Key Buccaneers defender set to breakout amid contract season

One of Tampa Bay's star defensive linemen has gotten into the best shape of his playing career and is posed to have a major impact as the starting nose tackle.
Detroit Lions v Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Detroit Lions v Tampa Bay Buccaneers / Kevin Sabitus/GettyImages

Over the past ten years, Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht has had his share of good and bad first round picks. The obvious draft-day hits that come to mind are that of Mike Evans in 2014 and Tristan Wirfs in 2020, both of whom are All-Pros at their respective positions.

With that said, the selection of defensive tackle Vita Vea back in 2018 has been just as successful as any pick Licht has made. Through his first six seasons in the NFL, Vea has ascended to one of the NFL's top defensive tackles. In 79 games (74 starts), Vea has totaled 180 tackles, 31 tackles for loss, 53 quarterback hits, 23.5 sacks, six pass breakups, three forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries.

While the box score doesn't necessacrily do Vea credit for his performance, the former Washington Husky has consistently earned high marks from Pro Football Focus. Across his first six seasons, Vea has earned an 85.2 overall PFF grade, and his 84.4 overall PFF grade over the last two seasons ranks eighth of all active defensive linemen.

Based on this, Tampa Bay signed Vea to a four-year, $71 million contract extension that keeps Vea a Buc through the 2026 season. In 2024, Vea is the 20th-highest-paid defensive lineman, and the 12th-highest-paid defensive tackle.

Vita Vea set to breakout even more and earn a big new contract after 2024

As shown by his play and impact on winning, Vea is a clear bargain for the Bucs moving forward. Past this season, however, Vea's price tag may change and get more expensive after reports of Vea dropping nearly 20 pounds in weight this offseason alone.

"Vita Vea could be better than ever in 2024,” The Athletic’s Dan Pompei wrote. “At 29, the seven-year veteran is entering the sweet spot of his career with a new look after losing a significant amount of weight in the offseason while working out with former teammate Ndamukong Suh. Vea has been listed at 347 (he claims that’s his current weight) but probably weighed closer to 367.”

For Vea, weight loss may be the best thing for his performance in 2024. Ever since entering the league with the Bucs, Vea has missed considerable time nursing toe, groin, pec, calf, foot and knee injuries.

If Vea does enjoy a career year, then Tampa Bay will need to figure out how to pay Vea a comfortable amount without straining themselves in the future. Per Sportrac, Vea's cap hits over the next two seasons are around $22 million, but they have already added a void year which would keep those hits from getting too much higher.

Before the start of the 2024 season in August, Tampa Bay can save more than double their cap space by restructuring Vea's contract for the third consecutive season. Not only would provide him with a little more job security, but it would give the Buccaneers some more breathing room as they attempt to win their fourth straight NFC South division title.

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