With the start of the new league year just over a week away, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are ramping up their efforts to retain players who could become free agents next Wednesday. After reaching a new deal on Tuesday with tackle Donovan Smith, a potential unrestricted free agents, the Buccaneers also re-signed linebacker Devante Bond, who could have become a restricted free agent.
Bond and the Buccaneers essentially replaced that process with a one-year deal struck before the start of free agency. Had a deal not been in place before March 13, the Bucs could have made the fourth-year linebacker a restricted free agent (RFA) by extending a one-year tender offer. Most RFAs eventually sign their tender offers, converting them into one-year contracts, which puts them the players in line to become unrestricted free agents the following year.
Bond originally joined the Buccaneers as a sixth-round draft pick out of the University of Oklahoma in 2016. He lost his rookie season to a hamstring injury but has played in 25 games with six starts over the past two campaigns. Primarily a special teams player in 2017, Bond led the team with 10 kick-coverage stops. He also saw some late-season action on defense as a stand-up edge rusher, recording four tackles and a quarterback hit.
Last year, Bond was waived with an injury settlement near the end of the preseason, which meant he was ineligible to re-sign with the team until about midseason. The Buccaneers eventually did re-sign him in mid-October after he had been cleared physically and he helped bolster a linebacking crew that had been thinned by injuries. Bond ended up playing in the final 11 games and making four starts at strongside linebacker, during which he contributed 19 tackles and a quarterback hit.
The re-signing of Bond begins a significant amount of work the Bucs must do with their linebacking corps, whether it involves re-signing or replacing a number of potential free agents and determining the health status of several others. Four other linebackers are due to become unrestricted free agents next week: Kwon Alexander, Cameron Lynch, Kevin Minter and Adarius Taylor. In addition, Alexander, Minter, Kendell Beckwith and Jack Cichy are all returning from injuries that kept them out for all or part of last season. Bond, Lavonte David and Riley Bullough are the only linebackers who were on the active roster at the end of the 2018 season and are currently under contract for 2019.