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Hall of Fame Trajectory, Antoine Winfield Jr. With Bucs for Long Haul | Brianna's Blitz

Antoine Winfield Jr. and the Buccaneers agree on a four-year deal, making Winfield the highest-paid safety and defensive back in NFL history

Win's Bri's Blitz

On Monday, Antoine Winfield Jr. and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers agreed on a four-year contract, making Winfield not only the highest-paid safety in NFL history, but the highest-paid defensive back. The Bucs applied the franchise tag on Winfield Jr. on March 5 to ensure that the team's do-it-all phenom stayed in Tampa Bay.

Winfield earned first-team Associated Press All-Pro honors for his contributions in 2023 and amassed 122 tackles, 12 passes defensed, eight quarterback hits, 6.0 sacks, six forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and three interceptions last season – all of which established new career highs. He became the first player since data became available in 1999 to finish a season with 100-plus tackles and at least three interceptions, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries and sacks in a single season. Winfield entrenched himself among the league hierarchy after posting a Hall-of-Fame-track campaign last season. He was also the lone defensive back since 2000 with 6.0-plus sacks and six-or-more forced fumbles in a season, and the lone defensive back with seven-or-more takeaways and 5.0-plus sacks.

Among defensive backs in 2023, he finished first in sacks (6.0), first in forced fumbles (six), first in fumble recoveries (four), tied for third in takeaways (seven) and third in quarterback hits (eight). Winfield led the NFL in most games with a takeaway and a sack in 2023, with four-such performances. Since entering the league in 2020, Winfield leads all defensive backs in sacks (15.0), quarterback hits (21), forced fumbles (11) and fumble recoveries (eight). He also ranks tied for seventh in takeaways (15). Among all players, Winfield leads the NFL since 2020 with 19 combined forced fumbles plus fumble recoveries.

In addition to rewarding Winfield with a lucrative deal, the Buccaneers also managed to re-sign receiver Mike Evans, inside linebacker Lavonte David, quarterback Baker Mayfield and kicker Chase McLaughlin. As the Bucs' vie for a fourth-straight NFC South title in 2024, Winfield will play an integral role in the secondary. According to PFF, Winfield has a 91.3 grade since entering the league – first among defensive backs.

"I think [if] he keeps on this trajectory, he is somebody that could be mentioned Hall of Fame worthy," said Bucs General Manager Jason Licht on the Pat McAfee show last week. "I am not afraid to admit that. I do not think it is going to hurt negotiations. I have been upfront with him the whole time: He is the best safety in the league, and he should be paid like it."

Ranging from a lethal blitzer, hard-hitting tackler, to an instinctive center-field free safety, Winfield sets the tone in Todd Bowles' defense. Winfield plays like his hair is on fire, urgently pursuing the football. He has perfected the craft of punching out the ball and takes effective angles of pursuit against the run. Winfield is adept in the slot, setting the edge against the run or lining up in the post. On the heels of one of the most sensational performances on the gridiron by a defender - evidenced by an unprecedented stat line - Winfield received well-deserved recognition.

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