TAMPA ― One of the best moments following the Bucs’ win over the Chiefs in Super Bowl 55 was Chris Godwin’s fiancée, Mariah Delpercio, running across the field and leaping into the arms of the receiver.
“I can’t feel my legs!” she cried out as they embraced.
“This is crazy,” Godwin said. “We’re the best in the world!”
“Let’s lay on the confetti!” Depercio said, and they dropped to the turf covered in red and white pieces of streamers.
Godwin and Delpercio have been together for eight years, since Middletown High School in Delaware.
But can the same be said for Godwin and receiver Mike Evans?
“He loves it here,” coach Bruce Arians said of Godwin. “It’s hard to leave and go to another system just for money. But it’s not bad paying two No. 1 receivers, that’s for sure, when they’re as good as our two No. 1s.”
Godwin is among the Bucs’ top potential free agents, a list that includes outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett, inside linebacker Lavonte David, tight end Rob Gronkowski, receiver Antonio Brown, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and kicker Ryan Succop, to name a few.
The Bucs would like to strike deals with all of them. But they have a franchise player tag to apply sometime between Tuesday and the March 9 deadline to prevent one of those players from testing free agency.
Barring an agreement prior to the deadline, it should go to Godwin.
Barrett played under the franchise tag a year ago, earning $15.8 million on a one-year deal after leading the NFL with 19.5 sacks.
He deserved a long-term deal, but the pandemic made it nearly impossible due to the uncertainty of the salary cap in 2021.
Barrett produced eight sacks during the regular season but dominated in the playoffs, registering three sacks of the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers in the NFC Championship Game and another of Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the Super Bowl.
There’s no way Barrett, who says he wants to “break the bank,” would easily accept being given the franchise tag again. It could lead to a holdout.
Barrett, who will be 29 in November, is likely seeking a deal that would average anywhere from $21-23 million per year. He’s rented a home in Tampa Bay the last two years and wants to put down roots for his family.
The projected franchise tag value for a receiver in 2021 is an estimated $16.43 million, or the average salary of the top five highest-paid players at his position.
Evans is set to account for $16.6 million against the cap in 2021 and earn more than $18 million in each of the following two seasons. But there is no guaranteed money remaining on Evans’ deal. The Bucs could restructure his contract and add some new guarantees that could lower his cap value. They also would have an opportunity to determine if there is any dropoff for Evans in year eight.
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If the Bucs used the franchise tag on Godwin, it would mean more than 18 percent of the salary cap would be devoted to the Bucs’ two receivers.
The Bucs are about $13.361 million under the projected $180.50 million salary cap, according to Overthecap.com.
It’s a tough decision, but one that makes sense on a lot of levels.
Do not underestimate the importance of the slot receiver position in Arians’ offense. It typically leads the team in targets and receptions.
Godwin missed four games last season with an assortment of injuries, including having 12 pins placed in his left hand.
He wasn’t able to duplicate his 1,333-yard, nine-touchdown performance of 2019. But he still produced 65 catches for 840 yards and seven TDs.
Even though he dropped some passes in the playoffs, Godwin still led the Bucs with 232 receiving yards in the postseason.
While the Bucs are deep at receiver ― Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson are under contract and Antonio Brown is a free agent — none of them are nearly as physical as Godwin to handle the slot position in this offense.
Of course, the goal is not to have to use the franchise tag. But it’s not a given the Bucs can reach long-term deals with any player by the March 9 deadline.
“It’s usually the money,” Arians said. “... If it’s close, I think our guys want to stay.”
Godwin has his Super Bowl ring. He wants to get paid. But the Bucs can make sure he doesn’t lay on different-colored confetti in 2021.