The Tampa Bay Buccaneers intercepted free agency just before it could score one of the team's best defenders, agreeing to terms with cornerback Jamel Dean on a new four-year deal on Wednesday.
Dean's second contract with the Buccaneers was finalized shortly before the scheduled start of unrestricted free agency, and the former third-round pick out of Auburn was considered the top available cornerback by multiple sources. That and the Buccaneers' difficult cap situation made a departure seem quite possible, if not likely, but both sides were motivated to strike a deal to keep Dean in Tampa.
"It has been great seeing Jamel's growth as a player these past four seasons," said General Manager Jason Licht. "Keeping him was a top priority for us and it worked out well that he also had a strong desire to stay here. Anytime you draft a player who meets and exceeds your expectations, you want to do all you can to ensure he remains a part of the organization. Jamel is a special person who is highly respected throughout our building for his work on the field and in the community. We think he is only going to continue ascending as a football player and will continue to play a big role in our defensive success over the coming seasons."
This is the second straight offseason in which the Buccaneers locked up a homegrown talent at cornerback with a lucrative new deal before he could hit the open market. Last March, standout cover man Carlton Davis inked a new three-year pact with Tampa Bay on the very day that free agency was set to begin.
The 6-1, 206-pound Dean is coming off his best season, though he has quietly been one of the NFL's most effective corners for several years. According to Next Gen Stats, Dean allowed the fifth-fewest yards (386) as the nearest defender among all NFL cornerbacks (minimum 60 targets) in 2022. Since he entered the league as a third-round draft pick out of Auburn in 2019, Dean has allowed the fewest yards per target (5.7) among all NFL defensive backs (minimum 150 targets).
Dean has the size and length that Head Coach Todd Bowles covets at the cornerback position and he is also one of the Buccaneers' fastest players. Dean and Bowles also have a strong relationship, ever since Bowles – then the team's defensive coordinator – put in extra time to help the young cornerback adjust to the starting lineup late in his rookie season.
Last season, Dean played in and started 15 regular season games, missing two with a toe injury. He recorded 54 tackles, one tackle for loss, two interceptions and eight passes defensed. In his first four seasons with the Buccaneers, Dean played in 57 games with 38 starts and contributed 193 tackles, six tackles for loss, seven interceptions and 41 passes defensed. He has also played in all seven postseason contests over the past three years, starting six. During the Buccaneers' four-game run to the Super Bowl LV championship following the 2020 season, he contributed 16 tackles and three passes defensed.
The Buccaneers have more than 20 players from their 2022 roster who are set to become unrestricted free agents on Wednesday and will certainly see some departures from that list. But Jamel Dean, a 26-year-old defender in the prime of his career at a key position, is sticking around to help the team chase more championships.
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