Shaquil Barrett changed teams during the 2019 offseason and he now expects his life to change in the 2020 offseason. In between the ending of the former and the beginning of the latter is the perfect evidence of why he is almost certainly right: The 2020 Pro Bowl.
After five seasons in Denver, including one on the practice squad, Barrett signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an unrestricted free agent last March, attracting a one-year, $4 million deal. He had been a rotational pass-rusher for the Broncos, with his playing time fluctuating through the years based on Denver's defensive depth chart. The biggest lure in Tampa was the chance to start and prove what he could do with regular snaps. It was the classic "prove-it" deal.
Boy, did he prove it. All Barrett did in his first year as a Buccaneer was start all 16 games, lead the NFL with 19.5 sacks and set a new franchise single-season record in that category. That's tied for the 13th-most sacks in a single season by any NFL player since that became an official statistic in 1982. It put him in the Pro Bowl for the first time; he'll suit up for the NFC squad on Sunday.
Barrett doesn't have to prove it anymore. Twenty-seven-year-old NFL sack leaders don't have to settle for one-year deals. He knows a life-changing contract is coming, for him and his family.
"I'm not thinking about the exact values," said Barrett of his next contract. "I just know whatever it is is going to set me up and my family for the rest of our lives. It will take care of my kids and their kids."
Will Barrett and his family set up those lives in Tampa? He has said on several occasions that he prefers to remain with the Buccaneers, and Head Coach Bruce Arians has made it abundantly clear he wants the same thing. On Wednesday, after the first NFC practice of Pro Bowl week in Orlando, Barrett reiterated that point.
"I'm here right now, just taking advantage of this next step right now," he said. "I don't know where it's going to end up at but I'm confident that I'm going to be where I should be, which is Tampa. It's up to Tampa Bay right now, whatever they want to do. We're onboard with them and our plan is to get whatever we can out of anybody, but I'd be planning on Tampa. I'm planning on Tampa.
"I don't know if it's going to be done before [March], but I love that confidence that it gives me. I'm just ready to get it done and start building my life in Tampa and being here for the long haul."
Barrett started more games this past fall than he had in his four seasons on the active roster in Denver (16 to 15). He had 5.5 more sacks in 2019 than he had in his career before coming to Tampa. It's not surprising that a breakout player would want to stay put in the spot where he got the chance to prove his abilities, and made the most of that chance. But Barrett is also motivated to remain a Buccaneer by what he believes the team's defense can accomplish as a whole.
The Buccaneers recorded 47 sacks in 2019, their second-highest single-season total ever. After a rocky first half of the year, particularly in the secondary, Tampa Bay's defense played quite well during the second half. Continuing that momentum will be easier if most of the same personnel is intact in 2020. At his final 2019 press conference, Arians mentioned Barrett and other potential free-agents-to-be like Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh as offseason priorities.
"The sky's the limit," said Barrett. "I'm so excited about the potential of bringing certain people back or almost everybody back and seeing where we could go because we made a lot of progress throughout the year. We've still got a lot of progress that we can make, and that's what's scary."
Take a look at the Buccaneers players officially slated to become unrestricted, restricted, or exclusive rights free agents when the NFL's free agency period begins in March.