TAMPA — Shortly after the Bucs’ booze-soaked Super Bowl boat parade, coach Bruce Arians stood on a stage and took turns telling receiver Chris Godwin and linebackers Lavonte David and Shaquil Barrett the same thing:
“Your (butt) ain’t going nowhere!” Arians declared to the three potential free agents.
That wasn’t the alcohol talking.
The Bucs used the franchise tag on Godwin. They signed David to a team-friendly deal and restructured Tom Brady’s contract.
But the biggest move may have come just before noon Monday when they secured one of the NFL’s best pass rushers by agreeing to terms with Barrett on a four-year deal worth $72 million that includes $34.5 million guaranteed, the Times confirmed.
A few hours later, after saying he may want to “dip my toes” in free agency, tight end Rob Gronkowski agreed to return on a one-year, $8 million contract.
The Bucs haven’t gotten the whole band back together yet, but they’ve locked up a few players that were instrumental in winning the Super Bowl.
“Running it back,” Gronkowski tweeted.
Arians prefers to call it “going for two,” but no matter what term you use, the Bucs did a remarkable job of locking up their key potential free agents with large signing bonuses and voidable years.
Barrett’s contract will average $17 million per year, which can increase to $18 million due to escalators. Half of that $1 million bonus is based on recording 15 sacks; the other half is paid upon reaching the playoffs. He will receive an $18 million signing bonus, which will keep his salary-cap figure for 2021 at $5.6 million.
“If it’s meant to be, it will be,” Barrett said on Instagram. “It’s something special about this whole organization, and I am so excited to be a part of it for (four) more years.”
Barrett’s 111 pressures over the past two seasons are most in the NFL, and he is second only to the Steelers’ T.J. Watt in sacks during that stretch.
After leading the NFL with 19.5 sacks in 2019, Barrett received the Bucs’ franchise tag, worth $15.8 million on a one-year deal. Barrett, who turns 29 in November, made it clear he did not want the tag again in 2020 and waited to ramp up negotiations until the Bucs tagged Godwin.
The Bucs seem willing to mortgage part of their future to keep their Super Bowl window cracked a little longer. That has not been the way they’ve operated under general manager Jason Licht.
Then again, you have to consider that the quarterback will be 44 in August and the head coach 69 in October.
By paying all these signing bonuses that are amortized over future years, the Bucs will be taking some “dead money” on the salary cap for players who may no longer be on their roster.
It’s a calculated risk. For starters, the $182.5 million cap is bound to increase significantly starting in 2022 as the pandemic abates and fans are welcomed back into stadiums, increasing revenues. There also will be significant earnings to the league when they complete talks for new television deals.
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Even though the Bucs used a franchise tag on Godwin, guaranteeing him about $16 million on a one-year contract, they carved out enough salary-cap room for Barrett using voidable years on the contracts for David and Brady.
Brady made a lot of this possible. He reworked his contract and will earn $50 million over the next two seasons but could earn more than $41 million in 2021 while his salary-cap value is lowered to about $9 million.
Gronkowski, who turns 32 in May, played in all 20 games in 2020 despite coming off a one-year retirement. He finished with 45 catches for 623 yards and seven touchdowns in the regular season. He didn’t catch many passes in the postseason but led the Bucs with two TD receptions in the Super Bowl. He will count $4.8 million against the cap this year.
The Bucs still want to find a way to re-sign free agents such as defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, kicker Ryan Succop, receiver Antonio Brown and/or running back Leonard Fournette.
Arians could not have been happier with the job done by Licht, director of football administration Mike Greenberg and director of football research Jacqueline Davidson. He says it’s also just getting started.
“Now finish the rest,” Arians said in a text to the Times. “Jason and his crew are unbelievably good.”
Staff writer Joey Knight contributed to this report.