The longest-tenured player on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Super Bowl LV-winning roster will remain the longest-tenured Buccaneer in 2021.
Inside linebacker Lavonte David signed a new multi-year contract on Friday, five days before he was due to become an unrestricted free agent. This is David's third contract with the Buccaneers, the only NFL team for which he has played after being drafted in the second round in 2012. He had just finished the five-year extension he signed in 2015 to cover the 2016-20 campaigns, the last of which ended in the first playoff appearance of David's career.
Tampa Bay is hoping to keep together as much of the core of its championship team as it can but began the new year with a list of 24 potential unrestricted free agents. David's signing is the second big step in that effort as wide receiver Chris Godwin received the franchise tag on Tuesday. Other remaining free agents include outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett, defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh, tight end Rob Grownkowski, wide receiver Antonio Brown, running back Leonard Fournette and kicker Ryan Succop.
The Buccaneers certainly have multiple high priorities on that long list but the return of David will be among the team's most satisfying moves for the team and fans alike. A team captain in each of the last seven years, David is now set to become just the 14th player in franchise history to be on the Buccaneers' roster for a decade or more. He and since-departed tackle Demar Dotson are the only two on that list who began their careers after the turn of the millennium. David has already cemented his spot as one of the best players in team history but now has more time to build on his stellar career in Tampa.
Of course, Tampa Bay was primarily motivated to keep David in the fold because he continues to play at a very high level. He and second-year man Devin White were both named second-team Associated Press All-Pros in 2020, forming one of the best inside linebacker duos in the NFL. David finished the 2020 regular season with 117 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, three quarterback hits, one interception, six passes defensed, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. In the postseason, he added another 26 tackles plus one sack and four passes defensed.
That marked the eighth time in nine seasons that David has surpassed 100 tackles, and his production has been remarkably consistent throughout his career. Across those nine seasons he has racked up 1,125 tackles, 128 tackles for loss, 24.0 sacks, 55 quarterback hits, 12 interceptions, 51 passes defensed, 24 forced fumbles and 16 fumble recoveries. He is already the third-leading tackler in team history, behind only Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber, and his 137 career starts are tied with Mike Alstott for the fifth-most in Buccaneer annals.
Few defenders in the NFL can match David's production over the past nine seasons. Since the start of the 2012 season, he ranks second in the league in tackles, third in tackles for loss, third in forced fumbles and first in opponent fumble recoveries. His 128 tackles and 24 forced fumbles are easily the most by any NFL player in that span who is not a pass-rusher. He and Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis are the only two players in league history to amass at least 1,000 tackles, at least 20 sacks and at least 10 interceptions through their first eight seasons.