While the Bucs are focused on keeping their Super Bowl LV champion team together by re-signing their own free agents, Tampa Bay will be looking to upgrade a number of positions. PewterReport.com takes a look at each unit over the next week, showcasing which players Tampa Bay could lose, and which players might replace them – including our Bucs’ Best Bets.
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2021 Bucs Free Agent Defensive Linemen
Ndamukong Suh Steve McLendon Rakeem Nunez-Roches Pat O’Connor Jeremiah Ledbetter
The weight of the Bucs’ interior defensive line was put heavily on the shoulders of Suh after Vita Vea broke his leg in Week 5, causing him to miss the rest of the season until a surprise return for the NFC Championship game. Suh not only answered the challenge to keep the Bucs’ stout run defense intact as the team led the league in run defense for the second straight year, he also took his game to another level as one of the best players on Tampa Bay’s entire defense.
Even at the age 34, Suh showed why he’s still on par with the top defensive tackles in the league, and also stepped up as a pass rusher with six sacks, the highest total he’s had since 2014. It’s been reported that Suh would like to come back and play with the Bucs as he’s focused on winning another championship. He played for $8 million last season, but would probably have to accept less to return to the Bucs in 2021.
McLendon was an important pickup during the season, after the Bucs traded for him from the Jets on a Sunday night in Week 6. He provided solid depth at nose tackle and was a good veteran presence in the locker room while averaging 27 snaps a game. Nunez-Roches had an elevated role after Vea’s injury and he performed quite well after getting more playing time, especially stopping the run. Nacho is a full-fledged source of energy and charisma when he’s on the field, and it seemed to rub off on his teammates.
Others: Jurrell Casey (Broncos), Tyson Alualu (Steelers), Larry Ogunjobi (Browns), Kawann Short (Panthers), Henry Anderson (Jets), DaQuan Jones (Titans), Denico Autry (Colts), Lawrence Guy (Patriots), Derek Wolfe (Ravens), Rakeem Nunez-Roches (Bucs), Roy Robertson-Harris (Bears), Mario Edwards (Bears), Steve McLendon (Bucs), Jonathan Hankins (Raiders), Corey Peters (Cardinals), Brent Urban (Bears)
Bucs’ DL Outlook
The Bucs’ defensive line starts and stops with Vita Vea, who has two more years left on his rookie deal. What Suh was able to accomplish with Vea out was impressive, but Vea is a future cornerstone of this team and could soon be in the conversation as one of the best defensive linemen in the game. Seeing how much better the defensive line was when Vea returned for the NFC Championship and the Super Bowl showed how much of an impact he has on the team.
Having Vea and Suh together again gives the Bucs one of the best defensive lines in football, and having another solid defensive tackle in Will Gholston helps the cause. That being said, they need depth after these players, because the other defensive tackle on the roster is currently held by sixth-round rookie Khalil Davis, who played sparingly in 2020. Most of the Bucs’ major spending priority will be on the likes of Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, Shaq Barrett and Lavonte David, but they will need to add depth players on the roster at defensive tackle, with Suh as the most important one to re-sign.
Bucs’ Best Bet: DT Ndamukong Suh
As stated before, the reports are that Suh wants to return and go for a second straight championship and Jason Licht confirmed on Pewter Report’s very own podcast that he would like to have Suh back in Tampa Bay. Suh’s six sacks (he also had 1.5 in Super Bowl LV) were his highest total in a season since 2015, and he still held up for all 16 games and played in 74 percent of the team’s defensive snaps despite being the second-oldest defensive tackle to take a snap in the NFL in 2020 behind McLendon. The Bucs defensive line could survive without him, but with a mutual desire between team and player for Suh to return, it seems like a matter of time until a deal gets done. He’ll likely have to play for less than last year’s $8 million to remain a Buccaneer, but the guess here is that happens.
Don’t be surprised if O’Connor and Nunez-Roches are also signed to one-year, league-minimum deals by Tampa Bay this offseason, too.