The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the champions of the NFL's 101st season, having beaten Kansas City, 31-9, in Super Bowl LV, the last game of the 2020 campaign. They will officially become "defending champions at 4:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday, March 17.
That's when the NFL's 2021 season begins, with free agency kicking off at that moment. Depending upon what happens over the next month, the Buccaneers could have more than 20 players from their 2020 championship roster become unrestricted free agents on that Wednesday afternoon in March.
Head Coach Bruce Arians has expressed his confidence that the Buccaneers can keep the core of the current team intact in order to make a run at another title in 2021, but it will take a lot of work. Tom Brady is under contract for one more year but four players who caught a touchdown from him in the postseason are not. Four of the players who started the Super Bowl in the Bucs' defensive front seven are also currently on expiring deals.
In the month leading up to the start of the new league year, we are going to look at 10 key players who are currently poised to become unrestricted free agents on March 17. We will start with the longest-tenured Buccaneer of them all.
Player: Lavonte David
Position: Inside Linebacker
Experience: Entering 10th NFL season
How Acquired: Drafted out of Nebraska in the second round (58th overall) in 2012
Previous Contract(s): In 2020, David completed the five-year contract extension he signed with the Buccaneers in August of 2015, a deal that covered the 2016-20 campaigns. The extension came as he was entering the final year of his original rookie deal.
Rank in Pro Football Focus Top 150 NFL Free Agents for 2021: Eighth. PFF comment: "One of the best linebackers of his generation, Lavonte David is still playing at an incredibly high level past the age of 30. In many ways, he has been the archetype for the modern linebacker that counters the league's shift in offensive philosophy away from smash-mouth football and toward speed and efficiency."
2020 Performance: David and his inside linebacker running mate Devin White were both named second-team All-Pros by the Associated Press, though that seems a bit like damning them with faint praise. David was hugely productive in 2020, as per usual, recording 117 tackles, 12 tackles for loss 1.5 sacks, three quarterback hits, an interception, six passes defensed, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. In the postseason, he added another 26 tackles, recorded one sack and broke up four passes.
David was selected as a team captain last year for the seventh season in a row and he is clearly a critical part of the Buccaneers' defense, both in terms of his production and his leadership. He also missed just seven defensive snaps out of a possible 1,346 in 2020, including the postseason.
Career Accomplishments: Through nine seasons, David has amassed 1,125 tackles, which is already the third most in Buccaneers franchise history. He's hit triple digits in that category in all but one of those seasons and he's only missed five games due to injury. David also has 24.0 sacks, 128 tackles for loss, 55 quarterback hits, 12 interceptions, 51 passes defensed, 24 forced fumbles and 16 fumble recoveries. He has scored three defensive touchdowns.
David is among the most productive NFL defenders of the last decade. Since he entered the league in 2012, he ranks second among all players in tackles, third in tackles for loss, fourth in fumble recoveries and first in opponent fumble recoveries. He and Seattle's Bobby Wagner are the only players in the NFL in that span to produce at least 1,000 tackles, at least 20 sacks and at least 10 interceptions.
David has been an Associated Press First-Team All-Pro once and a Pro Bowl selection once but is generally considered one of the most underrated players in the NFL.
Other Potential Free Agent Off-Ball Linebackers: Jayon Brown (Tennessee), B.J. Goodson (Cleveland), Matt Milano (Buffalo), Kevin Pierre-Louis (Washington), Denzel Perryman (L.A. Chargers), K.J. Wright (Seattle)
Top Off-Ball Linebacker Prospects in 2021 NFL Draft: Nick Bolton (Missouri), Zaven Collins (Tulsa), Azeez Ojulari (Georgia), Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (Notre Dame), Dylan Moses (Alabama), Micah Parsons (Penn State), Chazz Surratt (North Carolina)