Shaq Barrett and the Bucs were a perfect match at the right time

He was an integral part of the championship defenses in Tampa Bay.
NFC Wild Card Playoffs - Philadelphia Eagles v Tampa Bay Buccaneers
NFC Wild Card Playoffs - Philadelphia Eagles v Tampa Bay Buccaneers / Perry Knotts/GettyImages

The 2018 Tampa Bay Buccaneers had one of the worst defenses in the National Football League. They allowed a soul crushing 29 ppg that season.

They only had one player, Jason Pierre-Paul, that recorded double digit sacks in that season. It was clear that something had to change on that side of the football. This led Jason Licht and his team to take a flyer on an underachieving pass rusher from the Denver Broncos, Shaquil Barrett.

Prior to signing with Tamp Bay in March of 2019 for 1-year and $4 million, Barrett had never had more than 5.5 sacks in a season in his first four years in the league. It wasn't for lack of effort as he played every game in 3 of those 4 seasons, and 13 in the fourth.

His contract only contained $3 million in guaranteed money so it was widely seen as a low-risk move for a then 26-year old outside linebacker.

Bursting onto the scene in Year 1

Barrett wasted little time leveling up his game as he was given all the chances he could have wanted during the 2019 season. His 19.5 sacks that season were 5.5 more than he had in the previous four years combined. He also forced 6 fumbles during the year.

This was the first year under new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles as well, and Barrett was the perfect tool for the system.

His ability to come off the edge in a 3-4 formation or with a hand in the ground made him a versatile tool from Day 1 for Bowles. Barrett accounted for 52% of the Buccaneers sacks in the 2019 season.

His prolific season earned him the franchise tag north of $15 million at the time. The Bucs improved by two wins and big things were brewing.

Brady arrives, and Bucs roar to a Championship

Tom Brady absolutely shook the footballing world to its core when he announced he would be signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This meant the Bucs became instant contenders and went into full "win-now" mode.

The arrival of the GOAT meant the offense exploded into another dimension, but for their part, the defense did not fall far behind.

Barrett fell back to earth a bit, as he registered 8 sacks. However, alongside JPP and a dynamic 22-year old Devin White, the trio formed a ferocious group for Bowles to utilize all over the field.

While his overall tackle numbers remained steady in the high 50's, his QB pressures took a bit of regression. However, when the 11-5 Bucs got to the playoffs in 2020, Barrett rose to the occasion.

He had four sacks during their run to the Super Bowl. In that 31-9 drubbing of the Patrick Mahomes-led Chiefs, Barrett had the second most pressures in a Super Bowl since 2008 with a whopping 11. He was integral to the Bucs lifting the Lombardi trophy.

Long-term contract and off-field struggles

Barrett would go on to sign a 4-year $68 million contract with Tampa Bay as he had clearly become one of the most important players on the defense.

The 2021 NFL season saw Barrett return to double-digit sacks with 10 as he made his 2nd Pro Bowl in 3 years with the Bucs. He added 3 more sacks in the Divisional Round playoff run that ended in heartbreak.

The defense took yet another step as they were a Top 5 scoring defense in the league and Barrett was a big reason why. However, Barrett was hit with the injury bug in 2022 as he tore his Achilles halfway through.

Then, even more devastating news hit Shaq and his family as they lost their daughter in the off-season leading into the 2023 season in a tragic drowning accident.

He played in 16 games but was a shell of himself as he only put up 4.5 sacks as he understandably struggled to get to the quarterback. The Bucs defense was up and down this past season and a lot of them looked tired after a few years of deep playoff runs.

Current day release, but the door is always open...

Only a few days ago, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers released Barrett before his $15.04 million option kicked in later this month.

It was very clearly a move done with the salary cap in mind, but neither party left in any anger. Licht could not have been more complementary saying;

"Jordanna, the whole family, they'll always be Bucs and we're always going to leave the door open for Shaq."

At 31, Barrett might still have some juice left in him. If he and the team can work on a discount, he could very well return to the Pewter and Red. However, if he does not, and this is it for his time with the Bucs, it was a stupendous 5-year run. 45 sacks, 1 Super Bowl ring and 3 division titles is a helluva return on investment.

He took his game to a new level with the Bucs, but more than that, he became part of the fabric that turned Tampa back into a "Title Town". If he returns or if he doesn't, there is no denying that a 2019 flyer contract given to an unproven 26-year old paid off tenfold for everyone involved.

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