As there are 16 games in an NFL regular season, it is natural to divide the season into quarters. Weeks 4, 8, 12, and then the end of the season become checkpoints to see how a team or a player might be stacking up against the rest of the league.
Four weeks into the year—one quarter through the season—most fans are just focused on how their team has done in their respective starts. National headlines and storylines really don’t hit mainstream or common knowledge until about halfway through the year, but there is still plenty of curiosity on how a team or player might measure up compared to their peers.
One of those ways (categories) is in the sack department. For those whose favorite team features a player who’s had a hot start bringing down the quarterback, perhaps they wondered if their guy was leading the league. In 2019, as they researched, there was likely a common thought process when they found out whose name was at the top of the league sack list after Week 4.
Who is Shaq Barrett?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers pass-rusher Shaq Barrett put the league on notice early in the 2019 season when he recorded nine sacks through the first four games, tying the NFL record. In the end, Barrett’s name stayed atop the leaderboard, as he was crowned the league’s sack king for 2019 with 19.5 sacks on the season.
You can’t really blame people for not knowing who Barrett was before the season. Barrett was an undrafted player in the 2014 NFL Draft who signed a UDFA deal with the Denver Broncos. After not playing in a single game his rookie season, Barrett recorded 5.5 sacks in 2015. However, in the three years that followed, he never achieved or exceeded that level of production. After the Broncos drafted Bradley Chubb in 2018, it was clear Barrett was not a feature player in their plans
So, in the offseason of 2019, as a first-time free agent, Barrett signed a one-year, $4 million deal with the Buccaneers, who had an opening for one of their starting pass-rush positions opposite Jason Pierre-Paul.
He certainly proved his worth in that “prove it” deal.
Hitting the market for the second time was much different this past offseason. However, after not coming to an agreement on a long-term deal, the Buccaneers placed the franchise tag on Barrett and are scheduled to pay him $15.8 million for the 2020 season. One could argue this was the right move for the Buccaneers, as Barrett, for as good as his 2019 season was, is just a one-year wonder at this point in his career.
Barrett has not signed his tender yet, and he and the Buccaneers have until July 15 to try to agree on a long-term deal, something Barrett is hoping for.
'‘I’m going to play off the tag [if] I got to, but I want that long-term deal,” Barrett said. ‘'It’s all about security for me and my family. That’s all I’ve been fighting for my whole time in the NFL. Even the franchise tag, I’m still getting security, too. I just want a long contract and long-term security.”
So what would a long-term deal look like for Barrett? What could the Bucs afford to pay him?
Obviously there are a handful of factors that go into answering that question.
With Barrett scheduled to make up $15.8 million of the team’s cap space for 2020, that comes out to 7.75 percent of the total number. The only players who take up a higher percentage of the cap are quarterback Tom Brady and wide receiver Mike Evans.
Right now, the estimated available cap space for the Bucs after their top 51 players on the roster is $5.1 million, which is around where you want to be going into a season. You never know when a player is going to get injured (or how many are going to get injured), so you want to make sure you’re not too close to zero, as to have some emergency money for future signings.
So, in terms of the amount Barrett is getting this season, the Bucs can afford it. But what about if it’s a long-term deal moving forward?
Spotrac estimates that Barrett’s value on the open market should yield a deal of about $46 million over three years or $64 million over four years. That’s an average payout of about $15.5-15.7 million per season, about a similar amount to what he’s making on the tag. In terms of value, that makes sense, considering it is still a bit less than the deals Za’Darius Smith and Chandler Jones signed to their respective teams.
But what about beyond this season? Well, then it gets a bit tricky due to who the Bucs will have to sign in 2021 and 2022.
In 2021, three of the Bucs’ big free agents include Ndamukong Suh, Rob Gronkowski, and Lavonte David. Both Suh and Gronkowski are playing on one-year deals, and both coming back will be contingent on how competitive the Bucs will be. Since Brady will be back for at least 2022, I would expect Gronkowski to be back, too. But perhaps the Bucs could save some money by moving on from Suh for a cheaper option to play next to Vita Vea next offseason. As for David, he likely won’t be signing a deal that costs the Bucs north of $10 million on the cap like he is now, but it will still likely be pretty high ($6-8 million range).
But there’s another player who the Bucs have to seriously budget for when next offseason rolls around, and that is wide receiver Chris Godwin.
Godwin is playing out his rookie deal, which has him at just about $2 million against the cap. That number will go up tremendously, as Godwin could be signing a deal that will pay him about $16-17 million per year.
As for 2022, the Bucs will have to make decisions on Donovan Smith, O.J. Howard, Jason Pierre-Paul and then the big one in Brady. Some of those decisions will play themselves out, such as how competitive the outlook of the team will be, as well as the status of potential retirement for both Brady and head coach Bruce Arians.
All of that to say the Bucs can afford to pay Barrett the amount the franchise tag shows for this season, which is right around where his market value is projected to be anyways but depending on their long-term plans things could get tricky next season with Godwin. But even if Barrett comes down from the mountain top to around an 8-10 sack player, that is a guy the Bucs have to have on their team if they hope to compete at the highest level.