TAMPA ― General manager Jason Licht and Mike Greenberg, the Bucs vice president of football operations, are having a sleep-deprived, dreamlike start to the free-agent signing period.
You can credit the Tom Brady effect. The seven-time Super Bowl champion quarterback has a gravitational pull that can suck a lot of players into his orbit.
Things started to ramp up Sunday after Brady announced his plans to end his 40-day retirement and return to the Bucs.
Hours after that news broke, center Ryan Jensen agreed to a three-year, $39 million contract with the Bucs. Guard Aaron Stinnie already had been locked up with a one-year contract Saturday.
A week ago, the Bucs designated Chris Godwin as their franchise player for the second year in a row.
Licht and Greenberg have a lot to celebrate. By Monday afternoon, cornerback Carlton Davis agreed to a three-year, $45 million deal to remain with the Bucs, including $30 million guaranteed.
Brady, Godwin, Davis, Jensen and Stinnie. Retaining those core players on a Bucs team that won 29 games and a Super Bowl in the past two seasons may represent the best start to free agency of any NFL team.
But it’s not an easy chore to hang on to that many players so early in the offseason.
“When we originally signed Ryan four years ago, we thought he was one of the best centers in the league and he has only elevated his level of play in his years with us,” Licht said. “He also brings a toughness and grit that sets the tone for our offensive line, which has become one of the best units in the NFL.
“Ryan is a key component of our football team and keeping him was a major priority for us this offseason. We are very excited that he chose to remain with us as we strive to contend for another championship.”
The 25-year-old Davis is among the best cover cornerbacks in the NFL. His 47 passes defensed since 2019 are tied with the Giants’ James Bradberry for most in the league.
That’s quite an accomplishment considering he missed seven games with a quad injury last season. Davis still finished the season with 11 pass breakups. He was second in the league with 19 in 2019 and 18 in 2020.
The Bucs still have more work to do in the secondary as starting strong safety Jordan Whitehead is a free agent. But Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Jamel Dean and safeties Antoine Winfield Jr. and Mike Edwards all return in 2022.
The Bucs’ next focus will be locking up tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is almost certain to return to the Bucs with Brady back in the fold.
The only buzz kill for the Bucs is they lost starting guard Alex Cappa, who agreed to a four-year, $40 million contract with the Bengals on Monday.
Brady may need a new contract. He had a deferred bonus of $15 million due to him last month before he retired. That will have to be paid back to Brady with him in the fold but would add to a tight salary cap situation.
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As he did a season ago, Brady could add another year to his contract if only to create more room under the cap to sign free agents. It also would serve another purpose. Brady wouldn’t have to endure an inevitable retirement tour this season.
Teams must be below the the $208.2 million cap by the start of the new league year Wednesday at 4 p.m. The Bucs were more than $7 million over Monday, according to Overthecap.com.
They could reduce that significantly if they are able to reach a long-term agreement with Godwin, who will cost $19.18 million in 2022.
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