TAMPA — Lavonte David knows he could be next.
A year from now, the Bucs linebacker will be 30. He will be entering his ninth season. He will have a $10.75 million contract for 2020, none of it guaranteed.
The Bucs may talk about how he hasn’t had the same impact as he did four seasons ago. They may say his production doesn’t match his pay stub.
They may even question his enthusiasm for the game and be non-committal about his future with the team.
In short, David knows he is a year away from walking in Gerald McCoy’s cleats.
“I mean, it’s the business side of it and the personal side of it.” David said Tuesday. “Personally, I know (McCoy) wants to be here and he’s going to work his tail off like he’s playing here this year. And the business side of it, I don’t know what’s going on over there.
“At the end of the day, you can only control what you can control. And for me, it’s just going out there helping the young guys, getting them acclimated to a new defense and going out there and having fun, man. I try to take it one day at a time. One step at a time. That’s how I try to live. Like I said, I’m coming in like a rookie all over again so I’m just going out there trying to contribute any way I can.”
The Bucs began the third phase of their voluntary offseason program Tuesday with a full-squad workout.
As usual, David was in the middle of the defense as he has been since becoming a second-round pick of the Bucs in 2012.
David has another new head coach, his fourth. He has a new defensive coordinator, his sixth. And he’s having to learn the new scheme under Todd Bowles.
He’s lining up next to a new linebacker, Devin White, the Bucs’ fifth overall pick.
In fact, at one point Tuesday, nobody in the Bucs’ starting defense had been in Tampa Bay more than one season besides David, the former Nebraska star. They were either rookies or veterans who came to the Bucs a year ago.
“He’s got a resume,” coach Bruce Arians said of David. “A really, really good one. Almost a Hall of Fame one. He’s a very quiet leader, you like those kind of guys because people just follow him. You don’t have to hear them, you just follow them.”
David has always been a quiet leader, and as a result, not blowing his own horn may have cost him a Pro Bowl or two. He’s been more than willing to take a backseat to more verbose linebackers, such as Kwon Alexander. Another LSU linebacker, White, has replaced Alexander, who signed with the 49ers as a free agent. David likes what he’s hearing and seeing.
“Something about those LSU guys, man,” David said. “All of them bring a certain type of energy, a certain type of swagger and we’re glad to have him here. He’s happy to be here and he’s ready to step in and contribute right away. The first day, he’s flying around, talking. He recorded an interception the second play of practice so, you know, that’s a big positive sign. He’s happy to be here. The first day he’s talking and for a rookie to come in and be talking like that, it’s really amazing to see. The sky is the limit for him most definitely.”
At one point, the same language was used to describe David. It’s hard to believe he has only been part of one winning season in Tampa Bay. McCoy has been part of two, although a biceps injury rendered his rookie year useless as the Bucs went 10-6 in 2010.
Neither one of those players are at fault for all that losing. In fact, it can be argued that McCoy and David have been the Bucs’ most consistent performers. But even David has shown subtle signs of age. He’s missed five games in the past two seasons due to injuries.
But unlike McCoy, his production has remained fairly consistent. Only once in his career — 2016 — has David failed to record at least 100 tackles in a season. When given the chance, he has been an effective pass rusher as evidenced by his 21.5 sacks. He also has a knack for jarring the football lose with 18 forced fumbles.
A cervical fracture has put Jason Pierre Paul’s career in limbo. McCoy seems headed for a divorce with the Bucs. Will David be counted on to provide more?
“I don’t think nobody expects more from me,” David said. “Everybody expects me to be the same guy that I’ve been. Being the leader I am, the quiet leader I am. Everybody leans on me for a lot of things. We keep that between ourselves. So guys know what I’m capable of, they also know what I bring and they know the energy I bring, the motivational factor I can bring to each guy. Sometimes when guys like JPP go down or stuff like that, my role may have to get a little bigger. But they just need me to be the same leader I’ve been since I’ve been here.”
But what happens next year? There’s never an easy way to cut ties with an iconic player. McCoy will one day be in the Bucs’ Ring of Honor. So will David. Right now it feels more like they are characters in the Game of Thrones.
Who stays? Who goes? Who knows?
“I mean, everybody around here loves Gerald,” David said. “... Gerald is a vet and everyone knows how he carries himself. So when he comes back, he’s going to be full throttle. I don’t only see him as a teammate, I see him as a friend. Actually, one of my closest and best friends. I know that he’s capable of and he’s going to be okay.”
Contact Rick Stroud at [email protected]. Follow @NFLSTROUD.