Last February, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers weren't sure who their starting quarterback would be in 2020. Their 2019 starter, Jameis Winston, had a potential date with free agency and the Buccaneers were surveying a number of options, including potentially trying to re-sign Winston. The most dramatic of those options was Tom Brady, the 20-year Patriot whose six Super Bowl victories had earned him his "G.O.A.T." nickname.
Stunningly, the Buccaneers were able to land Brady, and a little less than 11 months later Brady was hoisting the Lombardi Trophy as the MVP of Super Bowl LV. The signing of Brady was a huge swing that paid off with a mammoth home run, but it wasn't the only time the Buccaneers stepped up to the plate before and during the 2020 season. Along the way, the team made a number of other moves, big and small, that combined to create a championship roster. In the months to come, General Manager Jason Licht, Head Coach Bruce Arians and their respective staffs will try to do so again in order to defend that title.
As a new league year approaches, we're looking back at some of the most impactful moves on last year's list. Licht and company kept shaping the 2020 roster bit by bit before and during the season. Not all of the moves made as big of a splash as the signing of Brady, but many of them were critical in the team reaching its ultimate goal.
Note: The countdown we will be constructing over the next three weeks does roughly progress towards the most impactful moves at the end, but it is not strictly a ranking. There's not much of a distinction to be drawn between moves listed near each other in the countdown, and we're not trying to say that any particular re-signing on defense was more important than the next. There is, however, a clear number one. These are also not in chronological order.
Countdown: Top 15 Transactions in the Buccaneers' Pursuit of the 2020 Championship
12. Re-signed ILB Kevin Minter, March 21
When Bruce Arians took over as the Buccaneers' head coach in January of 2019, he inherited a roster that included one of the first players he had drafted in the same job with the Arizona Cardinals, inside linebacker Kevin Minter. Arians began his very successful five-year run in the desert in 2013 and the team's second-round pick that year was Minter, a former LSU star. Minter had signed with the Bucs midway through the 2018 season and had appeared in five games before landing on injured reserve.
Minter had an expiring contract, however. Knowing that the veteran linebacker had strong value on special teams and was familiar with Todd Bowles' defense, Arians wanted to keep him around and the Bucs signed him to a new one-year deal right at the beginning of free agency. That move proved to be a good decision when first-round rookie linebacker Devin White missed a month with a knee injury early in 2019 and Minter filled in quite well in his absence.
At the end of that season, as Tampa Bay players were ritually cleaning out their lockers, Arians ran into Minter in a hall outside the locker room and told him the Bucs wanted to bring him back. Minter was apparently motivated to return, too, because the two sides struck another one year deal a day after free agency began last March.
That move would have been a good one even if Minter never saw a play on defense in 2020. He was chosen as a team captain by his teammates and went on to play 68% of the Bucs' special teams snaps. He had played 67% of those snaps in 2019, not even relinquishing his special teams role while he was in the starting lineup.
However, the Buccaneers did end up needing Minter again. White and Lavonte David formed perhaps the best inside linebacker duo in the NFL in 2020 and were healthy for almost the entire regular season. Unfortunately, White landed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on the first day of the new year, and thanks to the Wild Card playoff schedule, missed the regular-season finale against Atlanta and the first playoff game in Washington. Once again, Minter stepped in and once again the Bucs' defense didn't miss a beat.
Minter played every defensive snap against the Falcons in Week 17 and all but six defensive snaps in Washington. He contributed nine tackles and a pass defensed in the win over Atlanta that helped the Bucs clinch the top Wild Card spot. He then pitched in with six more stops and another pass defensed in the road victory over Washington that launched Tampa Bay's Super Bowl run.
One of the Bucs' two main goals heading into free agency last year was to keep the core of their rising defense intact. (The other was joining forces with Mr. Brady.) That was accomplished through the re-signing of Shaquil Barrett (using a franchise tag), Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh. The Bucs also made a number of other lower-profile deals to keep more of the defensive depth chart intact. One of those was the re-signing of Minter, who proved yet again that he was ready to be the 'next man up.'