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2024 Buccaneers Free Agent Focus: Lavonte David

Linebacker Lavonte David has played his entire career for the Buccaneers and after his 12th and most recent season went extremely well the team is surely motivated to bring him back for at least a 13th campaign


Tampa Bay Buccaneers great Lavonte David played the 2023 season – his 12th – at the age of 33. To many of us, 33 sounds like a prime-of-your-life description, but professional sports aren't always kind to players in their 30s. Consider that only three NFL players who were 33 or older in 2023 finished the season with 100-plus tackles – David, Bobby Wagner and Demario Davis. Only David and Davis had 100-plus tackles and at least four sacks. Only David had those totals plus 15 or more tackles for loss.

While Baker Mayfield was drawing Comeback Player of the Year votes for his gaudy rebound season and Mike Evans was playing like he was 25 and climbing all-time NFL charts, David also continued to play at a level that defied expectations. He did so quietly, because that's how David does most things. It proved to be a very rewarding year for the veteran linebacker.

About two months into that season, David joined me and Jeff Ryan on our Salty Dogs podcast and talked about how he was feeling a dozen years into his playing career.

"I just look at it as, people say I'm the oldest guy on the field but I don't feel that way," he said. "I feel like I'm just one of the guys. I'm having fun. I'm having a lot of fun being out there with the guys. Being on the football field just does something to me, seeing the crowd, seeing the fans and then seeing my family after the game. It's a great feeling."

David signed a one-year contract last March to play at least one more season for the Buccaneers, and it went so well that he is once again a top priority for team decision-makers as free agency approaches. After his 2023 performance, it's not likely the Bucs are too concerned about him turning 34 in January.

But how is David doing it. He may not be quite as fast as he was when he was a first-team All-Pro in 2013, but he has balanced that with an ever-growing knowledge of the game. At this point in his career, anticipation and angles are making up for any lost footspeed.

"I'm calmer now," said David in a bit of self-reflection. "I let the game come to me. Back then, I used to be antsy, just trying to make a play, forcing stuff. I made some plays, but a lot of times I had some M.E.'s, too. I won't exert myself as much as I did back then, just taking care of my body on the field. The film study – when I know what's coming I can anticipate stuff even sooner. Back then, I used to just read and react, but now I use my read-and-react and also with the smarts of studying film and stuff like that it definitely goes a long way."

Because he signed that one-year deal last spring, David is currently one of 18 players from Tampa Bay's 2023 roster who could become unrestricted free agents on March 13, and it's not likely the team will be able to retain all of them for the 2024 season. Priorities on that list will be set and pursued. And so, in the weeks leading up to the start of the new league year, we are looking at 10 players who are currently poised to become unrestricted free agents in mid-March. This is the full schedule of our 2024 Free Agent Focus rundown:

Today we finish our Free Agent Focus series by examining one of the most productive and popular players in franchise history.

Player: Lavonte David

Position: Linebacker

Age at the Start of the 2024 Season: 34

Experience: Entering 13th NFL season

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

Previous Contract(s): David initially got the standard four-year contract given to players drafted after the first round, which ran through the 2015 season. Prior to the final year of that deal, he and the Buccaneers agreed on a five-year extension that carried through 2020. After that came a third deal with the Buccaneers, this one a two-year pact for 2021-22. David played last season on a one-year deal signed in late March.

Rank in Pro Football Focus Top 200 NFL Free Agents for 2023: 39th. PFF Comment: "David earned his lowest regular-season overall grade since 2016 in 2023 but is still Mr. Reliable with a run-defense grade above 70.0 and a 65.0-plus coverage grade for the seventh consecutive year. David is one of the greatest coverage linebackers to ever play the game, and as more time passes, his thinking one step ahead of the opposing quarterback is on display more and more each week, overcoming some physical limitations through an unrivaled knowledge of the game."

2023 Performance: David played in 15 regular season games in 2023, missing two in late November and early December due to a groin injury. Despite that missed time he led the team with 134 tackles, his highest single-season total since 2015. David also paced the Bucs and tied for seventh in the NFL with 17 tackles for loss. He added 4.5 sacks, his most in a season since 2016, five quarterback hits, five passes defensed and one fumble recovery.

David was an integral part of the Buccaneers' third-ranked run defense, as he led the team with 51 run stops, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. He led the team in tackles in eight separate games, including the playoffs, and five of the last six as he finished the season strong. During the season, he passed Hall of Famer Rondé Barber to climb into second place on the Bucs' all-time tackle list, with 1,477.

In the postseason, David once again led Tampa Bay's defense with 18 tackles while adding four more tackles for loss, one more sack and a forced fumble.

Career Accomplishments: David has been voted a team captain by his teammates in each of the last 10 seasons. In addition to trailing only Derrick Brooks on the Bucs' all-time tackle list he is first in team history with 18 fumble recoveries and second to Brooks in interceptions by a linebacker, with 12. He has played in and started 181 regular-season games, ranking fifth in team history in the former category and fourth in the latter.

David's career totals in those 181 games includes, 1,480 tackles, 33.5 sacks, 12 interceptions, 32 passes defensed, 28 forced fumbles, 18 fumble recoveries, 160 tackles for loss, 67 QB hits, three defensive touchdowns and one safety. In nine playoff starts he has added 71 tackles, 2.0 sacks, six tackles for loss, four passes defensed, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

David finished his 12th season as the NFL's active leader in solo tackles and fumble recoveries. He ranks second in total tackles, forced fumbles and passes defensed by a linebacker and is also in the top five in tackles for loss, and interceptions by a linebacker. Even before his excellent 2023 campaign, David had already joined Ray Lewis, London Fletcher, Bobby Wagner and Junior Seau as the only players in NFL history with 1,300-plus tackles, 25-plus sacks and 10-plus interceptions in their first 11 seasons.

David was a Pro Bowl selection in 2015 and a first-team Associated Press All-Pro choice in 2013. He was also a second-team All-Pro selection in both 2016 and 2020.

Other Potential Free Agent Linebackers: Lavonte David (Buccaneers), Frankie Luvu (Panthers), Patrick Queen (Ravens), Jordyn Brooks (Seahawks), Bobby Wagner (Seahawks), Azeez Al-Shaair (Titans), Josey Jewell (Broncos), Blake Cashman (Texans), Drue Tranquill (Chiefs), Jordan Hicks (Vikings), Willie Gay (Chiefs), Tyrel Dodson (Bills), Oren Burks (49ers), Nicholas Morrow (Eagles)

Top Off-Ball Linebacker Prospects in 2024 NFL Draft: Edgerrin Cooper (Texas A&M), Jeremiah Trotter Jr. (Clemson), Junior Colson (Michigan), Payton Wilson (North Carolina State), Marist Liufau (Notre Dame), J.D. Bertrand (Notre Dame), Cedric Gray (North Carolina), Michael Barrett (Michigan), Tommy Eichenberg (Ohio State), Edefuan Ulofoshio (Washington), Ty'Ron Hopper (Missouri), Nathaniel Watson (Mississippi State), Jackson Sirmon (California), Tyrice Knight (UTEP)

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