While the Bucs are focused on keeping their Super Bowl LV champion team together by re-signing their own free agents, especially OLB Shaq Barrett, 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.
2021 Bucs Free Agent OLBs
Table of Contents
OLB Shaq Barrett
Despite a Super Bowl championship, the Bucs face a critical offseason with seven starters, their kicker and a couple key depth pieces slated for free agency. Chief among those they’d like to retain is Barrett, who has on several occasions vocally expressed his desire to return to the team, a sentiment the team has been echoing since the regular season, when head coach Bruce Arians said “we don’t plan on Shaqgoinganywhere” back in December.
Bucs OLB Shaquil Barrett and Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Still, I fully expect Bucs fans to be white-knuckling Barrett’s ride into free agency until his final decision. Barrett has never been given the big, long-term contract, and at 28 years old, he knows this is probably his last chance to cash in. He’s also fresh off a dominant playoff run with four sacks and a Super Bowl ring, which will weigh heavy in the minds of other teams offering him significant money this offseason.
We know the Bucs can bring back all of their free agents if they want to, thanks to the cap flexibility they have to push money into future years. The question is, will they? They haven’t been in this position before, and can’t afford to low-ball an offer to Barrett thinking he’ll come back for cheap. Barrett has already said he wants to “break the bank.” Expect offers to be in the $19-20M per year range, which the Bucs can definitely handle. But if a team gets crazy with an offer, Tampa Bay may not be willing to go past a certain point, even for a player they value as much as they do Barrett.
Others: Justin Houston (Colts), Olivier Vernon (Browns), Leonard Floyd (Rams), Ryan Kerrigan (Washington), Jadeveon Clowney (Titans), Jordan Jenkins (Jets), Markus Golden (Cardinals), Haason Reddick (Cardinals), Trent Murphy (Bills), Romeo Okwara (Lions), Trey Hendrickson (Saints), Carl Lawson (Bengals)
Bucs’ OLB Outlook
Even if the Bucs retain Barrett this offseason, they need 2021 depth and future starting options at edge rusher. Expect at least one of their first three draft picks to address the outside linebacker spot, as the team must prepare for life after Jason Pierre-Paul next offseason, who will be 33 then. If Barrett walks, edge rusher likely becomes the top priority for the Tampa Bay front office in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Rams EDGE Leonard Floyd – Photo by: USA Today
After two years, former fourth-rounder Anthony Nelson hasn’t proven to be the impactful No. 3 rusher the team would like, which leaves the door open for a cheap addition in free agency. Could a veteran like Justin Houston or Ryan Kerrigan, both 32, be looking for a short, cheap contract to chase a ring in their final season or two? If Barrett moves on, a stop-gap veteran paired with a high draft pick might be the solution for the Bucs in 2021.
In that scenario, Houston could be an early phone call for the Bucs, His numbers have remained solid despite his age and role diminishing a bit over the years. Another name that could generate interest is Melvin Ingram, but he’s been banged up the past two years, which could concern GM Jason Licht. If the Bucs are looking for younger options that won’t be quite as expensive as Barrett, Leonard Floyd from the Rams or Romeo Okwara from the Lions could be options in free agency.
Bucs’ Best Bet – OLB Shaq Barrett
Bucs OLB Shaquil Barrett – Photo courtesy of Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I think the Bucs would let inside linebacker Lavonte David walk before losing out on Barrett, as the outside linebacker simply plays the more important position and is much younger. He notched eight sacks during the regular season and then another four in the postseason, including three in the NFC Championship Game and one in Super Bowl LV. Because of his age, Barrett’s contract will be easier for the Bucs to structure, making it a little longer than David’s next expected contract and spreading out the cap hit over four years. Tampa Bay also has nothing waiting in the wings behind Barrett, and with Pierre-Paul’s injury history heading into a contract year, that is a situation you do not want to be in at a key position in a win-now window. Barrett will get significant competing offers if he hits free agency, but I would expect him to allow the Bucs the opportunity to match before moving on. The ball will eventually be in Tampa Bay’s court, and how high they are willing to go to keep Barrett will likely determine if he remains with the team in 2021.
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
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