TAMPA — Let’s set the record straight: Warren Sapp wants his Bucs season mark for sacks to fall like so many quarterbacks.
He wants Shaquil Barrett to break it. He wants to be there when Barrett does to shake his hand.
With four games to play, Barrett has 141/2 sacks, two shy of the club record set by Sapp in 2000.
When you consider the pedigree of the pass rushers Barrett is trying to surpass — players such as Lee Roy Selmon, Simeon Rice and Sapp — it’s remarkable that this free agent signed to a one-year, $4 million prove-it deal in the offseason will likely sit atop the heap.
“I love the way this man has been hunting the quarterback,” Sapp said. “I told him I hope he gets my 16.5. I hope he breaks it. He deserves it. I love Shaq Barrett.”
Whereas Selmon, Sapp and Rice were high first-round draft selections, Barrett’s path to stardom has been different.
He was an undrafted free agent from Colorado State who spent four seasons with the Broncos playing behind and being mentored by elite pass rushers Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware and Bradley Chubb. But that meant he started only 15 games and had only 14 sacks in his five-season career before joining the Bucs.
Breaking Sapp’s record “would mean the world,” Barrett, 27, said.
“To be etched in, not stone, but as close as you could get until somebody beats the record, I would love to have that,” he said. “And I know there’s a lot of greats that have it right now, and to even tie it would be amazing.
“I’m working to get it. I want to be up there by myself. It’s a huge accomplishment for me, and I did not think about it at all when I came into the season. But I’m in a position where I can think about it now.”
One year before Sapp set the record, he was named the NFL’s defensive player of the year in leading the Bucs to the NFC Championship Game, where they lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams 11-6.
Sapp had 121/2 sacks, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in 1999 as the Bucs’ defense establish itself as one of the best in the league.
“I walked into (defensive line coach) Rod Marinelli’s office after ’99, and he said, ‘Not a bad year,’ ” Sapp said. “He asked me, ‘What can you do athletically? Let’s see if your play can catch up to that.’ ”
But in 2000, Sapp reported to training camp and played at 326 pounds, about 10 pounds heavier than normal.
“That offseason, my wife was pregnant with Warren II,” Sapp said. “I was at home eating pickles and ice cream. Every morning I’d wake up at 6, get the baby ready to drop off at 7, and then I would go to the facility and work out. I was chasing Ronde (Barber). I always ran with the little guys.
“The first time we went into the season and I’m 326, I think (coach Tony) Dungy is going to kill me. But he didn’t say anything.”
Sapp had a great game in Week 1 at New England, recording 11/2 sacks of Drew Bledsoe in a 21-16 win.
“Afterward, Tony came up to me and said, ‘326, huh?’ ” Sapp said.
Sapp had 101/2 sacks through the first eight games of the 2000 season. The Bucs went 10-6 and lost 21-3 at Philadelphia in an NFC division playoff game.
In those days, it was rare for defensive tackles to be among the league’s sack leaders. Edge rushers typically won the sack titles, but in 2000, only Saints defensive tackle La’Roi Glover bested Sapp with 17 sacks.
Barrett is the NFL’s sack leader, with one more than Saints defensive end Cam Jordan.
“It all comes from what you want as a kid growing up,” Barrett said. “Not necessarily wanting to be the league leader in sacks, but just to be in the NFL, to win a championship or have a record like that. … I would be very happy with myself if I’m able to be the champion at the end of the year and get that record. It’s most definitely a noteworthy career already after one year with the Bucs.”
Barrett also is going to be very happy with the salary he commands with free agency looming in the offseason. The only question for the Bucs is will they be able to re-sign him.
Tampa Bay has 19 players set to become free agents. Among them is quarterback Jameis Winston, who could be given the franchise-player tag if he’s not signed to a long-term contract.
Barrett could easily earn more than $18 million per season as a 3-4 outside linebacker with his sack number this year. The Bears’ Khalil Mack is the highest paid at that position, averaging $23.5 million per year. The Chiefs signed Frank Clark in August to a five-year contract worth $104 million, with $62.3 million guaranteed.
Barrett still has plenty of good years left.
“I don’t think he’s stopping any time soon,” coach Bruce Arians said. “He’s a hungry young fellow that even after he gets paid, he’s going to continue (to be that). He’s just continued to work on his craft, getting slipperier and slipperier.”
However, with their projected $84.3 million in salary-cap space, the Bucs have to rebuild their defensive front. In addition to Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, Carl Nassib, Ndamukong Suh and Beau Allen can become unrestricted free agents.
Money will be the biggest factor in determining where Barrett plays in 2020, but the Bucs may have the upper hand.
“I have thought about it a little bit,” Barrett said. “I would hate to move my family again. We hate to move, but I do think this could be home for my entire life. So, yeah, I would love to be down here.”
It’s hard to imagine the Bucs wouldn’t do everything in their power to retain Barrett. He has one of the best first steps in football and is a technician when it comes to using his hands to break free of blockers.
After recording nine sacks in his first four games with the Bucs, Barrett got lot more attention from offensive coordinators. The Saints and Panthers used running backs and tight ends to chip block on Barrett, and it worked. He was shut out in the sack department for two games.
But as the Bucs’ defensive linemen got healthier and Pierre-Paul returned to the lineup from injuries suffered in an offseason car accident, opponents couldn’t be as aggressive. “They thought I could ruin the game, and that’s a huge honor,” Barrett said.
Barrett also has forced six fumbles, one shy of the club record held by Broderick Thomas and Stylz G. White.
Barrett says he didn’t see himself breaking sack records when the season started.
“I just wanted double digits,’” he said. “I just wanted to touch 10. So now, you set your goals higher and higher.”