, a $250,000 signing bonus and a $250,000 workout bonus. He was primarily signed due to his familiarity with Lovie Smith’s Tampa 2 scheme, having been drafted by Smith in the third round in 2011 by Chicago. Even with Smith now gone, there is still some history between the two, as new Bucs secondary coach, Jon Hoke, coached Conte in Chicago.
Conte, who is entering his sixth season in the NFL, missed several weeks in training camp and the preseason due to a hamstring injury, but started 14 straight games before a knee injury at St. Louis in Week 15 forced him to go on injured reserve and miss the final two games of the 2015 season.
When asked in early December if he would consider re-signing with the Buccaneers in 2016, Conte said he would.
“I’m definitely open to it,” Conte said in November. “The main thing for me has been staying healthy this year. I missed time in camp, but when I’m healthy I think I’ve been productive and showed this team I can play. I’ve enjoyed my time in Tampa.”
The Bucs were very pleased with his play as Conte finished the year as the fourth-leading tackler with 78 stops, six tackles for loss, six pass breakups, two forced fumbles and two interceptions.
“I’ve liked what he’s done,” Smith said in December. “Chris Conte is a good football player when he is on the football field. For the most part, he’s remained out there. We’ve seen flashes, we’ve seen signs.”
However, that was before the Bucs fired Smith after the team finished 6-10. Conte came to Tampa Bay to reunite with Smith, whom he is fiercely loyal to. Yet given the fact that Smith will be out of coaching in 2016, the chances are good that Conte, who turns 27 on February 23, will contemplate wearing red and pewter for at least another season.
Former Bucs defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier spoke about Conte’s importance to the team in 2015.
“I think our free safety position with Chris Conte has really upgraded our defense,” Frazier said in November. “He’s stayed healthy, which was a concern all along. When he is healthy he is one of the better safeties in our league. He’s a smart guy. He can match up on tight ends, backside of the backfield, he can even go out and cover third or fourth receivers at times and he can tackle. He’s played very, very well. We just have to keep him on the field and he will continue to get better.”
Dirk Koetter’s hiring as head coach in January prompted the hiring of new defensive coordinator Mike Smith. The Bucs need to receive better play from their safeties in 2016, and it’s a position that is thin on playmaking and experience without Conte, who was the team’s best and most consistent player in the secondary. Pro Football Focus listed Conte as one of the top 30 safeties in the league in 2015.
The Bucs list Major Wright and newcomers Kimario McFadden and Gerod Holliman as the only safeties on the roster currently under contract. Conte and Keith Tandy are unrestricted free agents, while Bradley McDougald, the team’s starting strong safety, will be a restricted free agent. Wright, who has one year left on his deal that will pay him $1.75 million, is not a lock to make the team’s 53-man roster in 2016.