FAB 3. David Will Be A Buccaneer For Years To Come
Last week, the Tampa Bay Times asked a rhetorical question – will an aging Lavonte David suffer the same fate as Gerald McCoy in Tampa Bay? Will David’s high salary – $10.75 million in 2020 – make him expendable for a team that might need to reallocate that salary cap space elsewhere?
No one has a crystal ball. While we could see McCoy’s offseason departure coming late last year, no one could see Jason Pierre-Paul, the team’s leading sacker in 2018, getting into a car accident and suffering a possible career-threatening neck injury.
So it’s hard to tell exactly what the future holds for David, who turned 29 in January, other than to note that in the 2020 season he will be in a contract year unless an extension is done prior to that.
But given his extraordinarily high level of play, it seems safe to suggest that David will be a Buccaneer for years to come as long as he doesn’t lose his trademark speed and quickness anytime soon. If I had to place a bet, I’m wagering that David, who is set to earn $9.75 million this season, gets a contract extension either next year or after the 2020 campaign.
While Tampa Bay is already high on inside linebacker Devin White, the team’s first-round pick, the Bucs will need two very good linebackers to play in nickel defense, which the team will be in at least 65 percent of the time, especially in the pass-happy NFC South division. David hasn’t gotten the national acclaim his Bucs career deserves – likely due to zero playoff appearances in his eight seasons in Tampa Bay.
David has made just one Pro Bowl (2015) and was has been named to the All-Pro team twice – as a first-team linebacker in 2013 and a second-team linebacker in 2016. Former Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy was the headliner in Tampa Bay with his six straight Pro Bowl appearances, but one could certainly argue that David was actually the Bucs’ best defensive player over the last seven seasons given his playmaking ability.
In fact, David’s career stats rival – or perhaps even trump – those of Bucs Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks when comparing the players’ first seven seasons.
Lavonte David’s Stats 2012-18
Derrick Brooks’ Stats 1995-2001
Brooks proved to be more durable, and played in five more games than David has during his first seven years in the league. That gives Brooks a slight edge in tackles (43) and interceptions (two), but David has forced more fumbles (four), recovered more fumbles (10), scored two more touchdowns and recorded one more safety.
According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, David is one of only six NFL players in league history to post at least 15 sacks and 10 interceptions in his first five seasons and the latest to do so since William Thomas (1991-95).
Keep in mind that Brooks’ best season came in 2002 at age 29 when he had 117 tackles, a career-high five interceptions, including three pick-sixes, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery for a touchdown and one sack. He won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors that year while leading Tampa Bay to a franchise-best 12-4 record and a Super Bowl victory, and added another pick-six in Super Bowl XXXVII.
David is now 29, and like Brooks nearly two decades ago, he shows no signs of slowing down. Brooks wound up playing in Tampa Bay for seven more years until the age of 35, making six more Pro Bowls from 2002-06 and in 2008, along with All-Pro honors in 2002 and 2004-05.
It was the sustained excellence that made Brooks truly great. If David can stay healthy he can have a career similar to that of Brooks in terms of production. The accolades will come if David can help Tampa Bay get to the postseason.
What helps is that new Bucs head coach Bruce Arians is a big fan of David.
“He’s got a resume and a really good one – almost a Hall of Fame one,” Arians said. “He’s a very quiet leader. You like those kind of guys, because you just follow them. You don’t have to hear them, you just follow them.”
Arians doesn’t mind having older linebackers around as long as they can play. Karlos Dansby played inside linebacker for Arians at age 32 in 2013, and again at age 36 in 2017. Outside linebacker John Abraham was signed at age 35 in 2013. Inside linebacker Larry Foote was signed to play the 2014 season in Arizona at age 34.
New defensive coordinator Todd Bowles plans to use David the way that former Bucs head coach Greg Schiano did when David recorded 145 tackles, seven sacks, five interceptions and one safety in 2013. Although he had five forced fumbles and five interceptions under Mike Smith in 2017, David did not having a sack or an interception that year. David was used as a blitzer more often last season, recording 3.5 sacks when Mark Duffner took over as defensive coordinator.
If he can continue to be a playmaker in Bowles’ scheme as expected and get to the quarterback more often on blitzes, David can not only rack up more personal accolades, but also earn another contract extension. I’m not betting against David. Are you?