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FAB 1. Bucs Look To Lock Up Barrett – And Nassib
The restructure of Jason Pierre-Paul’s contract tells us that his days in Tampa Bay appear to be numbered, unless he returns from his neck injury – and returns with a vengeance – over the last 10 games of the season and picks up from where he left off last year when he recorded a team-high 12.5 sacks.
The Bucs don’t necessarily believe Pierre-Paul will automatically return to form, which is why they restructured his contract and loaded it with incentives geared around his health and performance. Even his $3 million base salary for the rest of the season isn’t guaranteed in case he re-injures his neck.
It’s the fact that Pierre-Paul, who will turn 31 on January 1, will become an unrestricted free agent in 2020 because both sides agreed to void the final year of his contract.
That frees up $12.5 million worth of cap room next year to not only spend on outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett, whose torrid start to the season with eight sacks already has the Bucs itching to sign him to a long-term contract extension, but also outside linebacker Carl Nassib.
According to OverTheCap.com, the Bucs were slated to have $66,428,251 worth of salary cap space available in 2020 before Pierre-Paul’s final year was voided. Now Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht and director of football administration Mike Greenberg will have in excess of $78.9 million to work with, and that’s enough money to not only re-sign quarterback Jameis Winston to a long-term contract extension if his play warrants such a deal, but also to re-sign both Barrett and Nassib.
With an NFL-leading eight sacks along with two forced fumbles, Barrett, who signed a one-year deal worth $4 million, immediately becomes Tampa Bay’s top priority, but the team is also very high on the idea of re-signing Nassib, and with very good reason.
The 6-foot-7, 275-pound Nassib was named a team captain this year along with inside linebacker Lavonte David. That’s quite a remarkable feat considering that Nassib didn’t even join the Bucs until the first week of September last year when Licht snatched him off the waiver wire.
“It didn’t surprise me at all from what I saw last year,” said Bucs inside linebacker Kevin Minter. “A lot of guys gravitate towards him. I’ve been in this scheme for a long time and not nearly as many outside linebackers have picked it up as quickly as Carl has.”
The departure of Gerald McCoy and Pierre-Paul’s absence due to his neck injury prompted Nassib to step up and fill the leadership void on the defensive side of the ball. Nassib’s teammates recognized that and voted for his captainship en masse.
“I wasn’t surprised that he got the captain vote at all,” said Bucs nose tackle Beau Allen. “Carl has a lot of energy and when you are talking about guys that do [expletive] the right way, I would put Carl at the top of that category. Football is very important to him. He knows the defense and does the [expletive] that he’s supposed to do, and that’s what you want out of your captain.”
Nassib, a first-year team captain, was incredibly excited to receive the overwhelming support from his teammates.
“It was [expletive] awesome,” Nassib said. “It’s not something I take for granted and I’m really happy that I got it.”
The reason why Nassib was named a team captain wasn’t just due to his vocal leadership. It was also due to his production, as he beat out veteran Vinny Curry for the starting strongside defensive end job and recorded 29 tackles and a career-high 6.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in his first season in Tampa Bay.
This year through three games, Nassib has eight tackles, one sack and one fumble recovery. That sack and fumble recovery came in last week’s 32-31 loss to the New York Giants.
“I voted for him,” said Bucs defensive end Will Gholston. “He’s a vocal leader, but he shows his leadership more with his actions. He’s the kind of guy that you don’t have to worry about not coming to work and working everyday. He’s someone who is not afraid to speak his mind, and you look for that in a leader.”
Even players on offense like tight end Antony Auclair, who is charged with blocking Nassib in practice, supported his captain candidacy.
“I voted for him,” Auclair said. “He’s stepped up in the locker room. He’s good with everybody. He talks to everybody on the team. He’s positive. He’s everything you want in a leader. Plus, he’s a little crazy, too. You have to be crazy to play on defense.”
It’s hard to find anyone that didn’t vote for Nassib in the Bucs locker room. His type of leadership is more urgent and more demanding than that of the more laid back McCoy’s from years past. We’ll see if that sense of urgency can pull Tampa Bay out of a 1-2 start this year and a 5-11 funk over the last two seasons.
Folks inside the walls of the AdventHealth Training Center believe that Barrett will continue his impressive sack attack in Week 4 in Los Angeles and for the rest of the season to earn a lucrative contract extension.
“No one’s done it – it’s a first,” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said. “To me, when you put that in the history of football, that’s big. What he’s done is big and hopefully he can continue.”
But the Bucs’ brass is also expecting Nassib to beat his career season from a year ago playing opposite Barrett, and to lock up both young, 26-year old linebackers for years to come. With the money freed up from Pierre-Paul’s extension the team has the flexibility to do just that.
Good pass rushers are hard to find, and Licht has found two of them within the last two years. And he plans on keeping them, too.