ESPN thinks Buccaneers could franchise tag Antoine Winfield Jr. again next year

As long as Antoine Winfield Jr. doesn't have a long-term deal, anything is possible.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Minnesota Vikings
Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Minnesota Vikings / Adam Bettcher/GettyImages

A lot of big-ticket items were taken care of this offseason, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers still have one more on the list. The Bucs needed to get extensions done for Baker Mayfield and Mike Evans, but Antoine Winfield Jr. remains a loose thread that needs to be tied off.

Winfield was not only the best player on the Bucs roster last season, but arguably the best safety in the entire league. Pro Bowl voters might not think that way, but league executives do as many are predicting Winfield will reset the market at his position.

Unlike Evans and Mayfield, the Bucs weren't able to reach a deal with Winfield before free agency open, which means he was franchise tagged ahead of the deadline. That has been viewed as a way for Tampa Bay to buy some time and work something out that firmly secures Winfield as a key piece of the team's core.

Not everyone is convinced a deal will get done, though.

Will the Buccaneers have to franchise tag Antoine Winfield Jr. again next season?

ESPN broke down an early look at the 2025 free agent class, and Matt Bowen has Antoine Winfield Jr. as a potential franchise tag candidate. This would mark back-to-back seasons he was tagged, but also implies that Tampa Bay won't get a long-term deal done with him.

"A true impact defender who is entering his prime years, Winfield has 15 sacks, 11 forced fumbles and seven interceptions over his four-year career. He turns 26 before the 2024 season, and while he is a perfect fit for Todd Bowles' system in Tampa Bay, he has the skill set to play in any defensive scheme," Bowen wrote.

It seems preposterous in theory, but until Winfield signs a long-term extension with the Bucs anything is possible. Not getting Winfield under contract would be less than ideal, but it can't be ruled out until we have a definitive reason to believe otherwise.

The good news is that it seems everyone wants to get a deal done. Winfield loves Tampa Bay and wants to stay, and the Bucs want to do right by their superstar safety. The team did that with Evans and Mayfield, and it makes sense for Winfield to get that treatment as well.

July 15th is the new deadline everyone should be circling. That's when the Bucs and Winfield need to have something worked out to avoid having him play on a one-year deal before doing this dance all over again next year.

Tagging Winfield again isn't the outcome anyone wants, but it wouldn't be the first time the Bucs needed a do-over in extension talks. Chris Godwin was tagged in back-to-back years before Tampa Bay worked out a three-year, $60 million contract extension with him.

It's probably best the Bucs find a way to get this taken care of now, though, especially since Tristan Wirfs is due for a massive payday next offseason.

More Tampa Bay Buccaneers news and rumors