At the start of the month, Tampa Bay Buccaneers General Manager Jason Licht shared that it was "safe to say" that the franchise would use the fifth-year option on defensive tackle Vita Vea.
On Monday, the move became official as the team exercised that option for the 2022 season. Vea was the 12th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
“He plays a very pivotal role in our defense,” Licht said April 1 about Vea. “When he’s in there, a lot of things happen for not just him, but for everyone else around him. The day that we found out he was going to come back back and play, it was a very big day for all of us. We were all very excited.”
NFL teams have until May 3 to officially pick up fifth-year options on players who were selected in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, which will keep under contract through the 2022 season. The decision to exercise the fifth-year option on Vea will cost Tampa Bay roughly $7.638 million according to ESPN's Jenna Laine.
In his first three seasons, Vea has started 29-of-34 regular-season games played, recording 73 total tackles, 19 quarterback hits, 7.5 sacks, and three pass breakups.
He has proven himself as one of the more disruptive nose tackles in the NFL when he's healthy. Vea was considered the No. 2 interior defensive line by Pro Football Focus through the first five weeks of the 2020 season before fracturing his ankle.
Vea eventually returned to play in a limited role in the NFC Championship and Super Bowl for Tampa Bay.
This marks the fifth year in a row that the Bucs have chosen to pick up the fifth-year option on a previous first-round pick. Starting in 2014, the Bucs have done so with wide receiver Mike Evans, quarterback Jameis Winston, cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, tight end O.J. Howard and now Vea.
With Vea starting 21 games upfront from 2019-20, the Bucs became the first defense since the Minnesota Vikings (2006-08) to lead the NFL in rushing yards allowed in back-to-back seasons.
Now that the fifth-year option has been officially picked up by the Bucs, Vea will be a key piece of Tampa Bay's defense in the short term and most likely the long term as well.