On the first day of April, Tampa Bay Buccaneers General Manager Jason Licht stated that it was "safe to say" the team would pick up its fifth-year option on the contract of defensive lineman Vita Vea, even though that decision wasn't due until early May. Now it is also accurate to say that.
To no one's surprise, the Buccaneers exercised that option for the 2022 season on Monday. Vea was Tampa Bay's first-round draft pick in 2018, and since 2011 all contracts for first-rounders have been standardized as four-year deals with a fifth-year team option. Teams must choose whether to pick up that option or not before the player's fourth season. The specific deadline to do so this year was May 3. Since the ratification of a new CBA in 2020, those option years have been fully guaranteed.
This is the fifth year in a row in which the Buccaneers have chosen to pick up the fifth-year option on a previous first-round pick. Over the first four years of that span (2014-17 drafts), an average of 19.5 first-round picks have had their options exercised. Beginning in 2014, the Bucs have done so with Mike Evans, Jameis Winston, Vernon Hargreaves, O.J. Howard and now Vea.
Evans later signed a new long-term deal to remain in Tampa, while Winston played out his five-year contract and then joined New Orleans in free agency after the Buccaneers signed Tom Brady. Hargreaves was waived during the 2019 season and is now with the Houston Texans. Howard spent most of last season on injured reserve due to an Achilles tendon tear but is progressing well in his recovery and is expected to play a large role in the Buccaneers' offense in 2021.
Vea, too, is pivotal to the team's plans in 2021 and beyond. He also missed much of the Buccaneers' 2020 Super Bowl season after fracturing an ankle in Week Five, but he made a surprise return in the postseason, playing in the NFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl and helping the Buccaneers put extensive pressure on Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes.
"He plays a very pivotal role in our defense," said Licht. "When he's in there, a lot of things happen for not just him but everybody else around him. The day that we found out that he was going to come back and play…it was a very big day for all of us. It was a very exciting day. Coaches, scouts, players, owners, everybody – we were all very excited."
Vea has played in 34 regular-season games with 29 starts over his first three seasons with the Buccaneers. He has recorded 73 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 11 tackles for loss, 19 quarterback hits and three passes defensed. After a slow start to his rookie season due to a quad injury, Vita came on strong near the end of the 2018 campaign and then looked to be an emerging star in 2019. He started all 16 games that season and was a key factor in the team's top-ranked rush defense while adding 2.5 sacks and 12 quarterback hits.