TAMPA — Shaquil Barrett knows how quickly teammates begin marching in different directions once the Super Bowl parade ends.
He witnessed it in Denver. Quarterback Peyton Manning retired after the Broncos won Super Bowl 50. Then 14 other players left via free agency.
It’s a routine as old as time. They make drunken promises to return, then call their agents and ask to get as much money as they can from somewhere else.
“Usually, teams win and let people go and walk because people will usually demand a higher salary than teams are willing to pay,” said Barrett, noting the Broncos went 9-7 after winning it all. “But (the Bucs) made it work. We moved some stuff around. We made some amazing deals with the other guys who were free and, man, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to get it done.”
For Barrett, who has amassed 27.5 sacks in two seasons with the Bucs, his focus this offseason wasn’t just on shopping for a new house, but finding a home.
He’s finally done that in Tampa Bay, signing a four-year, $72 million contract. He and his wife, Jordanna, made an offer on a house they hope to buy instead of renting the way they’ve done the past two years.
After playing under the franchise tag in 2020, Barrett said he was assured by general manager Jason Licht that the Bucs would instead seek to sign him to a long-term deal in 2021. “Jason Licht was really honest and stuck to his word the whole time,” Barrett said.
Barrett said there was some interest initially from a few undisclosed teams, but those calls stopped once they learned he was committed to returning to the Bucs.
And make no mistake, Barrett never wanted to leave Tampa Bay. You could probably determine that by the smile on his face at the Bucs’ boat parade when he wore a vintage creamsicle Doug Williams No. 12 jersey.
“After winning the Super Bowl, that’s what it’s about for me, for sure,” Barrett said. “I just loved the feel of the atmosphere and most definitely the parade. Man, it’s like everything that goes into it. It’s so much fun to be able to celebrate with fans like that and have the family on a boat. It was amazing. We’ve got all the makings to do it again, so we’ve got to start putting the work in again and not rest. Just keep on being hungry, and we’ll be at a good place at the end of the year.”
Barrett is one of the NFL’s biggest success stories. Grew up in Baltimore. Was sent to Boys Town in Omaha, Neb., where he was an all-state linebacker. Played one season at Div. II Nebraska-Omaha before that school ended its football program. Transferred to Colorado State, where he had 18 sacks in 38 games. Signed with the Broncos as an undrafted free agent and spent five seasons backing up the likes of Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware and Bradley Chubb.
As a free agent, only two teams had an interest in signing Barrett. He failed a physical with the Bengals before signing a one-year, $4 million prove-it deal with the Bucs.
That’s when his career launched into orbit. Although he had only 14 career sacks in Denver, under Todd Bowles scheme Barrett led the NFL with 19.5 sacks and made the Pro Bowl in 2019.
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“Shaq has made a profound and immediate impact on our defense from the day he stepped into the building two years ago,” Licht said.
Due to the pandemic, the Bucs used the franchise tag on Barrett but paid him $15.8 million after listing him as an outside linebacker. Barrett filed a grievance, insisting he deserved a higher salary as an edge rusher.
As a demonstration of good faith, the Bucs settled that grievance and paid Barrett $1.372 million before negotiating his new deal.
“That was a sign of good faith on both sides. We didn’t want to have to go through the grievance, so we were able to settle on a good number,” Barrett said.
Two years ago, Barrett was still a relative unknown. This week, Georgia outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari said he models his game after the Bucs pass rusher with his ability to bend around blockers during his pass rush and then drop into coverage.
Off the field, Barrett also is the kind of person Bucs fans find easy to embrace. He and Jordanna are committed to serving children in foster care. She is expecting the couple’s fourth child, a girl, next month.
“It’s been real important having her there,” Barrett said. “She’s my best friend, getting to talk about it, just letting out all the real true emotions, and she does the same. It’s just amazing to have that person and to have that person as long as I have is amazing. She’s been sacrificing a lot. I really appreciate her and love her so much, and she does a great job as a mom, a wife, everything, a friend. So, yeah, just the utmost respect for her and love.”
As Barrett said, it’s been a terrific start to 2021.
What advice does Barrett have for some of his other teammates still trying to decide whether to keep making Tampa Bay their home?
“I know a lot of those guys, as well, and you all can feel it,” Barrett said. “You all know when you’re in a good spot. Take advantage of this atmosphere down here, this camaraderie. If you all can make it work, make it work and come down here with your boy, because we got something special going for sure.”