Inside the Bucs’ pivotal meeting with linebacker Devin White

The Pro Bowler was demanding to be traded before a secret get-together with coach Todd Bowles and general manager Jason Licht changed his mind.
Bucs linebacker Devin White speaks with the media during training camp earlier this month at AdventHealth Training Center in Tampa.
Bucs linebacker Devin White speaks with the media during training camp earlier this month at AdventHealth Training Center in Tampa. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Aug. 26, 2023|Updated Aug. 27, 2023

TAMPA — Devin White wanted to be traded. Unable to reach an agreement on a long-term deal with the Bucs, the Pro Bowl linebacker flew from his home in Louisiana to Tampa in late March for a secret meeting with Bucs head coach Todd Bowles and general manager Jason Licht.

The Bucs had picked up White’s fifth-year club option worth $11.7 million, a significant increase from the $7.3 million average annual salary he was paid during his first four seasons.

How was White convinced to drop his trade demand and focus on returning to the Bucs in 2023 fully invested in the team’s success?

“Just tell him the truth,” Bowles said Thursday. “There’s a lot of guys that play under the fifth-year option. We just had to get rid of $60 million. How can we go back and disperse what we had to get rid of to get under the cap? A lot of people play under the fifth-year option. It’s not a slap in the face. When you get drafted in the first round? You get a fifth-year option. If you get drafted in the second round, you get four years.

“And the market changes all the time. I understand his point. He wasn’t disrespectful or anything like that. Devin is a real bright guy. He’s one of the best leaders we have on the team, and he works hard every day. It’s like he couldn’t understand it at the time. It’s like you’ve just got to play your way through it and go from there. Somebody is going to pay you. If you do your job, it takes care of itself.”

White arguably is the Bucs’ best player on defense, the guy who makes all of the calls in the huddle and has led the team in tackles each of the past three seasons (he tied linebacker Lavonte David in 2022).

White underwent some criticism last season for not hustling on a couple of plays against the Baltimore Ravens and was called out by Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp. White often got lost in pass coverage, and Pro Football Focus graded him at 42.6 in that category, fifth-worst among linebackers.

In a perfect world, White wanted to receive the kind of four-year, $100 million deal signed by Ravens linebacker Roquan Smith, who forced a trade from the Chicago Bears over a similar contract impasse.

But Smith’s deal didn’t come until after he finished playing under the fifth-year club option. That was the message Bowles imparted. Play well, and you’ll get your money somewhere.

“You can’t look at another person’s situation and put yourself in it, in life or football,” Bowles said. “We told him how much we loved him and we want him here and everything else, and that’s all you can do. He’s in a great headspace. He’s always been great.

“He’s one of the few guys that practices every day, practices hard, never misses anything and works his tail off. He’s not a prima donna. He’s a hard worker. I can never say since he’s been here he’s had a day off work. He will practice with sore hamstrings, everything. He comes to work, and you can appreciate that.”

Bowles considering giving up defensive play-calling

Bowles was pleased with the Bucs’ defensive effort in the first two preseason games, including preventing the Jets to reach the end zone in a 13-6 win.

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Linebackers coach/co-defensive coordinator Larry Foote called the first game on defense. Defensive line coach/co-defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers handled the duties against the Jets.

Bowles said he expects to return to calling plays Saturday against the Ravens. He says he needs the practice. But he isn’t ruling out turning over those duties sometime this year or next.

“Maybe it’s the end of the year. I’m sure at what point,” Bowles said. “I’m not setting a landmark. I’ve got to get used to my system when I do call it, so I can handle it because I’ve been doing it. It’s OK. I’m fine with it. But having them call it gives me more help on the sideline when they see things and I see it differently, and it opens their eyes to more stuff that they can help assist me.

“You’re still on the headset. You’re trying to see what they’re seeing, and you see what you’re seeing but you let them call it. I might say one or two things, but I let them call it because you can’t get better unless you call it. We all call it differently.”

Jensen’s injury will cost Bucs

There will be no remarkable recovery for Ryan Jensen this season. The Bucs said Saturday night that they are placing him on injured reserve and he will be out for the season. Robert Hainsey will start at center in the season opener Sept. 10 at Minnesota.

Jensen, who tore three knee ligaments in training camp more than a year ago, is one of the most popular players in the organization. He opted against surgery, instead receiving stem cell treatments from the umbilical cords of babies born by cesarean section in Antigua.

He signed a three-year, $39 million contract last year. Because the team added voidable years in 2024 and 2025, Jensen’s dead money against the salary cap is more than $27 million over 2024-25.

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