Buccaneers Aiming to Retain Defensive Core and Address Future Needs

Jason Licht and Bruce Arians hope to retain the core members of Tampa Bay's defense this offseason, while simultaneously addressing the Buccaneers' future team needs.
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With a plethora of imminent free agents in front of them, general manager Jason Licht and head coach Bruce Arians have put together an ideal plan in hopes of repeating as Super Bowl champions this upcoming season. 

Retain the core of the team's defense, an instrumental aspect of the Bucs' Lombardi run, and address future team needs via the 2021 NFL Draft. The two made such goals clear in a Wednesday press conference. 

"The next thing now is to keep the players intact, keep the team intact as much as we possibly can without risking future years," Arians said. "Jason and I will work together as hard as we can to keep the core guys. We started last year saying, ‘If we could keep the defense together, we would have a chance.’ We kept the defense together and then all of the sudden we got [quarterback] Tom Brady and that was the icing on the cake. 

"For me, it’s still keeping the defense together and then whatever is left – we’ll score enough points. It’s a matter of, for me, keeping the defense as solid as we can.”

Namely, edge rusher Shaq Barrett and linebacker Lavonte David, among numerous others, are slated to hit the market come March. Barrett is considered Tampa Bay's marquee pending free agent and could earn a salary worth around $20 million per year on his next deal after an eight-sack regular season, with four added throughout the playoffs.

The Buccaneers franchise-tagged Barrett an offseason ago following a 19.5-sack season, putting $15.8 million in his pocket throughout 2020. At this point in his career, the time has come for Barrett to lock in on a long-term deal to establish security for his family, whether it be in Tampa Bay or elsewhere.

Licht believes that franchise tagging Barrett a year ago proved the Buccaneers' willingness to invest in the edge rusher, although it is an "entirely different year", perhaps that could give Tampa Bay an edge in retaining him.

"I, once again, don’t want to publicly talk about our conversations that we have with his representatives," Licht said of Barrett, "But I will say we would like to have him back.”

David is another key defensive piece that Tampa Bay hopes to hold onto. Licht touted the nine-year Buccaneer for his part in helping develop fellow inside linebacker Devin White behind the scenes and taking on a major leadership role for Arians' defense.

"Lavonte behind the scenes is a phenomenal leader. He’s actually grown as a leader the last couple of years to be one the go-to guys for Bruce on that defensive side of the ball," said Licht. "He’s a very important player. He was a very important part of our Super Bowl win and we’d love to have him back. We’re going to try our damnedest to have him back.”

So long as the Bucs can retain players such as Barrett and David, Licht and Arians will attempt to set the team up well for the long-term this offseason in the draft. 

Tampa Bay is in a unique position to select talented players and not force them into action early in their careers, thanks to ample talent across the roster, particularly if the defensive core returns. Aging veterans at numerous positions - Ryan Jensen at center, Ndamukong Suh (should he return in free agency) and William Gholston at defensive end, even Tom Brady at quarterback - could serve as great mentors to their own future heirs.

"If we can keep that core together, we can address other areas. We have to also address areas of future needs," said Licht. "We haven’t been in that position for a long time since I’ve been here, where if we are able to keep our core together, there is no immediate need that we’re going to be [addressing]. 

"The picks that Bruce and I, and our staff, could either affect future needs or just be luxury picks that could help us. It leaves us in a position to take really good football players and not just direct our attention to one or two particular positions.”