You're going to be hard-pressed to find a player who made more money for themself during the course of the 2019 season than Shaquil Barrett.
After going undrafted in 2014 out of Colorado State, Barrett latched on with the Denver Broncos — first on the practice squad then eventually as a rotational player on the main roster. After five years in Denver, it was clear Barrett was not going to get his chance to be a full-time starter. The Broncos boasted Von Miller, one of the best sack masters of the last decade, and then drafted Bradley Chubb fifth overall in 2018 to play opposite him. It left Barrett as the odd man out.
Barrett hit unrestricted free agency last offseason as a 26-year-old with plenty still to prove. Rather than take a multi-year deal for less money, Barrett decided to bet on himself, taking a one-year, $4-million "prove-it" deal with the Buccaneers.
And prove it he did.
Over the course of the 2019 season, Barrett took the league by storm. He recorded eight sacks through the first three games and added a ninth in Week 4 — something that had rarely been done before in NFL history. He finished the season with a league-leading 19 1/2 sacks, which was also a franchise record for Tampa Bay, passing Hall of Fame player Warren Sapp.
Prior to this season, Barrett's career sack total for a season was 5 1/2, tallied during his second year. In fact, if you add up all five years of Barrett's time in Denver, those numbers don't surpass the amount he had in 2019.
There's hitting the free-agent market at a good time, there's striking while you're hot and then there's whatever Barrett, who just turned 27, is about to do this offseason. There's a chance he could be back in Tampa Bay next year, but there will be plenty of other teams vying for his services too.
Where He Wins
Barrett isn't the biggest presence off the edge. He isn't the fastest. And his body composition won't blow you away.
He's just really good.
Over the course of Barrett's time in Denver, learning from the likes of Miller and others, he was able to really understand his strengths and weaknesses. He developed an array of pass rush moves that he can pull out of his toolbox at any time.
When he times it right, his first step is violent and quick — a good combo for an edge rusher. A lot of his pressure and production came from a 2-point stance, and he was able to remain successful without that natural stance leverage with smooth, strong, quick hand usage that just never quit. His dip and rip got offensive tackles in trouble all season. Barrett is also sudden with his change of direction. He can put his foot in the ground and completely change his momentum, often leaving offensive linemen hanging on for dear life as he moves up the pocket.
Barrett is also constantly looking for the ball. If the quarterback still has it in his hand, whether that's before the throwing motion or during, Barrett is looking to pop it out and create a turnover. This is absolutely a useful mentality for edge rushers, forcing turnovers is even more valuable than sacks.
He isn't the most athletically gifted pass rusher you'll find, but he understands how to own a one-on-one very well.
Potential Red Flags
The potential red flag here is obvious, isn't it? It's whether or not Barrett is a one-year wonder.
Barrett has plenty of value as a pass rusher, but will he be able to repeat his production next season? Some may tell you he probably won't get close. Barrett's best from here on out will likely be around 10 sacks in a season than it would be 20.
Does that have value? Absolutely, but teams would have to prepare for that — not the near 20-sack season.
Barrett led the league in the most important category you could ask from an edge rusher, does that mean he'll be paid like one of the highest?
Khalil Mack, Demarcus Lawrence and Frank Clark are the only three edge rushers in the NFL who make more than $20 million per year. It is hard to believe Barrett will command that kind of money with only one year of dominant production under his belt.
Spotrac currently has Barrett's market value at $15.7 million per season and would make him the 12th highest paid edge rusher. Barrett would be in the same ballpark as players like Chandler Jones, Za'Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter.
So what teams could be in the market for Barrett around that price range?
Potential Landing Spots
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
There is not only a chance but a good chance that Barrett remains with the Buccaneers. Before the 2019 season as over, head coach Bruce Arians said Barrett is “not going anywhere."
They currently have the third-most cap space in the NFL at $84 million. Barrett will cost them a good chunk of that, but from everything that he has said about wanted to be back in Tampa — plus head coach and defensive coordinator, Todd Bowles, approval — Tampa Bay remain the leaders to land Barrett on a long term deal.
The Buffalo Bills have a strong roster — a playoff one at that — as it stands today. The led their wild-card matchup against the Houston Texans for most of the game but just couldn’t seal the deal. They're at least on the right track with their team building. Buffalo has some strong defensive pieces, but edge rusher is its biggest need.
Like the Buccaneers, the Bills have a lot of cap space to work with. Buffalo has the fourth-most at $81 million to be exact. If Barrett is open to different destinations, Buffalo will likely be a team that comes calling.
New York Giants
The New York Giants have a major need here, and with $61 million in cap space right now (and that's before some potential cuts), one would think Barrett will be on their radar. But co-owner John Mara said earlier this offseason that just because the Giants have a lot of money to spend in free agency doesn't mean they will.
“It’s a double-edged sword. I mean, you can fix some holes pretty quickly, but long-term, I’m not sure that it really works,” Mara said on WFAN's Mosse and Maggie. “You still have to build your team through the draft. I think the best thing in free agency is it allows you to fill some needs so you can go into the draft and just take the best player available.”
Sounds like the Giants know they're in a rebuilding phase with new head coach Joe Judge. But they should still keep an eye on Barrett's price tag.