TAMPA ― Lavonte David has played all 11 of his NFL seasons in a Bucs uniform and never has been an unrestricted free agent, twice signing contract extensions with the team that drafted him out of Nebraska in 2012.
During that time, some other numbers come to mind. He’s played for five head coaches ― Greg Schiano, Lovie Smith, Dirk Koetter, Bruce Arians and Todd Bowles ― and as many defensive coordinators (six if you consider that Smith took play-calling duties away from Leslie Frazier in 2015). David also enjoyed only one winning season and no playoff appearances until Tom Brady arrived in 2020.
Now, for the first time in his career, David, 33, will get a chance to look around to see if there is a franchise he’d rather play for than the one in Tampa Bay.
“Yes, he will test free agency,” said David’s agent, Ron Butler. “The Bucs do want him back. He played at a very high level last season, only missing (one) snap in 17 games. Let’s see how it plays out.”
When the 2022 season ended, David made it clear he would love to finish his career with the Bucs.
“Getting to play in the same building my whole career like guys like Ronde Barber and Derrick Brooks, that’d be amazing,” David said. “Just to walk the same hallways they walked their whole career. Especially Derrick Brooks, you all know how I feel about Derrick. Every time he comes around, my eyes light up. So, he’s definitely a guy who I kind of want to model after.”
Brooks wanted to finish his career with the Bucs, if only to mentor his eventual replacement, Geno Hayes. Brooks had an opportunity to resume his career with the Saints after being released by the Bucs following the 2008 season but decided against it for a number of reasons.
The difference is that David is coming off one of his most solid years as a pro. He had 124 tackles and three sacks while starting every game in 2022. He changed his diet, took more days off from practice during the season and saved his best for game day.
The Bucs need him back. Fellow inside linebacker Devin White is playing on his fifth-year option and could become a free agent in 2024. Backup K.J. Britt did not play well in his only extensive time on defense against the Falcons in the final regular-season game.
But because of the Bucs’ salary-cap situation, it’s almost a certainty that all of their unrestricted free agents will hit the market when the negotiating period begins on Monday.
Players can begin signing new deals Wednesday at 4 p.m., the start of the new league year. David has averaged $12.5 million each of the past two seasons. The Bucs don’t figure to be a Super Bowl contender, so it’s possible he jumps ship for a chance at another championship ring.
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“He’s one of the iconic players of Tampa Bay who will always be a Buccaneer,” general manager Jason Licht said at the recent NFL combine. “You know, it’s still not out of the realm of possibility that he’s playing for us next year. It takes two to agree to it. We’ll see how that unfolds. But he’s an awesome player. We don’t want to talk about any offers or conversations we’ve had so far, but we would love to see Lavonte continue to play as a Buc.”
QB plans won’t include Lamar
If you’re handicapping the Bucs’ plans at quarterback, they begin, of course, with former Florida Gator Kyle Trask, who will get a chance to compete to be the starter.
After that, because the team can offer more opportunity than money, there will be a group of recycled veterans looking for the best place to land the No. 1 job.
That list probably begins with Seattle backup Drew Lock. In addition to having played for new offensive coordinator Dave Canales with the Seahawks, the Bucs should value a player in the QB room with an understanding of the new offense. After that, they have an interest in free agents Baker Mayfield of the Rams, Jacoby Brissett of the Browns and even Blaine Gabbert, who backed up Brady in Tampa Bay.
“I wouldn’t say he’s fallen off the map,” Licht said of Gabbert. “We’re evaluating every quarterback right now. Free agency, the draft, all of them. I have a lot of respect for Blaine. I have a good relationship with Blaine. I wouldn’t say he’s fallen off the map.”
Why isn’t the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson on the list?
Jackson is said to want a fully guaranteed contract similar to the five-year, $230 million deal Deshaun Watson signed with the Browns. With the non-exclusive franchise tag on Jackson, Baltimore still would have the chance to match any offer sheet or receive two first-round picks in return.
In the 30 years of free agency, former Rams defensive tackle Sean Gilbert is the only player to receiver the non-exclusive franchise tag, sign an offer sheet with another team and then end up with the new team.
The other problem is the Bucs’ salary-cap space. As it was explained to me, the Bucs could sign Jackson, but it would require some top players to be traded or released. It would mean the difference between having Trask and receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin; or Jackson, Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson.
The Bucs were awarded compensatory picks in the fifth (No. 175 overall) and seventh (252) rounds for losing safety Jordan Whitehead to the Jets and tight end O.J. Howard to the Bills, respectively. ... Tampa Bay hired Oregon assistant Jordan Somerville as an assistant quarterbacks coach.
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