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2023 Buccaneers Free Agent Focus: Lavonte David

If the Buccaneers and long-running team captain Lavonte David can agree on a fourth contract between them, David could join a very select list of players who spent their first 12 seasons in Tampa


Lavonte David has signed – and completed – three contracts with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, covering 11 NFL seasons. That is not a common occurrence.

Will there be a fourth deal and an extension of David's incredible career in Tampa? There's no doubt that such a continued partnership would be extremely popular among Buccaneers fans and almost certainly a desired outcome for both player and team. If David suits up in red and pewter in 2023 he will join Ronde Barber, Derrick Brooks and Paul Gruber as the only men to play at least a dozen seasons for the Bucs and no other teams. Barber, Brooks and Gruber all have their names on the façade at Raymond James Stadium as members of the Buccaneers' Ring of Honor. It would be no surprise to see David join them at some point in the future.

For now, however, the focus is on David's future on the field, rather than on the stadium walls. A 2012 second-round draft pick, David has already inserted himself into the discussion of the franchise's all-time great but – like the leader on the other side of the ball, Tom Brady – continued to play at a high level in 2022 at an age when many of his peers have hung up the cleats. David probably won't play until he's 45, like Brady, but he remains very effective as he heads into his mid-30s. Will he finish out his career in a Bucs' uniform like Barber (16 seasons), Brooks (14) and Gruber (12) did?

Complicating the answer to that question is the fact that David is one of 23 players from the 2022 roster who are due to become unrestricted free agents in March. One of those 23 is Brady, who has announced his retirement, so that issue is settled, but the Buccaneers may be facing some tough decisions in the weeks ahead.

The Bucs won't be able to keep all 23 (okay, 22) of those potential free agents, but they will set their priorities and do their best to keep as much proven talent in the building as possible. And so, in the weeks leading up to the start of the new league year, we are going to look at 10 players who are currently poised to become unrestricted free agents in mid-March. This is the full schedule of our 2023 Free Agent Focus rundown:

February 17: ILB Lavonte David

February 22: OLB Anthony Nelson

February 24: CB Jamel Dean

March 1: S Mike Edwards

March 3: DL Will Gholston

March 8: CB Sean Murphy-Bunting

March 10: DL Akiem Hicks

March 14: S Logan Ryan

March 15: OLB Carl Nassib

This list is subject to change based on potential roster moves in the coming weeks. However, we will continue with a player who has been one of the main faces of the franchise for more than a decade already.

Player: Lavonte David

Position: Inside Linebacker

Age at the Start of the 2023 Season: 33

Experience: Entering 12th NFL season

How Acquired: Selected in the second round (58th overall) in the 2012 NFL Draft

Previous Contract(s): David played his first four seasons (2012-15) on the standard four-year contract for draft picks outside of the first round. He then re-signed with the Buccaneers on a five-year deal that ran through the 2020 season. After 2020, David agreed to another contract with Tampa Bay, this one covering the 2021-22 seasons, with three automatically-voiding years on the end.

Rank in Pro Football Focus Top 100 NFL Free Agents for 2023: Sixth. PFF comment: "One of the best off-ball linebackers of his generation, David is still playing at an extremely high level and may benefit from New Orleans Saints linebacker Demario Davis and Los Angeles Rams linebacker Bobby Wagner playing very good football well into their 30s on recently signed contracts of their own. Potentially losing a step or two with age can be negated by elite play recognition and instincts, both of which David has in spades."

2022 Performance: David and fellow inside linebacker Devin White battled all season for the team's tackle title, and then ended up exactly tied, at 124 each. David did have the most solo stops on the team, with 80, and he also led the team with 10 tackles for loss. Add to that 3.0 sacks, his highest total in four years, five passes defensed, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery and you have the typical across-the-board productive campaign for the former Nebraska star.

David remains one of the best coverage linebackers in the NFL, which is obviously an increasing important skill for off-ball linebackers to cultivate as passing numbers continue to climb. According to PFF, David was the second-highest graded off-ball linebacker in coverage in 2022 (83.5), and over the last four seasons combined he's topped the league with a 93.0 coverage mark.

In the playoffs, David added another 14 stops in the Bucs' Wild Card round loss to the Cowboys, falling just one shy of the team's single-game postseason record. He also registered a hit on quarterback Dak Prescott.

Career Accomplishments: David has played in and started 166 games since entering the NFL in 2012, missing only 12 outings in that span, and also started all seven of the Buccaneers' playoff games over the past three seasons. He has topped 100 tackles in nine of his 11 seasons and also hit 97 in a 10th campaign. His 1,344 career tackles rank third in Buccaneers history and are less than a 100 behind newly-minted Hall-of-Famer Ronde Barber for the second spot. David's career totals also include 143 tackles for loss, 29.0 sacks, 62 QB hits, 12 interceptions, 59 passes defensed, 27 forced fumbles and 18 fumble recoveries.

Since his arrival in the NFL, over the last 11 seasons, David ranks second among all players in tackles, fifth in tackles for loss (and first among non-pass rushers), third in forced fumbles and first in fumble recoveries. NFL Next Gen Stats agrees with PFF's assessment of his cover skills over the years; NGS has been tracking player performance since 2016, and in that span David has allowed an average of 5.9 yards per target as the nearest defender, the second-best mark among all NFL linebackers. He is also second among NFL linebackers in yards after the catch allowed per reception since 2019, with a mark of 3.5.

Perennially underrated around the league, David has just one Associated Press first-team All Pro plaque and has been invited to the Pro Bowl just one time (not in the same season). However, he has clearly been worthy of those honors in multiple other campaigns. He is certainly highly valued in the Bucs' locker room, as he has been voted as a team captain by his teammates for the last nine seasons.

Other Potential Free Agent Inside Linebackers: David Long (Titans), Tremaine Edmunds (Bills), T.J. Edwards (Eagles), Leighton Vander Esch (Cowboys), Bobby Okereke (Colts), Germaine Pratt (Bengals), Drue Tranquill (Chargers), Alex Singleton (Broncos), Kyzir White (Eagles), Azeez Al-Shaair (49ers), Denzel Perryman (Raiders), Deion Jones (Browns), Devin Bush (Steelers), Cory Littleton (Panthers), Alex Anzalone (Lions), Anthony Barr (Cowboys), Rashaan Evans (Falcons), Kwon Alexander (Jets)

Top Inside Linebacker Prospects in 2023 NFL Draft: Drew Sanders (Arkansas), Henry To'oTo'o (Alabama), Jack Campbell (Iowa), Trenton Simpson (Clemson), Demarvion Overshown (Texas), Daiyan Henley (Washington State), Noah Sewell (Oregon), Micah Baskerville (LSU), Isaiah Moore (North Carolina State), Dee Winters (TCU), Cam Jones (Indiana), Ivan Pace (Cincinnati), Mohamoud Diabate (Utah), Tommy Eichenberg (Ohio State)

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