TAMPA, Fla. -- As coach Bruce Arians and general manager Jason Licht took turns at the microphone, summoning players onstage at a private celebration following the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Super Bowl boat parade last month -- the Florida heat and alcohol undoubtedly setting in -- several promises were made. At the time, one could only hope they’d find a way to honor them despite what looked to be a bleak salary-cap situation, with an estimated $13 million to spend under the projected salary cap.
Outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett, wearing a creamsicle No. 12 retro Doug Williams jersey and poised to become one of the top free agents at any position, told ESPN after the boat parade, “We coming back -- back-to-back. That’s the plan. I’m coming back next year.” He reiterated that onstage, saying, "I’m coming back, baby. I love y’all.”
Arians then told inside linebacker Lavonte David, who had never played in another jersey and was also set to become a free agent, “Your ass ain’t going nowhere.” He said the same to wide receiver Chris Godwin, who was at the end of his four-year rookie contract: “Your ass ain’t going nowhere either.”
But it wasn’t the booze talking. Every one of those promises, so far, has been kept. Godwin was given the franchise tag for $15.808 million. David was brought back on a two-year deal worth $25 million. Even Barrett, by far the most expensive to bring back, returned Monday, just moments after the NFL’s free-agent negotiating window opened, signing a four-year deal worth up to $72 million.
Even the part where Licht told the players that the Glazer family, which has owned the Bucs since 1995, was doing everything it could financially to keep the team together. That’s meant borrowing money from the future to create a more favorable salary-cap situation today, something the team hasn’t done in well over a decade, before Bucs director of football administration Mike Greenberg joined the team.
And none of those things could have happened without quarterback Tom Brady, who signed a one-year contract extension with three voidable years to create $19.3 million in salary-cap space for 2021. And because David’s deal includes three voidable years and Barrett’s has a fifth voidable year, they still have room to bring back more of the group.
Most estimates had Barrett getting $18 million to $20 million per year on the open market. Instead, Barrett signed a $17 million-per-year deal that escalates to $18 million only if he reaches 15.0 sacks and the Bucs reach the postseason -- a fair deal but certainly not a case of going to the highest bidder, while David probably could have gotten $13 million or $13.5 million elsewhere, according to sources.
With the way Brady’s contract is structured (he’ll make $40 million in 2021), he’s still averaging $25 million a year -- 15th among active quarterbacks in 2021 and significantly lower than what a seven-time Super Bowl winner would command. Patrick Mahomes is making an average of $45 million a year. Dak Prescott is earning $40 million a year on his new deal and will get $75 million in 2021. Deshaun Watson’s making $39 million per season on his current contract and Russell Wilson $35 million per year.
"Tom is one of those guys that understands that it takes a whole village to win," David said. "It takes a team, a group of guys, to win football games. Me, the same thing. I'm all about team. And I'll do what I can, do what it takes to hopefully get everybody back and go do this thing again.”
David said he hoped it would create a “domino effect” and more guys would follow. So far, that’s happened with Barrett and tight end Rob Gronkowski, who agreed to a one-year, $10 million deal on Monday night. But defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh, wide receiver Antonio Brown, kicker Ryan Succop and running back Leonard Fournette remain unsigned.
Both backup quarterbacks -- Blaine Gabbert and Ryan Griffin -- are free agents too, as are backup offensive linemen Joe Haeg and Josh Wells, and defensive lineman Rakeem Nunez-Roches and Steve McLendon. Re-signing any one of those players shouldn’t break the bank, but it all adds up.
It will be impossible to bring everyone back with an 8% salary-cap reduction in 2021. But so far, enough key pieces are falling into place behind Godwin, David, Brady, Gronkowski and Barrett. Paired with a strong track record of drafting, Drew Brees’ retirement, Brady’s willingness to take less (and stick around through 2022) and the Bucs’ willingness to sacrifice money in future years -- they’ve got a real chance to fulfill a fourth promise made that day, when Licht said, “We’re gonna f---ing win this thing again.”