On Friday, inside linebacker Lavonte David signed a new multi-year deal to stay in Tampa, keeping alive the possibility that he would spend his entire career with the Buccaneers, just like two of the organization's first three Hall of Famers did. This opportunity to be one of the foundational players in franchise history is not lost on David; in fact, his plan is to follow the same path that Derrick Brooks did in his 14 Buccaneer seasons and beyond.
Brooks, of course, is essentially the preeminent Tampa Bay Buccaneer. He holds the franchise's all-time records for tackles (2,148) and Pro Bowl appearances (11) and he is one of three Buccaneer players to win the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year award. Not coincidentally, he did so during the team's 2002 Super Bowl-winning seasons, during which he scored five defensive touchdowns, including the playoffs. He was also the co-winner of the prestigious Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award in 2000, the only Buccaneer ever to earn that honor. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Buccaneers' Ring of Honor in 2014. Brooks and Lee Roy Selmon are the only two people in the Hall of Fame who spent their entire NFL careers with the Buccaneers.
So if, as a current Buccaneer player, you wanted to pick a career to emulate, you could hardly choose better…or set a more difficult goal for yourself.
"I want my legacy to be – on the football field I want to be remember as one of the most electrifying, playmaking linebackers that ever played the game, a guy who put on for this organization [with] similarities to D.B., Derrick Brooks," said David. "He's a linebacker who did his thing when he was in this organization. I'm just trying to follow in those footsteps and make my own mark and make my own path and show that I can be a dominating, playmaking linebacker, too as well while I was here. Hopefully getting into the Ring of Honor and then going up to Canton one day.
"He set the stones for me, so now I'm just trying to follow him and do the exact same things that he did. Everything is lined up for me, now I've just got to go out there and prove myself."
According to AV, a catch-all stat generated by Pro Football Reference, Brooks is the greatest player in franchise history and 22nd among all players in NFL history. David is already sixth on the list, behind only four Hall of Famers (Brooks, Selmon, Warren Sapp and John Lynch) and Ronde Barber, who was a Hall of Fame finalist this year. David moved into third in franchise history in tackles this past season when he pushed his career total to 1,125 to with 128 tackles for loss, 24.0 sacks, 55 quarterback hits, 12 interceptions, 51 passes defensed, 24 forced fumbles and 16 fumble recoveries.
Since he entered the NFL in 2012 David has racked up the second-most tackles in the league, the third-most tackles for loss, the third-most forced fumbles and the most fumble recoveries. After eight seasons, he had already joined Hall of Famer Ray Lewis as the only two players in league history to amass at least 1,000 tackles, at least 20 sacks and at least 10 interceptions through their first eight seasons. And he's still got an undetermined number of years to add to his accomplishments.
But even when that career is finally over, possibly with Tampa as his only home throughout, David still intends to emulate Brooks, one of the most beloved Buccaneers of all time. Brooks' Man of the Year award is an indication of how much he did for the community during his playing days and he has remained highly respected for his impact on the Bay area and elsewhere since his retirement.
"As far as off the field, I just want everybody to know that I'm a guy who's loving, who's caring, who was always a team-first guy who was kind," said David. "A guy who was easily to get along with, and then just a guy who did the best he can for his community, whatever community he was in, whether it was in Tampa or back home. The same thing Derrick Brooks did for me I'm just trying to leave for the next group of people who want to come in my position and play football. I'm just trying to leave some type of positive impact on whoever I've touched, whoever I've reached, to understand that any goal they set their minds to can be reached."
Like Brooks, David, a seven-time team captain, has an impeccable reputation inside and outside Buccaneers headquarters and there's little doubt he'll leave the kind of personal legacy behind for which he is striving. It's also a very good bet that he'll eventually join Brooks in the Buccaneers' Ring of Honor. With just one Pro Bowl invitation so far, David isn't going to catch Brooks in that arena unless he plays for a very long time, but it's widely believed, especially in the Bay area, that he should have many more all-star appearances by now.
Whether or not a lower number of Pro Bowls and All-Pro honors makes it more difficult for him to get the call to join Brooks in Canton remains to be seen. However, it seems likely that the Buccaneers' Super Bowl run in 2020 shined a much brighter light on one of the most underrated players in recent NFL history, and more accolades could start to pile up in the seasons ahead.
"I don't think more attention or less attention is going to change how I go out there and dominate," said David. "Now [people] have just got a better view at it, watching me and seeing why all those previous years they should have voted for me or whatever. That's neither here nor there, but they get a chance to see me play the game at a high level and me play the linebacker position the way I know how to play it, just going out there and being a playmaker, having fun and disrupting other teams' game plans. That's what I try to do and that's what I'm going to continue to try to do while I'm out there."
Lavonte David wants to show those who follow him that they can achieve their loftiest goals. If, in the end, he has indeed fashioned himself into the next Derrick Brooks, he will have provided a very excellent example of that belief.
View the top pictures from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' during the 2020-2021 NFL Playoffs and Super Bowl LV.