TAMPA — Bruce Arians doesn’t mince words. They tumble out with no coat of sugar. Sometimes, he is so refreshingly blunt that you begin looking for curves in all the straight talk.
But Arians told us what he was going to do when the free-agent negotiating period began Monday. Now maybe everyone will believe him.
Arians said linebacker Shaquil Barrett wasn’t going anywhere and he made sure of it by giving the NFL’s sack leader the Bucs’ franchise player tag.
He said his starting quarterback was an “unknown quantity,” then allowed Jameis Winston to enter the three-day negotiating period for free agents, perhaps ending his five-year career in Tampa Bay.
He said he wanted to see what was behind Door No. 2 and would pick up the phone for Tom Brady, then made an “aggressive pitch" to the six-time Super-Bowl winning quarterback Monday.
And nothing seemed as important to Arians as retaining as many free agents on defense as possible. So the Bucs reached an agreement to bring back outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul back in a two-year, $27 million deal.
Multiple national reports indicated that the Bucs contacted Brady and his agent, Donald Yee, Monday and tried to sell the Patriots quarterback on coming to Tampa Bay by offering big money, big weapons and a tropical change of scenery.
Brady also has drawn interest from the Chargers, and his recent purchase of a production company in Los Angeles makes that appear to be a good a fit. And of course, Jon Gruden is lurking with the Las Vegas Raiders.
One thing everyone can agree on is that while Brady would like to reach a decision as soon as possible, nobody really knows which way he is leaning or whether he will just wind up re-signing with the Patriots.
That may eventually be the outcome, but Brady at least has something to think about.
“After dropping hints for weeks leading back to the combine, Tampa Bay came back and said, ‘Tom, we want you to be our quarterback,’" NFL Network reporter Michael Giradi said.
“Crystal balling? I think Tampa has a lot of redeeming qualities,’’ said NFL Network’s Michael Silver.
While the Bucs await an answer from Brady, they are closely monitoring the interest in other free-agent quarterbacks.
Early Monday, it appeared that the Bucs’ second choice, the Saints’ Teddy Bridgewater, was in serious talks with the Chicago Bears. We should’ve seen this coming. Teddy Bear. But then it fell apart, so he still is available.
The Indianapolis Colts have expressed interest in Philip Rivers. And Winston, who posted a picture of himself on Instagram smiling broadly, is only a phone call away for the Bucs and has remained in contact with them.
“He’s still the greatest quarterback of all time, and other teams for the first time in his career are going to be allowed to talk to him and try to persuade him from leaving New England, and I think there’s a real chance that somebody’s going to be able to do that," said ESPN’s Adam Schefter said of Brady.
While the quarterback situation is fluid, the Bucs’ priority Monday was locking up their bookend pass rushers.
They started by using the non-exclusive franchise tag on Barrett, who led the NFL with 19.5 sacks. He will receive a one-year tender worth $15.828 million for 2020 but can negotiate a long-term agreement until the deadline July 15.
Barrett, his brother and mother lived in 16 places, by his estimate, while growing up in Baltimore. They were unable to pay rent and never really had a stable home until he reached eighth grade. Eventually, he was sent to high school at Boys Town in Nebraska.
Undrafted out of Colorado State, he spent five seasons with the Broncos. On Monday, Barrett learned he won’t be moving from his football home anytime soon.
Barrett, 27, had nine sacks in his first four games last season, but with Pierre-Paul missing six games due to a cervical fracture in his neck, teams began to slide protection toward his side and he had one sack over the next three games.
But when Pierre-Paul returned, everything changed. Barrett had 10.5 sacks in the final 10 games and Pierre-Paul finished second on the team with 8.5. The Bucs also signed restricted free-agent tight end Antony Auclair to a one-year tender Monday.
Pierre-Paul took to Instagram to announce his return. “I just wanted to tell y’all the deal just got done," Pierre-Paul said. "Your boy going to be in Tampa for another two years.” Then Pierre-Paul shouted to a neighbor: “Two years! I got another two years in Tampa!”
Now the only question is: Who will join him?
Even after Monday’s move, the Bucs still have $53 million of their $82 million salary cap space, plenty to feed the GOAT.