Recently Pro Football Focus’ cap analyst Brad Spielberger released an article predicting some upcoming contracts across the NFL for young exciting players. One of those players is Bucs linebacker Devin White. Here is what Spielberger had to say about the Bucs young team captain.
“This extension may have to wait until the 2023 offseason as Tampa Bay goes all-in on another Super Bowl quest with Tom Brady. But the Buccaneers have shown a willingness to get extensions done early with players like interior defender Vita Vea. With Chicago Bears linebacker Roquan Smith potentially set to become the first off-ball linebacker to eclipse the $20 million per year mark later this offseason, the Buccaneers could once again lock in a franchise cornerstone early.”
Spielberger goes on to predict a five-year, $105 million pact for the Bucs with White. This would represent the biggest contract for an off-ball linebacker in NFL history. There is no doubt the market for linebackers is headed in that direction. Within the last year both Fred Warner and Darius Leonard signed contracts that are set to begin in 2022. The average annual value for both of those deals is north of $19 million. That represents 9-9.5% of their respective team’s caps for the year the deal takes effect. The NFL salary cap is expected to grow to around $235 million by 2024 when White is set to be a free agent. That could mean that the market for the top linebacker salaries could be $21-23 million per year.
Tampa Bay’s Recent History With First-Rounders
Bucs NT Vita Vea – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Spielberger references nose tackle Vea as potential data point for the Bucs getting a deal done with White before the end of his fifth-year option season in 2023. However, looking at the history of Bucs’ first-round draft picks I feel like this is an unlikely outcome. The Bucs did lock up Vea before the start of his fifth-year option season. At that point though, Vea established himself as one of the premier interior defensive lineman in the game.
White hasn’t similarly established himself at the linebacker position. White’s career trajectory has more in common with former Bucs first-rounders O.J. Howard and Vernon Hargreaves III. Both Howard and Hargreaves had at that point in their careers shown flashes of high-level performance. But with both, there were still very serious questions that rightfully prevented the Bucs from signing them to large second contracts. With Hargreaves it was a lack of consistency. With Howard it was a growing history of injuries. In both instances the Bucs avoided those long-term contracts to their benefit.
Currently White is under contract with the Bucs through 2023 after the team picked up his fifth-year option earlier this offseason.
This gives the team two years to evaluate White’s growth to see if he is truly worthy of that commitment. Where will White have to improve to secure the nine-figure contract Spielberger predicts?
Where White’s Game Needs To Improve
White has made a name for himself in the league as a sideline-to-sideline player with a knack for blitzing. This has allowed him to rack up impressive tackle and sack numbers. In three years, White has racked up 359 tackles and 15 sacks. His speed allows him to chase down plays from extreme distances that lead to impressive highlights.
Bucs ILB Devin White – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
However, White is on the smaller side at 6-foot, 235 pounds. He has shown trouble with being able to stack and shed offensive linemen and tight ends on inside running plays. But the biggest area White will have to improve upon is his ability in coverage.
Looking at 10 linebackers with the top annual average value contracts currently, there is a common thread that quickly emerges. Seven of the 10 players had played at a high level in coverage for at least one season prior to signing their big deals.
The lone exceptions have been Zach Cunningham, Foye Oluokun, and Jerome Baker. Cunningham was released prior to the conclusion of the first year of his new deal. Oluokun signed his deal this offseason for an AAV that was 50% higher than PFF’s contract prediction for him. Baker signed an extension with Miami this past offseason as well.
Spielberger notes this later in his write-up on White.
“White does over-pursue, miss the occasional tackle and has struggled in coverage for stretches of his career, but the Buccaneers seem optimistic they can clean up the holes in his game — especially while working alongside one of the best coverage linebackers of this decade in Lavonte David.”
Possible Contracts Based On Future Performance
If White really wants to break the bank, he is going to have to show improvements in his pass coverage. And White seems to understand this. During a recent media availability White spoke about improving in coverage as a priority for him with new positional coach Larry Foote.
With the Bucs picking up White’s option he now has two years to round out his game and show he can translate his physical gifts into a high-level of play in coverage. If he can do that, he will undoubtedly earn the contract Spielberger predicts for him and possibly more.
If White doesn’t improve in that most critical area, I predict he will still sign an impressive contract. But it won’t be the record-breaker that Spielberger predicts. That contract would be more along the lines of a three-year deal around $52-55 million and an AAV of $17.5 million. And it may or may not be in Tampa Bay.