Position Group: Safety
Players: Andrew Adams, Chris Cooper, Mike Edwards, Troy Warner, Antoine Winfield Jr.
2021 Evaluation: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' safeties combined to produce eight of the team's 17 interceptions in 2021 and 25 of their 85 passes defensed. Three safeties ranked among the Bucs' top seven tacklers.
That was mostly the work of Antoine Winfield Jr., Jordan Whitehead and Mike Edwards, in that order in terms of playing time. All three missed either three or four games due to injuries or suspension, but Winfield played 98% of the defensive snaps when he was active for the games. He and Whitehead started every game for which they were available, but Edwards was still on the field for 56% of the Bucs' defensive snaps.
Tampa Bay's pass defense finished 21st overall in 2021 but fourth in yards allowed per pass play, as the Bucs frequently built large leads and ended the season facing the most pass attempts of any NFL defense by a wide margin. The Buccaneers' 17 interceptions tied for eighth most in the NFL.
Winfield finished the season with the most complete stat line of any Buccaneer defender. He ranked third on the team with 88 tackles and also contributed 2.0 sacks, four tackles for loss, three QB hits, two interceptions, six passes defensed, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. In the playoffs he tied for the team lead with 14 tackles and added a sack, two quarterback hits, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
Whitehead was right behind Winfield with 74 tackles and, since he played so frequently and effectively near the line of scrimmage, was an important part of the Buccaneers' third-ranked run defense. Like Winfield, he secured two interceptions and also broke up eight passes and had five tackles for loss, one QB hit, and one forced fumble. His playoff contributions included 13 tackles, two for losses.
Though Winfield and Whitehead occupied the first two spots on the Bucs' safety depth chart, Edwards got onto the field three different ways: as a starter when one of the other two was out due to injury, as a replacement for Whitehead in obvious passing downs and occasionally in packages with all three safeties on the field. Known as a ball hawk, Edwards indeed led the team with three interceptions and scored the Bucs' only two defensive touchdowns of the season on pick-sixes. He picked off another pass in the playoffs and added 10 tackles.
The other safety to see action for the Buccaneers in 2021 was veteran Andrew Adams. His most extensive playing time came during a stretch later in the season when both Edwards and Whitehead were out of the lineup at the same time. Adams contributed 21 tackles, one tackle for loss, one interception and four passes defensed.
2022 Outlook: The decision by Tom Brady to return for the 2022 season seems to have spurred the Bucs into another round of "keeping the band together," but some losses in free agency were inevitable and the safety position took one of the biggest hits. With Whitehead leaving for a well-earned deal with the New York Jets, the Buccaneers still have two ready-made starters in Winfield and Edwards but little experienced depth behind them. Adams has actually started a handful of games for the Buccaneers over the last four years but he became an unrestricted free agent on Wednesday.
The Bucs had undrafted rookie safety Troy Warner on their practice squad when the 2021 season ended and they kept him around for 2022 with a futures contract. He has yet to see any NFL regular-season action. Chris Cooper, an undrafted free agent in 2018, has had stints with six different teams but also has yet to get into a regular-season game. He spent most of 2021 on Tampa Bay's practice squad and also got a futures deal for 2022.
Winfield and Edwards are a very good start for the Buccaneers at the back end of the defense. Winfield is a burgeoning young star who is coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance. His ability to make impact plays all over the field and his positional versatility give coordinator Todd Bowles a lot of options in arranging his schemes. Winfield is halfway through his initial rookie contract so the Buccaneers one safety spot looked down for at least two more years and will probably be motivated to keep him around beyond that.
Edwards will be one of the more interesting stories on the Bucs' 2022 defense, as it appears he will have a very good shot at being a locked-in starter and every-down performer after ceding a lot of playing time to Winfield and Whitehead the last two years. Edwards' nose for the football could pay even greater dividends as his play count goes up. That said, the Buccaneers may look for a little more talent at the position, either in free agency or through the draft, after the departure of Whitehead.