On Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made one of the first moves of the 2021 NFL free agency. The reigning Super Bowl champions re-signed their star edge-rusher, Shaquil Barrett to a four-year, $68-million contract. This deal came at a price lower than his previously projected. Amid Tom Brady‘s recent team-friendly deal, the Buccaneers offseason seems to be headed in the right direction. Barrett’s deal, in turn, could save Tampa some money throughout that four-year window.
The club still has some work to do on the free-agent market, though. So, let’s examine whether Barrett’s deal will help them return to the top.
How We Got Here
Shaquil Barrett, a 28-year-old Colorado State Rams product, spent the first four seasons of his NFL career with the Denver Broncos, from 2014 to 2018. From the first few campaigns of Barrett’s tenure, it becomes clear that the edge-rusher needed time to unveil his potential.
During his time in the Mile High City, Barrett posted a total of 14 sacks with a best of 5.5 in 2015. Moreover, he had never started more than nine games in a single season with the Broncos. Shaq Barrett wasn’t a vital team contributor nor a highly-thought-of youngster in that period. However, once he found a new home during the 2019 Buccaneers offseason, he was given the green light and it paid off.
In 2019, Barrett appeared in a career-high 77% of Tampa’s defensive snaps, leading the NFL with 19.5 sacks. The following year, his production saw a slight downturn, with Shaq Barrett posting just eight sacks, good enough for the third-best on the team. Yet, despite that small decline, Barrett still managed to register an Approximate Value (Pro-Football-Reference) of eight, close to his 2019 figure of 12. Furthermore, it was the second-best amongst the team’s pass-rushers, after Jason Pierre-Paul.
Despite the decrease that the 2020 campaign saw, Shaquil Barrett is in his prime and it’s realistic to believe that his production over the next four seasons will vary in the range of 10 sacks per year. That’s why the value of his new deal, worth less than Spotrac’s $20-million-a-year projection, will be a sigh of relief for the Super Bowl Champs. The team was able to bring back its main weapons and still has $9 million left under this year’s $182-million salary-cap threshold. So far it’s been an impressive Buccaneers offseason.
As the cap increases in the next several years and more players experience expiring contracts, the opportunities to add depth alongside starting-caliber production will come in bigger and bigger proportions every year of the deal’s duration.
2021 Buccaneers Offseason: The State of Shaq Barrett’s Deal
Officially, Shaquil Barrett’s new contract is worth $68 million over four years, with very little detail. The only thing noted by Spotrac is that he will be owed a million dollars for every year with 15 sacks and a playoff berth for the Bucs.
As already mentioned, the average value of that deal is slightly under the initial estimate of $19.7 million per year. Considering that Tampa has merely brought back its two crucial assets thus far, this near $3 million discount could prove a huge advantage in the team’s hunt to return to Super Bowl glory.
It leaves them with $9 million to allocate to roster upgrades during the 2021 Buccaneers offseason. Furthermore, another positive note is that with departures opening up spots every year, the possibilities for filling in as many holes as they can will be much wider.
As details are still up in the air, two things need to be pointed out or will be important to watch from now on. Firstly, if Shaquil Barrett’s 2021 cap hit amounts to somewhere near his average contract value, the Buccaneers should remain with around $10 million, which is beyond sufficient to address Tampa Bay’s limited roster needs.
Secondly, the positivity of Barrett’s discount could be curbed if his cap hit in the two years that follow the 2021 NFL season is significantly above the average size of the deal. As mentioned very frequently, the light that has sparked bright in the past couple of days has come from Tom Brady’s new deal.
As is often the case with TB12, he was more than willing to take a financial loss to give the team the option to invest around him. In 2021, he is present on the Bucs’ cap payroll by the virtue of just $9 million. The next two seasons, though, will represent a drastic difference. Across the 2022 and 2023 seasons, Brady will be owed $16 million and $24 million, respectively.
Tampa Bay would need to pay Barrett annually less than $17 million in order to benefit from his contract in the context of Brady’s deal.
Nonetheless, Shaq Barrett’s four-year deal leaves yet more space for the Bucs to improve after it became a habit to save money and spend efficiently early on in the 2021 Buccaneers offseason. It will be curious to see if that’s the pattern they’ll be following during the entirety of free agency.
2021 Buccaneers Offseason: Finding Value in an Expensive Contract
It is fair to believe that the almost universal consensus is that Tampa Bay was able not to overspend, and even save money as compared to the initial limited projections and insider info available.
However, a much more traditional and interesting matter is whether he will be capable of justifying the $68 million gamble made by the organization’s front office during the Buccaneers offseason.
Sometimes, it is difficult to interpret a possible career-high achievement by a player within his first five-six seasons. That is if his career is not derailed by injuries or other issues that cause him to retire early. Either way, that’s exactly what the case is with Shaquil Barrett.
Not only did Barrett lead the NFL in sacks in 2019 but he also registered the second-best figure in the last five years. His 19.5 sacks in a single season were only worse than Aaron Donald‘s 20.5 the year prior. This number is what defines his career thus far. However, it is always more indicative to judge based on trends and not on single seasons that have often proven not to be replicated.
As also mentioned, Barrett had a noticeably down but still a steady year in a more effective Bucs defensive line. Shaq Barrett posted eight sacks this past year. While that is much lower than the previous season, it sets a favorable overall tendency about what his average form will be at the peak of his career. Again, the emphasis is on consistency from one year to another, and then some.
Shaquil Barrett is merely 28 years old, just seven seasons removed from the moment the Broncos signed him as an undrafted free agent. Popular player evaluation theories suggest that a younger player has more potential going forward due to his best years being more likely in front of him. Per those views, Barrett could have provided a glance at his early close-to-peak display in 2019, coming down to Earth after that.
Therefore, a steady improvement and then striving to maintain that level are likely to follow in the next several years. In short, whatever direction Shaq Barrett’s career takes as he ages, the Bucs should have almost the best of him over the course of his next deal. That alone, at the background of some many one-and-dones, rise-and-fall NFL players (not just DEs), should justify a salary of $17 million a year after the 2021 Buccaneers offseason.
Things are a hair different as regards if he can keep that up after that four-year contract. It will define his real level of consistency, likely resulting in him staying in south Florida or at least earning an ever more high-profile deal then.
2021 Buccaneers Offseason: Long-Term Potential
The short-term impact of Barrett’s arrival during the early stages of the Buccaneers offseason is clear. As the afore-written paragraph suggests, he is probably entering his prime, in terms of single-season values as well as year-over-year consistency.
It is difficult to project where he will be in the seasons after this contract is up. For the better part of his seven-year NFL tenure, Shaq Barrett failed to rack up playing time. His resume has a lot left to be desired. Furthermore, his first five seasons raise some question marks even towards his short-term development. However, his latest two efforts shouldn’t prove anything other than him having the potential to turn in an impressive and lengthy NFL career.
The figures that are present for his next four seasons should shed more light on his future valuation. For instance, he will be 32 in four years, promising not to retain his 2021-2024 level on a basis so regular. Therefore, if his next four campaigns are weak and unproductive, he might not receive the focus he had before the start of the 2021 Buccaneers offseason.
Nevertheless, in any case, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should be the biggest beneficiaries of Shaquil Barrett’s career after a pricey deal during the 2021 Buccaneers offseason. Whether he is a bust or not, the team will be lucky enough to experience his best years (lowest risk) and decide if he can carry on like that further after the conclusion of the 2024 NFL season.
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