Free Agents the Buccaneers Could Pursue if Shaq Barrett Signs Elsewhere

Should Shaq Barrett break the bank with another team next month, which free agent edge rushers could the Tampa Bay Buccaneers pursue to replace him?
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So, what if Shaq Barrett doesn't re-sign with the Buccaneers?

Tampa Bay is slated to see numerous key contributors hit the market come March 17, when the 2021 NFL league year kicks off. Barrett headlines the Bucs group of free agents, and is expected to demand a pretty penny following a productive season and dominant showing throughout the playoffs.

Spotrac projects Barrett's market value at $19.7 million per year, and that he will earn a contract worth $78.8 million over four years.

Will the Buccaneers be able to afford Barrett's contract demands? We'll soon find out. If they're unable to do so, however, the Bucs will have a plethora of free agent edge rush prospects options to choose from. 

Aiming for a Super Bowl repeat, it would be tough to expect a draft pick to replicate Barrett's performance. Therefore, the Bucs could be better suited to offer a veteran player who is willing to take a lower salary than Barrett, in this case. We've compiled a list of players who could be a fit in Tampa Bay, including their projected market value and free agent deals via Spotrac. 

Bud Dupree of the Pittsburgh Steelers was left off as he will also carry a large price tag. So was former Houston Texan J.J. Watt, who could play outside linebacker but is a better fit at defensive end.

Romeo Okwara, Detroit Lions

Projected value/contract: $10.1 million per year; Three years, $30.3 million total

Okwara could emerge as the best value signing of the 2021 free agent class should he barely break the $10 million per year threshold as projected. The 26 year old was one of the lone bright spots on an otherwise miserable Lions defense and could be on his way out as Detroit has negative cap space, currently.

2020 served as a legitimate breakout campaign for Okwara, compiling 10 sacks, 11 tackles for loss, 44 total tackles, and 61 quarterback pressures (per Pro Football Focus) - all career highs. 

Okwara had a similarly productive 2018 season with 7.5 sacks and eight tackles for loss in 15 games, but saw his playing time dip upon the arrival of defensive end Trey Flowers the next season. Flowers dealt with injury issues in 2020, which allowed Okwara to resume a big role in Detroit's defense.

Although he is listed as a defensive end, Okwara has spent an ample number of his snaps as a standing edge rusher, which would translate to Barrett's outside linebacker position. While Okwara's career production has been a bit up and down, that can be attributed to mismanagement by Detroit's previous coaching staff, which was fired before the 2020 season ended.

Yannick Ngakoue or Matthew Judon, Baltimore Ravens

Ngakoue's projected value/contract: $15.5m/yr; Four years, $62.4m

Judon's projected value/contract: $15.6m/year; Four years, $62.5m

Baltimore could be forced to let one of its two talented edge rushers hit the market, given the Ravens' needs at other positions and limited cap room. With that being said, both Ngakoue, 25, and Judon, 28, were serviceable in 2020 but didn't play themselves into huge pay days.

Ngakoue, in fairness, spent the preseason in Jacksonville - although he wasn't actually with the Jaguars amid a contract holdout -, and the first half of the season in Minnesota before being traded to Baltimore. Ngakoue posted five sacks in six games with the Vikings and ultimately finished his season with eight sacks, seven tackles for loss, 23 total tackles, and 44 QB pressures.

During his four seasons in Jacksonville, Ngakoue emerged as one of the NFL's better weak-side pass rusher, accumulating 37.5 sacks. Ngakoue's camp and Jacksonville could not reach an agreement on a long-term deal after he was franchise tagged, which led to his first trade. Minnesota quickly flipped Ngakoue for draft picks. 

It's fair to assume his production fell off from so many changes, which could make him a bit of a bargain should he hit the market compared to his value just one offseason ago.

Judon has steadily produced within the Ravens defense since his rookie season in 2016, but failed to build upon his career-best 2019 season this past year. Judon saw his sack count reduce by 3.5, tackles for loss drop by five, and QB pressures lessen by 17, although he did miss two games. At a similar market value to his tandem partner on the Ravens' edges, Ngakoue might be the better option.

Leonard Floyd, Los Angeles Rams

Projected value/contract: $13.1m/yr; Four years, $52.4m

Floyd didn't live up to his first-round status with Chicago Bears and was overshadowed by Khalil Mack by the end of his time in the Windy City. A change of scenery did the 28 year old well, as he posted a career-high 10.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss in 2020, adding 55 pressures.

The lengthy edge rusher surely benefitted from All-Decade defensive tackle Aaron Donald occupying double and triple teams, which could raise an eyebrow as teams look to pay Floyd and not the Rams' star defensive tackle. A similar story played out with now-Atlanta Falcons edge rusher Dante Fowler Jr., who signed a $15 million per year deal after a successful year with the Rams, and followed up with three sacks in 2020.

Floyd's emergence should net him some big bucks next month, but he could be forced to settle a bit given his late breakthrough, Donald's impression on his game, and a crowded market.

Von Miller, Denver Broncos

Projected value/contract: $10.3 m/yr; Three years, $30.9m 

Miller is considered a future Hall of Famer and has compiled 106 sacks in nine seasons. However, despite only being 31, Miller probably won't be signing a "Retire-a-Bronco" level of contract after missing the 2020 season due to a freak ankle injury, a dislocated peroneal tendon.

In addition to his injury, Miller is under criminal investigation for undisclosed allegations, according to Mike Klis of 9News.

The Broncos have yet to make a decision regarding Miller's $18 million team option, and the clock is ticking towards a conclusion needing to be made. If the team declines the option, Miller hits the market for the first time in his career.

The Buccaneers signed wide receiver Antonio Brown in the middle of the 2020 season despite numerous off-the-field incidents and antics with prior teams caused public concern and skepticism. It paid off as Brown was productive in his role and created no distractions throughout his time with the Bucs.

Therefore, if Tampa Bay felt confident in Miller's injury recovery and the price was right, the Buccaneers would emerge as a prime candidate to pursue Miller in a reality where Barrett is not on the team moving forward.

Olivier Vernon, Cleveland Browns

Projected value/contract: N/A

Vernon, 30, didn't make it through his five year, $82.5 million deal with the New York Giants, and was ultimately traded to Cleveland before the 2019 season. Vernon hasn't played a full season since 2016 while dealing with numerous ankle and knee injuries, as well as minor groin and abdomen ailments. He went down with a ruptured Achilles in Week 17.

Coming off of a severe injury and having already cashed in before, Vernon presents a much more affordable option for Tampa Bay than the options previously listed. Vernon certainly wouldn't be expected to reach Barrett's level of play, and a additional edge rusher could be added via an early draft pick to pair with the veteran. However, his signing would offer cap flexibility that could be extremely valuable for Tampa Bay to retain other players.