It's not as if Shaquil Barrett never had the opportunity to start with the Denver Broncos. Joining the Broncos as a college free agent out of Colorado State back in 2014, Barrett would break onto the NFL scene as a rotational pass rusher in 2015 as part of that fearsome Super Bowl 50 defense.
Barrett sat behind Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, and Shane Ray but by the time 2017 rolled around, Ware was gone and Ray was hurt for most of the season. Barrett would start nine games that year opposite of Miller. His sack total? Four.
At that point in his career, Barrett had failed to prove that he was more than a slightly above average rotational edge defender, which is why the Broncos used the No. 5 overall pick in the 2018 draft on Bradley Chubb. Barrett would spend his last season in Denver as Chubb's backup, starting zero games while posting three sacks in relief of Chubb and Miller.
Naturally, when it came time to hit unrestricted free agency, the Broncos allowed Barrett to test the market. The NFL world was interested but not quite willing to go hook, line and sinker for a rotational edge rusher with 14 career sacks. He would eventually sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. One year, $4 million — which was $4M more than what the Broncos were willing to pay.
Barrett bet on himself and it paid dividends. He would go on to start all 16 games for the Bucs, posting 19.5 sacks, leading the NFL. It landed him in his first-ever Pro Bowl and now Barrett is about to cash in.
On the surface, it seems obvious why Barrett left the familiar environs of Dove Valley. Thanks to a sitdown with 9NEWS' Mike Klis, we were able to glean more insight into Barrett's thought process one year ago.
“Like with (the Broncos), I knew I was going to be a backup no matter what I did," Barrett told Klis. "And I had an opportunity to start in Tampa and it let me spread my wings a little bit.”
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As the guy working in Todd Bowles' defense in Tampa, Barrett thrived like a duck to water. His 19.5 sacks are 1.5 more than the career-high of his former teammate, Von Miller. For his part, Miller couldn't be happier for his former teammate of five years.
“He could have played on the field, it was just the way things were set up,’’ Von Miller said told Klis on Saturday on the NFL Honors red carpet. “But you saw when he got his own situation, he started to develop and he just blew up. It’s not really a surprise to us because we saw it all the time in practice going against the ones.”
Again, it's hard to fault the Broncos for letting Barrett walk. But there's something to be said for getting starter's reps for the entirety of a season, which allows a pass rusher to get into the zone and groove of a game, learn to set up and exploit opponents' pass-blocking tells and establish more consistent results.
“It’s hard to come off the bench and do that,’’ Barrett said. “You’ve got to set them up.’’
The Broncos did not try to match the Bucs' offer, which also included an additional $1M in incentives, which Barrett absolutely met. Denver had Chubb entering year two and coming off a 12-sack rookie season and GM John Elway knew that Barrett coveted a starting opportunity.
“No, they didn’t [make an offer],’’ he said. “I didn’t want to – I wanted to be in Denver 100 percent for my teammates, the city, but just the situation wasn’t good. That’s why I had to get out of there.”
Barrett made the right decision and is about to get paid for taking the chance that he did. According to Spotrac, based on his age, Barrett's value on the open market is worth $15.578M per year. He could be staring down a three-year, $46.7M contract. How's that for rolling the dice?
Suffice to say, Barrett absolutely capitalized on the opportunity he had to learn from all-time sack artists like Ware and Miller, the latter of whom he's tried to emulate in Tampa, even wearing the No. 58 jersey. But Denver is Miller's town. Barrett is trying to stake his claim in his own NFL city.
“Oh yeah, everybody did,’’ Barrett said. “I took a piece from his game … I know I might be under Von’s shadow because I was in Denver, but I’m trying to build my own lane. Now, he did do a good job and told me a lot of stuff that I still take with me to this day.”