Now that the season is over for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it is time for the front office to focus their attention on the upcoming free agency class. More than a few key contracts are about to expire when the new league year begins in March, with around 20 players in total set to hit the open market.
Within that large group, are five players who stand out as the clear priorities that Jason Licht must focus on retaining.
5 players Buccaneers can’t afford to let get away in free agency
Antoine Winfield Jr., S
Antoine Winfield Jr. was the Bucs' MVP in 2023. The young safety is undoubtedly the key cog in Todd Bowles' defensive scheme, and his versatility allows him to be utilized like a chess piece against opposing offenses.
Throughout his career, Winfield has been used as an effective blitzer, a nickel cornerback, and of course, in the standard centerfield safety role. Winfield was PFF's highest-graded safety in 2023 and made countless timely plays that changed games and altered the course of the season.
An excerpt from a Buccaneers' press release reads: "Winfield Jr. is the lone player since data became available in 1999 with 100+ tackles, three-or-more interceptions, three-or-more forced fumbles, three-or-more fumble recoveries, and 3.0+ sacks."
Despite his inexcusable Pro Bowl snub, Winfield Jr. earned a prestigious First Team AP All-Pro selection, recognizing him as one of the league's top safeties. He is a crucial leader inside the locker room, both vocally and by example, and is loved and respected by his coaches and teammates. In 2023, Winfield further cemented himself as one of the best, if not the best, at his position in the NFL.
He conducts himself like a seasoned NFL veteran, but Winfield Jr. is still only 25 years old, and the Buccaneers have a chance to lock him up long-term and establish the young star as a cornerstone player for the franchise.