TAMPA — Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves has one career interception and played in only 10 games the past two seasons due to injuries.
But the former Wharton High and Florida Gators standout apparently has shown enough promise to warrant the Bucs’ decision to pick up the fifth-year club option on his rookie contract, worth $9 million in 2020.
Tampa Bay’s 11th overall draft pick in 2016, Hargreaves started all 16 games as a rookie and got better in the second half of the season. He finished with 76 tackles, one forced fumble, nine passes defensed and one interception but was the only cornerback in the league that year to allow more than 1,000 yards receiving.
A hamstring injury limited him to nine games in 2017. Last year he got off to a decent start by forcing a fumble that was returned for a touchdown by Justin Evans in a 48-40 win at New Orleans in Week 1.
But Hargreaves suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the game and was placed on injured reserve.
The $9 million salary for 2020 is guaranteed only against injury. The team announced Wednesday that it was exercising the fifth-year option, just over a week before the May 3 deadline.
It’s the third consecutive season the Bucs have exercised the club option for the fifth year on one of its first-round picks. Receiver Mike Evans subsequently signed a contract extension after the team did it in 2017. Last year the Bucs picked up the $20.9 million option on quarterback Jameis Winston’s contract for 2019.
With cornerback Brent Grimes playing his last season with the Bucs in 2018, Hargreaves is now one of the team’s most experienced defensive backs. Second-round picks Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart started as rookies last season.
Having split time at cornerback and in the slot as a fifth defensive back, Hargreaves is expected to remain outside this season, according to coach Bruce Arians.
Hargreaves, 23, had surgery on his left shoulder Sept. 21.
“It actually made me better. I’ve seen a lot, done a lot and been through a lot of things,’’ Hargreaves said at the start of offseason workouts. “And the guys in the locker room, they look at me as a guy who has kind of been through it now, as that vet. Even though I haven’t played in two years, they still look at me like I got those years under my belt. Just because they’ve seen what I’ve been through. They’ve seen the behind the scenes and what everybody else is saying.’’
Arians has said he believes Hargreaves will thrive in the man-to-man scheme under defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.
“I don’t know why Coach Arians feels that way about me, but I love it,” Hargreaves said. “He doesn’t know me. He doesn’t have to say anything about me. But I love it.
“That’s the confidence that I need. That’s that confidence we need as a secondary.’’