The NFL is a game of skill, but how much success a player has over the course of their career is often determined by luck and timing.
And right now, luck and timing isn't on the side of Carlton Davis III.
2021 is a huge year not just for Davis, but also his fellow Tampa Bay Buccaneers as both parties (as one) attempt to repeat as Super Bowl champions. And right now, the secondary is reeling harder than it has since the first half of 2019. His teammates need him more than ever.
But for Davis, 2021 has an extra layer of meaning.
Davis was drafted in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft. This is his fourth year in the league, therefore, Davis' contract will be up after this year, like all the other draft picks taken outside of the first round. And while Davis has a solid resume as an NFL corner, Year Four was supposed to be his takeoff year. This was the year that was supposed to lead to a big payday.
Instead, Davis is sitting on the sidelines nursing a quad injury that he suffered during the Week 4 contest against the Patriots. For someone in a contract year and looking to get paid, the timing couldn't be any worse.
Bruce Arians said after the game that Davis will be out for "a while", which can obviously mean a wide range of timelines, but one can't help but be pessimistic considering Arians said that Sean Murphy-Bunting "should be fine" after his Week 1 injury and that Giovani Bernard was "fine" after hurting his knee against the Rams. SMB would be placed on IR not too long after Arians' initial comments and Bernard missed the Patriots game. So, if Arians was optimistic about those two injuries that turned out to be worse than they really are, then it's logical to think that Davis' situation could be even worse if Arians is already giving out stark timelines. But then of course, there's always a Bizzaro World situation where Arians' comment about being out for a while could mean the opposite and Davis returns soon. I wouldn't hold my breath on the last one, however.
It's fair to wonder how much of an impact this injury has not only on the Bucs as whole (which we'll find out in the coming weeks), but how much of an impact it has on Davis and his future contract negotiations. Arians and the Bucs coaching staff have been adamant in their effusive praise for Davis - Arians regularly calls Davis one of the league's best corners. But how will the Bucs approach the table in 2022 if Davis is out for an extended period of time?
Will the Bucs want to offer him a lesser deal due to the uncertainty over the last year? Or will they take into account everything that has led up to the injury and negotiate based off that? The former doesn't seem likely considering Davis' level of play before his injury. Per Pro Football Focus, Davis allowed the league's lowest-quarterback rating when in zone coverage (25.2) on 67.6% of coverage snaps, which is the second-highest percentage of zone coverage snaps for an individual cornerback in the NFL.
In other words: Davis was killing it before he got hurt.
The biggest question, however is simple: How does Davis look after he returns from injury? Odds are he should be fine, but the cornerback position relies on so much lower body fluidity. It wouldn't be a surprise if there are growing pains upon his return.
And when zooming out and looking at the bigger picture, how much will Davis' situation affect the other looming free agent decisions next year? The Bucs currently have a lot to figure out in terms of roster management for 2022. Davis is one of the top, in-house free agents. His negotiations and how they fare will likely go a long way in determining the fate of the other free agents on the team.
No matter how you slice it, the timing of Davis' injury is terrible. Not just for the team, but for his personal aspirations, in general. But if football has ever taught us anything, it's that these guys don't let setbacks keep them down. They feed off them. In fact, they probably welcome this adversity in return of gaining an edge or more drive to become a better player.
And if Davis does in fact become a better player through all of this, then it will only add that much more to his story.
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