When an NFL free agent signs a one-year contract with a new club, rather than holding out hope for a long-term deal elsewhere, it is often called a "prove-it" deal. And that's exactly what Shaq Barrett plans to do.
"A chance to prove my worth is all I wanted to do, and I'm going to bet on myself a hundred percent of the time," said Barrett, one of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' key acquisitions in free agency. "I'm just going to go out there and do my job and everybody's going to see why I came here and hopefully it turns into a multi-year contract. I'm happy they gave me the opportunity and I'm going to take advantage and run with it."
What the Buccaneers offered, and what Barrett craves, is the very real opportunity of more playing time. That commodity tended to fluctuate over his four seasons of play in Denver. Originally an undrafted free agent out of Colorado State, Barrett spent nearly all of his first season on the Broncos practice squad before making the active roster to start the 2015 campaign. Over the next four years he played in all but three games but his starts yo-yoed from six that first year to zero in 2016 to nine in 2017 and zero again last year. More significantly, he saw his overall snap count drop quite a bit last year after the Broncos' drafting of Bradley Chubb in the first round.
Barrett has already proved himself on the NFL level in one sense, going from that undrafted status to a valuable role in a front-seven rotation. He has 14 sacks, 35 quarterback hits and 100 tackles over the last four years, and even with his diminished playing time in 2018 he still contributed three sacks and seven QB hits. But his one-year deal in Tampa comes with an almost certainty of increased action and perhaps even a permanent spot as a starter. Barrett said that Buccaneers General Manager Jason Licht and Head Coach Bruce Arians were very direct with him as to what players they had at each position and did not promise him a starting spot. What they did promise is that the best man would win the job.
"The opportunity that presented itself was a chance that I could come out here and compete for a starting job, which is something I always wanted to do," said Barrett. "I always wanted to be a starter. And then my role is, wherever they need me, wherever they want to use me. I feel comfortable in coverage, rushing the passer, the run game. I can do it all. I'm just ready to show them I can do it and get my role."
Fortunately for Barrett, he can hit the ground running, as the Bucs' new defensive coordinator, Todd Bowles, is expected to install the sort of 3-4 scheme he was accustomed to in Denver, and even most of his time at Colorado State. He says he can "do it all" in that defense, feeling completely comfortable in coverage, stopping the run or rushing the passer. It was certainly to the Bucs' benefit to bring in an edge defender who is familiar with their new style of defense, as most of the rest of their defenders will have to make an adjustment.
"I love the 3-4," said Barrett. "I’ve been in 3-4 pretty much my whole career, except one year in college. I’ve been comfortable with it for a long time. Then just having the pass rushers who can also play the run game and who can also cover on the edge, set the edge of the defense – it just gives us so much more that we can do on the inside with blitzes and with safeties coming down and everything. I just love the scheme a lot. Coach Bowles, I talked to him a couple of times, he showed me some of the stuff that he’s been working on and drawing up when I did the visit. It’s going to be some fun. It’s going to be a lot of fun this year."
The Bucs may ask Barrett to do it all, but they would surely be most pleased with a defender who can help them get more pressure on the passer. Tampa Bay improved its sack total last year to 38 after finishing last in the NFL in that category in 2017 with 22, largely due to the trade for Jason Pierre-Paul and the fortuitous waiver-wire grab of Carl Nassib, but they were still just 19th in sacks per pass attempt and the overall results on defense were not good.
Barrett has been described as a "slippery" rusher off the edge, and he used the word "fluid" to describe himself on Monday after his first workout as a Buccaneer. But as he attempts to prove himself as an NFL starter and a candidate for a longer deal a year from now, Barrett wants to put a well-rounded game on display. For instance, he said he has been working on his power moves to go with that slippery rush.
"Now I'm just ready to put everything together and show you all my full arsenal of pass-rush moves, and do it at a high level," he said.