The Tampa Bay Buccaneers still have a lot of work ahead of them in the 2021 season as they try to capture a second straight Super Bowl title, but they also have an eye on the future. And the new year has a brought a big new deal: On Saturday, fourth-year defensive tackle Vita Vea signed a four-year contract extension that ties him to the Buccaneers through the 2026 season.
Vea, the 12th-overall pick in the 2018 draft, is nearing the end of his fourth season but was already under contract through 2022 after the Buccaneers picked up the fifth-year option on his rookie deal this past April. The extension covers the 2023-26 campaigns.
"Vita Vea has emerged as one of our league's most disruptive interior defensive linemen due to a unique skillset that combines strength and superior athleticism," said General Manager Jason Licht. "Vita's abilities as both a premier run stuffer and pass rusher are rare, and his presence on the defensive front has played a major role in our ability to consistently rank among the league leaders in rush defense since his arrival. We look forward to having Vita remain a core piece of our defense for years to come and are excited to continue watching him develop into one of the best nose tackles in the NFL."
Extraordinarily nimble for a 6-4, 347-pound man, Vea has indeed developed into one of the league's best nose tackles. His strength and power in the middle of the Buccaneers' defensive front is one of the main reasons Tampa Bay led the NFL in rush defense in both 2019 and 2020 and is currently ranked third in 2021. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, over the past two seasons the Buccaneers have allowed an average of 3.6 yards per carry by opposing backs when Vea is on the field and 4.2 per carry when he's off.
Vea also has pass-rushing capabilities – a career high 4.0 sacks and 12 QB hits this season – but makes a greater impact by demanding extra blockers and creating one-on-one pass rush opportunities for the Bucs' edge rushers. Last year, the Buccaneers had a 33.9% pressure rate with Vea in the mix and a 26.6% rate when he was out of the game.
This year, Vea has started all 15 games and has 31 tackles, five tackles for loss, three passes defensed and a fumble recovery to go with those sacks. In December, he was named an alternate for the 2022 Pro Bowl, though the Buccaneers hope to still be playing at the time. Vea missed 13 games in 2020, including the playoffs, due to a severe ankle injury but returned to play in the NFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl; not coincidentally, the Buccaneers tallied eight sacks and 17 quarterback hits in those two games combined.
Overall, Vea has played in 49 games over four seasons with the Buccaneers, making 44 starts. He has recorded 104 tackles, 11.5 sacks, 31 quarterback hits, 16 tackles for loss, six passes defensed and one fumble recovery.
The Buccaneers' last four first-round picks are all contributing heavily to this year's efforts to repeat as champions. Vea's contributions are noted above and 2019 first-rounder Devin White is a first alternate for the Pro Bowl who leads the team with 125 tackles and also has 17 quarterback hits. Tristan Wirfs, Tampa Bay's first choice in the 2020 draft, was selected as a starter in this year's Pro Bowl and has provided Tom Brady with rock-solid protection at right tackle for the past two seasons. And this year's first-round rookie, Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, has four sacks and has stepped up into a critical role with fellow outside linebackers Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul sidelined by injuries.
Hitting on first-round draft picks is obviously a key part of building the core of a successful roster. Keeping the ones who hit big around for the long term is the next step, and the Buccaneers have now done that with Vita Vea. It's definitely a big deal.