Bradley McDougald and Andrew DePaola made their return to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers official on Tuesday, signing the one-year qualifying offers they had received just before the start of free agency.
McDougald, a fourth-year safety, became a restricted free agent (RFA) when that offer was extended and technically had until April 22 to seek a contract from another team, with the Buccaneers retaining a right-of-first refusal. Like the majority of RFAs, however, McDougald chose to sign the tender offer, which becomes his contract for the 2016 season. That decision puts him on a path to become, potentially, an unrestricted free agent next offseason.
DePaola, on the other hand, was an exclusive rights free agent (ERFA) after he also received a qualifying offer from the team. As such, the team's incumbent long-snapper could only negotiate with the Buccaneers and was thus even more certain to remain with the team in 2016.
The next order of business for McDougald and DePaola, is the Buccaneers' offseason training program, which begins next Monday. The former should enter the program as a leading candidate to grab one of the two starting safety spots in 2016, as he has opened 20 of Tampa Bay's last 21 games since the last month of 2014. The Buccaneers also re-signed safety Chris Conte, an unrestricted free agent, and those two accounted for 28 of a possible 32 starts at the back end of the Bucs' defense in 2015.
McDougald was the Buccaneers' third-leading tackler last season, recording 88 stops, including two tackles for loss. He also tied for second on the team – and first among defensive backs – with a pair of interceptions to go with four passes defensed.
The former University of Kansas standout first came to the Buccaneers as a waiver claim from the Kansas City Chiefs in November of 2013. The rookie and former undrafted free agent saw action in three games after being claimed, then developed a more prominent role on defense in 2014. He appeared in 15 contests that season, starting the last five, and contributed 50 tackles, one interception and seven passes defensed.
DePaola has handled all of the Bucs' long-snapping duties for the past two seasons, without incident. He has also recorded eight special teams stops in that span, tying for fifth on the team in that category with four in 2015. An undrafted free agent, he competed for Tampa Bay's long-snapping job in the 2012 and 2013 training camps before returning in 2014 and finally making the roster.
The Buccaneers had four potential RFAs as free agency approached in March but chose to extend qualifying offers to only McDougald and wide receiver Russell Shepard. Fullback Jorvorskie Lane and linebacker Danny Lansanah did not receive offers and essentially became unrestricted free agents. Shepard has yet to sign his tender offer. In addition to DePaola, the Buccaneers also extended offers to ERFAs linebacker Jeremiah George and defensive end Jacquies Smith. George and Smith have not signed their offers yet but likely will soon.