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Shaquil Barrett sets high bar for his Bucs encore

NFL's sack king from last season says that if the Bucs win, recognition for the defense will follow.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Shaquil Barrett led the league in sacks a year ago.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Shaquil Barrett led the league in sacks a year ago. [ Times ]
Published Aug. 4, 2020
Updated Aug. 4, 2020

The team facility that outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett entered Monday morning for the Bucs’ first training camp workout looked dramatically different.

“Pretty much everything is different,” Barrett said of an AdventHealth Training Center, which has been redesigned to adhere to social distancing protocols. “The interactions with the players, the lockers not being right next to each other (and) the temperature (screening) when you first come in.

“But, I like it. I think we’re doing it as good as we can be doing it, but I’m just happy to be back in the building. We had a long break (and) I enjoyed the time with the family, but it’s time to get back to work and I’m ready to go.”

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Barrett, who led the NFL with 19 ½ sacks in his first season with the Bucs, hopes to have an even better encore. That will be difficult, but he is determined to set a higher bar for himself.

Asked on a video call with reporters Monday whether he’d be happy with 12 sacks this season, Barrett chuckled.

“I mean, that’s a good start,” Barrett said. “We might be cancelling the season if I’m only getting 12 though. It must be half of a season. No, but whatever helps the team, if it’s 12, 12 would be a good number. But I’m always striving to be better than I was last year. Whatever that number would be, I’m just excited that my plays potentially help the team get a couple wins.”

Barrett never considered opting out this season, saying he told wife Jordanna that if there was a season, he was playing. “There was pretty much no option for us to opt out as long as we were doing it the safest way possible.” But an unfortunate and uncontrollable set of circumstances prevented him from making the most of his breakout season.

The Bucs placed the franchise tag on Barrett during the offseason — he will make $15.88 million on a one-year deal — but COVID-19 prevented him from reaching a long-term deal with the team. Because of the pandemic, and a looming league-imposed salary cap cut next year, teams were hesitant signing players to multi-year contracts.

“It was too much up in the air, so we weren’t able to get on terms or really get the right negotiations going because we really didn’t know anything,” he said. “They did make it clear that they love me, they like me, they want me and just when the time is right, we might be able to get something going in the right direction.”

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An offense now led by quarterback Tom Brady will dominate attention, even though the Bucs’ front office valued the existing defensive unit so much that it prioritized keeping it intact. That included retaining Barrett on a franchise tender and re-signing free agents Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh.

Still, just two defensive players were named to the NFL Network’s preseason top 100 list — Barrett at No. 32 and veteran inside linebacker Lavonte David at 100. Barrett said that the Bucs defense doesn’t get the recognition it deserves, but will if they win games.

“If we were winning and (if we had) been in the playoffs, we probably would’ve had more guys on there,” Barrett said. “I think it’s going to be just whoever the teams that were doing the best, who have some guys who are making plays, that’s going to get all the recognition. I most definitely know Lavonte is not 100 out of everybody in the league. ...

“We know our worth, we know what we can do and what we bring to the team — that’s the most important thing.”

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.