Buccaneers Retain Key Defenders, Pursue Brady as Winston Hits Free Agency

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have begun the 2020 free agency period by locking down their veteran edge rushers.

First, the team placed the franchise tag on breakout star Shaquil Barrett, confirming that no other team could sign him.

Then, the team announced they have reached a two-year, $27 million agreement with 10-year veteran Jason Pierre-Paul.

The pair of veteran pass-rushers combined for 28 sacks in 2019 as Barrett led the NFL with 19.5 quarterback captures. Pierre-Paul, who missed the first half of the season with a neck injury sustained in an offseason car accident, tallied 8.5 quarterback takedowns over the remaining 10 games of the season.

Tampa Bay finished the season 11th in total sacks with 47. The pass rush was a key factor in their defense’s staggering one-year turnaround.

After finishing 2017 and 2018 dead last in Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA, the Buccaneers scored a remarkable fifth-place finish in 2019. Clearly, the team believes their veteran edge rushers played a major role in that miraculous transformation.

Latest on Quarterback Situation

While the Buccaneers moved to retain two key defenders on the opening day of free agency, the quarterback situation is still very much up in the air.

General manager Jason Licht and head coach Bruce Arians are allowing embattled incumbent quarterback Jameis Winston to test the open market while they put a full-court press on future Hall of Famer Tom Brady.

Per ESPN’s Mike Reiss, Tampa Bay “made an aggressive pitch” for Brady this morning.

Things have actually heated up to the point where the Buccaneers are now the betting odds-on-favorite to land Brady.

As the team courts Brady, Winston joins the deepest group of free agent quarterbacks in recent memory. At the moment, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Marcus Mariota, Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, and Winston are all unrestricted free agents.

Plus, Derek Carr is expected to part ways with the Las Vegas Raiders should they decide to acquire one of the above signal-callers as his replacement.

While Brees reportedly will be re-signing with the New Orleans Saints, the rest of the group is still teamless at the moment, leaving quarterback-needy teams with an unprecedented number of options.

This unique situation is likely figured into the Buccaneers’ gambit of allowing Winston to test free agency while they chase who many believe is the greatest quarterback in NFL history.

The team is banking on the fact that there will not be much of a market for Winston … or at least not as much as he has sought in contract negotiations with the team thus far.

Should Tampa Bay fail to land their first choice in Brady, they are betting Winston will still be available for potentially less than he was previously seeking.

The team is reportedly also very interested in Teddy Bridgewater should they fail to land Brady. The question is whether Bridgwater is Plan B or C. That situation is likely still fluid.

As for Winston, there has been widespread speculation that former Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden is interested. Such was corroborated today by the Tampa Bay Times’ Rick Stroud.

It appears Brady will be the first quarterback domino to fall. Once he chooses a team, the market will shift into overdrive.

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