The Bucs front office has made it no secret that their entire focus this offseason rests on one objective: re-signing all of their key free agents to keep the band together for another Super Bowl run. Of course, this objective has many critical sub-objectives, highlighted by the desire to retain wide receiver Chris Godwin, linebacker Lavonte David and outside linebacker Shaq Barrett.
Two down, one to go.
On Tuesday, the Bucs franchise-tagged Godwin at a cost of just under $16 million for the 2021 season, ensuring that he will be back in Tampa Bay for another run at a title this year. Godwin had 65 catches for 840 yards and seven touchdowns in less than 12 full games of action last season. With a season closer to his 2019 campaign (86-1,333-9), Godwin could look to reset the market at wide receiver next offseason.
In addition to tagging Godwin yesterday, the Bucs re-signed David to a two-year deal for $25 million, including $20 million guaranteed. The team added three void years to the deal, helping to lower David’s cap hit for the 2021 season to just $3.5 million. The contract might allow David to finish his career as a Buc, considering he’ll be 33 when he’s set to hit free agency again.
So with David and Godwin counting for close to a combined $20 million against the Bucs cap in 2021, what does that mean for Barrett’s pending free agent status?
Currently the Bucs are about $5.5 million over the cap, but that number won’t mean much after the team makes some additional contract moves to clear more space in the coming days. There are several paths to more cap space that the Bucs can take, as they are among the league leaders in cap space for the 2022 and 2023 seasons. This allows them a lot of flexibility to push money into future years, something they haven’t really done under GM Jason Licht, largely because they haven’t had much reason to do so.
So yes, the way the team structured David’s contract to include three void years and lower his cap number significantly for the 2021 season indicates they are preparing to go all in on an offer to Barrett that would compete with the best deals he’ll get on the open market. The Bucs have said every step of the way how serious they are about retaining Barrett, and Barrett has said he wants to be back in Tampa Bay. Having that synergy going into free agency certainly elevates the chances of the team and player working out an agreement, even after the bullets start flying.
Evaluating Free Agency Options For Barrett
Now, will that be enough to ensure Barrett’s return? Not necessarily. While the Bucs will definitely be in position to make Barrett a highly competitive offer, he could still opt to explore free agency and evaluate his options. Remember, Barrett has never really received the big pay day, and at 28 years old, he knows this is his last and best chance to collect the big, long-term contract. Teams like the Jaguars, Jets and Colts are in desperate need of pass rush help and have a ton of cap space this offseason, which could entice them to throw crazy money at Barrett to get him to leave Tampa Bay.
Of course, Barrett could still take any offer he gets back to the Bucs to see if they will match it. For what it is worth, I don’t think even the best offers Barrett receives will approach the average-per-year cap hits or the overall guaranteed money of the three highest-paid edge defenders in the NFL:
Joey Bosa – $27M per year, $102M guaranteed
Myles Garrett – $25M per year, $100M guaranteed
Khalil Mack – $23.5M per year, $90M guaranteed
But Barrett could come in just under that, and $22 million per year would put him over the fourth-highest paid edge defender in the NFL in Demarcus Lawrence. That’s a lot of money, but I don’t think it’s far-fetched that one of the three aforementioned teams would offer him that. Pass rushers are coveted assets, and Barrett is just 28 with two years and one terrific playoff run of excellent production as a starter.
If Barrett is given a high-end offer in the $21-22 million per year range, the Bucs could match it outright or offer more in guarantees. If they don’t do either of those things, they’d probably be at the mercy of Barrett deciding if he values a couple million more to play in Jacksonville or New York for rebuilding franchises over trying to win a second straight Super Bowl on one of the best rosters in the league in Tampa Bay. Barrett is entitled to either decision, but it’s unlikely he’ll walk into a better spot for him professionally than Tampa Bay, even if there is a spot out there that is a little better for him financially.
For now, the Bucs will focus on extending/restructuring Tom Brady’s contract and other moves to clear cap space, including possible restructures for WR Mike Evans and OG Ali Marpet, short-term extensions for C Ryan Jensen and OLB Jason Pierre-Paul or perhaps long-term, bigger deals for OT Donovan Smith or CB Carlton Davis. The possibility of pay cuts or outright cuts for TE Cam Brate and DL Will Gholston also exists, with Brate and his $6.5 million cap hit far more likely to be released than Gholston ($5.5M).
Remember, Barrett is the biggest name left in free agency, but the Bucs want to return as many of fellow free agents TE Rob Gronkowski, DT Ndamukong Suh, WR Antonio Brown, K Ryan Succop and RB Leonard Fournette as possible. That will require some creativity with the cap that Tampa Bay’s front office has never had to do before.
So there are still lots of avenues for the Bucs to get the band back together for 2021 and beyond. The question is how far the front office is willing to go to ensure it happens. The legal tampering period for free agency opens on March 15, and free agency officially gets underway on March 17 at 4pm EST.
Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft