Antoine Winfield Jr.

Buccaneers, S Antoine Winfield Jr. Agree To Record-Setting Extension

MAY 14: Winfield’s deal is not backloaded, nor does it include any void years (as many modern NFL pacts do). He will receive $24MM this season, followed by $21MM next year; both figures are fully guaranteed, per Schefter. $20MM of the 2024 compensation is a bonus, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk adds. The $45MM locked in represents far more than what he would have earned playing on consecutive franchise tags ($37.65MM).

Winfield will see nearly identical compensation in 2026 and ’27 ($19.5MM, then $19.6MM). A $1.5MM roster bonus is in place for the latter year, by which point he will have cashed in considerably on the strong play to open his career.

MAY 13: As the Buccaneers hoped would take placeAntoine Winfield Jrhas agreed to a long-term extension. The All-Pro safety has a four-year, $84.1MM deal in place, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The team has since confirmed the news.

This pact – which will see Winfield earn $45MM fully guaranteed, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network – represents the largest contract ever given out to a defensive back of any kind. This marks the first time in NFL history that a safety (rather than a corner) holds the title of the league’s highest-paid DB.

The 2024 offseason included a number of key priorities for Tampa Bay with respect to keeping as many core players in the fold as possible. Hammering out extensions for quarterback Baker Mayfield and receiver Mike Evans allowed the team to use the franchise tag on Winfield. That was of course seen as a placeholder to allow for further negotiations on a long-term pact carrying a much larger AAV than the $17.12MM Winfield was originally due to earn this season. His 2024 cap hit will drop to roughly $7MM, per Fox Sports’ Greg Auman.

The 25-year-old’s deal averages $21.03MM per season, making this the first safety accord to eclipse the $20MM-per-year mark. As expected, Winfield has surpassed the likes of Derwin James, Minkah Fitzpatrick and 2024 signee Xavier McKinney atop the pecking order at his position. Three corners (Jaire Alexander, Denzel Ward and Jalen Ramsey) are at or above $20MM per season, but today’s move marks a victory for Winfield as the new standard for a position group which has generally been undervalued this offseason.

A number of veteran safeties were released in the build-up to free agency, and well after the draft many of them are still unsigned. Winfield’s age and production had him positioned to earn a massive raise, however. The former second-rounder led the NFL with six forced fumbles in 2023, adding six sacks, three interceptions and 122 tackles. He is set to remain a massive part of Tampa Bay’s defense for years to come.

Secondary moves have been a common thread for the Buccaneers recently, with fellow safety Jordan Whitehead being brought back in free agency. Tampa Bay – a team which traded away cornerback Carlton Davis – also drafted Tykee Smith in the third round, and he has experience on the backend. The latter is expected to compete for the starting slot corner role, however, something which would make for an intriguing trio alongside Winfield and Whitehead.

Of the 2024 franchise tag recipients, only Bengals wideout Tee Higgins remains unattached to a multi-year deal. He has a standing trade request amidst a lack of progress on contract negotiations with Cincinnati. For the Buccaneers, meanwhile, one major piece of business remains with respect to retaining top contributors for the long haul. Left tackle Tristan Wirfs (who is a candidate to join Winfield in topping his position’s market) is in need of an extension since he is set to play on his fifth-year option in 2024. Buccaneers GM Jason Licht is confident a Wirfs deal can be worked out, and doing so would complete a very busy offseason.

Bucs GM Jason Licht: ‘Positive Movement’ On Antoine Winfield Jr. Extension Talks

Much of the heavy lifting has already taken place this offseason for the Buccaneers. The team managed to retain both quarterback Baker Mayfield and receiver Mike Evans on multi-year deals and in doing so clear the way for safety Antoine Winfield Jrto receive the franchise tag.

The latter is currently set to earn $17.12MM in 2024, but that would only be the case if team and player were not able to hammer out a long-term agreement. Such a pact will carry a much higher price tag, of course, given Winfield’s age (25) and All-Pro status. A report from last month indicated the Buccaneers are optimistic a pact putting him atop the safety market will be worked out, and general manager Jason Licht recently confirmed that sentiment.

During an appearance on the Pat McAfee Show, Licht said there has been “positive movement” with respect to Winfield extension talks (video link via JC Allen of Bucs Gameday). Plenty of time remains before the mid-July deadline for tagged players to sign long-term deals. If no pact can be worked out before then, Winfield would enter the 2024 campaign as a pending free agent.

The two-time Pro Bowler’s tag ranks him third in the league amongst safeties with respect to annual average compensation. Only Derwin James ($19MM) and Minkah Fitzpatrick ($18.25MM) are higher in the pecking order, and Xavier McKinney‘s Packers contract is the lone one signed this offseason which comes close in terms of value. 2024 has seen the safety position devalued, leaving plenty of notable veterans unsigned well after the draft.

Nevertheless, Tampa Bay would be investing in Winfield’s prime years on a multi-year agreement. Working out a lucrative pact would keep a foundational defensive contributor in the fold for years to come, something which will be the case on the other side of the ball if a monster extension with left tackle Tristan Wirfs is worked out. Licht is also confident on that front.

As the Buccaneers seek a fourth straight NFC South title in 2024, Mayfield, Evans and fellow re-signee Lavonte David will all have crucial roles to play. The same will of course be true of Winfield, especially if he has a market-resetting deal in hand by the time the campaign begins. If Licht’s optimism is well placed, an agreement could be hammered out relatively soon.

Buccaneers GM Jason Licht Addresses Negotiations With Antoine Winfield Jr., Tristan Wirfs

The Buccaneers have had success so far this offseason in retaining several key members of the 2023 team which won the NFC South. Extension talks with a pair of foundational players – safety Antoine Winfield Jr. and left tackle Tristan Wirfs – represent major priorities still to be addressed, though.

In the case of the former, optimism exists team and player can hammer out a long-term deal. Winfield is currently attached to a $17.12MM franchise tag, but a multi-year agreement could make him the league’s top earner at the safety spot. Wifrs, meanwhile, successfully moved from the right tackle spot to manning the blindside in 2023 with a third straight Pro Bowl nod. Deals with both players will not come cheaply, but general manager Jason Licht is confident they can be worked out.

“We’ve had really good discussions there,” Licht recently confirmed when speaking about Winfield and Wirfs. “Once again, it’s like the same thing when we were at the Combine talking about Baker [Mayfield] and Mike [Evans] and Lavonte [David]. We really want them here, we want them here long term, I think they want to be here long term. We’ve had a good track record with getting things done. I feel pretty good about things getting done.”

Indeed, Licht and Co. have managed to keep Mayfield, Evans and David in the fold despite all three players facing the potential of free agency this offseason. Neither Winfield nor Wirfs is on the market presently, but both would command substantial interest if they were able to negotiate with outside teams. Avoiding such a scenario would be a costly but rewarding endeavor on Tampa Bay’s part (and one which could free up much-needed 2024 cap space in the process).

Winfield earned first-team All-Pro acclaim last season, and at 25 he could provide solid value for years to come even on a record-breaking pact. Wifrs, also 25, is set to earn $18.6MM this season on his fifth-year option before seeing a major raise on his next pact. If Licht’s optimism proves to be well-placed, both Winfield and Wirfs could have extensions in hand in relatively short order.

Optimism Exists On Record-Setting Antoine Winfield Jr.-Buccaneers Deal

With Josh Allen becoming the seventh franchise- or transition-tagged player to sign an extension this offseason, the NFL’s annual mid-July news surge will not be as eventful. Only two tagged players — Tee Higgins and Antoine Winfield Jr. — remain.

Higgins has requested a trade, and the Bengals’ Ja’Marr Chase plans and record-setting Joe Burrow extension complicate their WR2’s long-term future in Cincinnati. While the Bengals may well have Higgins play on the tag, the Buccaneers may be making progress on a Winfield deal. Optimism exists an extension will be reached this offseason,’s Adam Schefter tweets. Winfield remains tied to a $17.12MM tag.

The Bucs, who have been busy retaining talent over the past several weeks, are working on a Winfield deal that would make him the NFL’s highest-paid safety, Schefter adds. This would surpass Derwin James‘ mark ($19MM per year); the Chargers and James agreed to that deal in summer 2022. Considering the hits the safety market has taken since that point, it would be interesting to see the Bucs feel comfortable handing out a deal that approaches or exceeds $20MM per year for their All-Pro safety.

This offseason has already seen two of 2023’s top five safety contracts — those given to Jamal Adams and Justin Simmons — removed from payrolls. Quandre Diggs, Eddie Jackson, Kevin Byard, Marcus Maye and Jordan Poyer received walking papers as well. This unexpected market surplus led to younger safeties like Kamren Curl and Julian Blackmon signing for lower than expected. That said, the Packers were the outlier, authorizing a $17MM-per-year deal for Xavier McKinney. Considering Winfield’s resume eclipses the four-year Giants defender’s, his camp is understandably aiming higher.

At 25, Winfield is coming into his prime. The 2020 second-round pick tallied six sacks and three interceptions while forcing an NFL-leading six fumbles last season. This included a pivotal strip of DJ Chark in the Bucs’ Week 18 win over the Panthers, which clinched them the NFC South title. While snubbed by the Pro Bowl, Winfield landed a more impressive accolade later by becoming a first-team All-Pro. Winfield did receive a Pro Bowl nod in 2021 and has been an important player for the Bucs, who used him as a starter during their Super Bowl LV-winning season as well.

In an offseason that seen a bit of a market correction at the safety position, the prospect of the Bucs extending Winfield at a record rate will be a storyline to monitor. The recent cap spike has benefited several young players, though McKinney scored the only needle-moving safety deal.

Thanks to the extensions for Allen, Brian Burns, Jaylon Johnson, Justin Madubuike, L’Jarius Sneed, Michael Pittman Jr. and Kyle Dugger, this promises to be one of the least eventful tag deadlines since the NFL introduced the tag in 1993. If Winfield signs early, that would magnify the Bengals’ situation with Higgins. The Bucs, however, still have more than three months to hammer out a deal.

An agreement with Winfield would follow Bucs accords with Mike Evans, Baker Mayfield and Lavonte David. With Tristan Wirfs on track for a potential left tackle-record deal, the Bucs’ payroll may look quite different by Week 1. A second Winfield contract would continue one of the more notable roster-retention efforts in recent memory.

Buccaneers To Use Franchise Tag On S Antoine Winfield Jr.

Franchise tag decisions are coming in hours before the application deadline. As expected, the Buccaneers will prioritize their young All-Pro safety.

Antoine Winfield Jr. will not be given the chance to hit free agency, with’s Adam Schefter reporting the second-generation NFL DB will be tagged. This has been the expected scenario for a bit, but with less than three hours until the deadline, the Bucs will make it official.

[RELATED: Buccaneers, Mike Evans Agree To Deal]

This moves Baker Mayfield closer to free agency, but with the quarterback tag costing over $20MM more than the safety tag, Tampa Bay had been expected to make the cheaper move here. The Bucs have until March 11 to keep Mayfield off the market, but they now have until July 15 to hammer out an extension with Winfield.

As should be expected given Winfield’s importance to the Bucs over the past four years, this is not setting up a “prove it” season from the All-Pro safety. The Bucs intend to discuss an extension,’s Jenna Laine tweets. Tampa Bay was interested in a Winfield extension before last season, but little of substance emerged following that report. Winfield proceeded to put together a dominant contract year, setting himself up for a potential top-market safety contract.

It is sensible for the Bucs to use the tag on Winfield due to its $17.12MM price. If would have cost the team more than $38MM to tag Mayfield. That number being roughly $6MM north of what it cost the Ravens to cuff Lamar Jackson last year, it was a long shot the Bucs would take this route. But with Mayfield talks looming as the team’s top near-term priority, using this tool to keep Winfield on the back burner checks out. Mayfield and the Bucs remain engaged in talks about a second contract.

Winfield, 25, finished with six sacks and an NFL-leading six forced fumbles last season, including a goal-line strip of DJ Chark that allowed the Bucs to hold off the Panthers in Week 18 — a win vital to the team’s eventual journey to the divisional round. The Minnesota alum also established new career-high marks in tackles (122) and interceptions (three) in 2023. He has put himself on the radar to top Derwin James‘ safety-record AAV, which sits at $19MM. James has held that top spot since summer 2022. After Jessie Bates collected $16MM on the open market last year, the Bucs will not take that chance with Winfield, who started in Super Bowl LV as a rookie and has been an important defender during the Bucs’ run of playoff berths.

Bucs, S Antoine Winfield Jr. Making Progress On Contract Talks?

The Buccaneers have already taken one major priority off their to-do list. A new deal is in place for wideout Mike Evans, and the same could soon be true of safety Antoine Winfield Jr.

[RELATED: Buccaneers Discussing Baker Mayfield Deal]

The latter has long been considered a franchise tag candidate as the expiration of his rookie contract approaches. Tampa Bay has until tomorrow afternoon to apply the one-year tender, which will cost just over $17MM. After delivering a first-team All-Pro campaign last season, though, Winfield could command a higher price on a long-term pact. On that note, Sportskeeda’s Tony Pauline reports traction was gained on a new deal during last week’s Combine.

Pauline adds that the sides are “zeroing in” on an agreement which will check in at an annual average value of $20MM on a three- or four-year pact. That would allow Winfield to reset the top of the safety market, overtaking Derwin James ($19MM per season) as the highest-earning player at the position on an annual basis. Such a deal would also allow the Buccaneers to keep one of the foundational members of their defense in place for years to come and avoid having to use the franchise tag.

Winfield already had a Pro Bowl on his resume entering the 2023 season, but he upped his market value considerably over the course of the year. The 25-year-old set a new career high in tackles (122), interceptions (three), pass deflections (12) and sacks (six) while leading the league with six forced fumbles. Those figures have him on track to secure a major raise on his next pact, either one negotiated following the application of the tag or a deal hammered out in the immediate future.

Players who are tagged can continue negotiating with their respective teams until July 15. If no deals are reached by that point, they are required to play out the season on the tag (or, as Saquon Barkley and Josh Jacobs demonstrated last offseason, a one-year deal taking its place). Winfield’s case will be one to watch closely as the franchise tag deadline approaches, particularly if he and the Bucs are indeed moving toward a long-term agreement.

2024 NFL Franchise Tag Candidates

A valuable tool for teams to keep top free agents off the market, the franchise tag has been in existence since 1993. This week brought the opening of the 2024 tag window. Clubs have until 3pm CT on March 5 to apply tags. As the Giants’ situation showed last year, most of the tag-related business comes near the close of this window. Teams will continue to work toward re-signing their respective tag candidates, thus preventing a lofty franchise tender from hitting their cap sheet.

The legal tampering period opens March 11, with the new league year (and official free agency) starting March 13. Once a player is tagged, he has until July 15 to sign an extension with his respective team. Absent an extension agreement by that date, the player must play the 2023 season on the tag (or go the Le’Veon Bell/Dan Williams/Sean Gilbert route, passing on guaranteed money and skipping the season).

High-profile free agents remain weeks away from hitting the market. As PFR’s tag recipients list shows, a handful of players are prevented from taking their services to free agency each year. This year looks to present a few more tag candidates compared to 2023. With a handful of teams determining if they will need to use the tag to prevent a free agency path, here are the players who figure to be tagged or at least generate conversations about being franchised ahead of the March 5 deadline:


Josh Allen, OLB (Jaguars)
Tag cost: $24MM

GM Trent Baalke did not leave much suspense when he addressed Allen’s future last month. The veteran exec said the 2019 first-round pick will be a Jaguar in 2024, indicating the team would use its franchise tag if necessary. The Jaguars do have Calvin Ridley as a free agent, but the team would owe the Falcons a 2024 second-round pick if it extended the wide receiver’s contract before the start of the league year. The second pick sent to Atlanta will only be a third-rounder if Jacksonville lets Ridley hit free agency. It makes more sense for Jacksonville to circle back to Ridley after allowing him to test the market. An Allen tag effectively ensures that will happen.

Timing his sack breakthrough well, Allen registered a Jags-record 17.5 during his contract year. The five-year Jaguar has combined for 55 QB hits over the past two seasons and ranks top 10 in pressures over the past three. The tag regularly keeps top edge rushers from hitting free agency, and the 26-year-old pass rusher — while obviously wanting to be paid what he’s worth — expressed a desire to stay in Jacksonville long term.

The Jags have regularly unholstered their tag during the 2020s, cuffing Yannick Ngakoue in 2020 and then keeping Cam Robinson off the 2021 and ’22 markets. The team kept Evan Engram out of free agency last year. Robinson signed an extension in 2022, and the Jags re-upped Engram last July. The Ngakoue situation could be notable, as the edge rusher became disgruntled with the Jags and was eventually traded to the Vikings that summer. No signs of that level of trouble are brewing with Allen yet.

Jaylon Johnson, CB (Bears)
Tag cost: $19.8MM

Johnson is likely to become the first franchise-tagged cornerback since the Rams kept Trumaine Johnson off the 2017 market. The Bears are the most recent team to tag a corner, using the transition tag to cuff Kyle Fuller in 2018. They will almost definitely follow suit with Johnson, who has been rumored to be tagged for several weeks. A Ryan Pace-era draftee, Johnson expressed his desire to stay with the Bears ahead of his contract year. With that platform campaign producing some twists and turns, that price has gone up significantly.

After unsuccessful in-season extension talks, the Bears gave Johnson an 11th-hour opportunity to gauge his trade value. The Bears did not alert teams Johnson, 24, was available until the night before the Oct. 31 deadline. Although the Bills and 49ers engaged in talks about a trade, the Bears held out for a first- or second-round pick. Nothing materialized, which will likely come up during the team’s talks with Johnson. The Bears then extended trade pickup Montez Sweat, leaving Johnson in limbo. But the former second-round pick stuck the landing on an impact season. He is firmly in the Bears’ plans, and the team holds more than $66MM in cap space — plenty to squeeze in a tag onto the payroll.

Pro Football Focus’ top-graded corner in 2023, Johnson displayed a new gear that has made him worthy of a tag. Finishing with four interceptions and allowing just a 50.9 passer rating as the closest defender, the Utah alum soared to second-team All-Pro status. The Bears, who last used the tag on Allen Robinson in 2021, made no secret of their interest in retaining Johnson and will have a few more months to negotiate with him as a result of the tag.

Likely tag recipients

Brian Burns, OLB (Panthers)
Projected tag cost: $24MM

The Panthers hiring a new GM and head coach classifies this as just short of a lock, but familiar faces remain. Carolina promoted assistant general manager Dan Morgan to GM and blocked DC Ejiro Evero from departing. Burns has been viewed as a likely tag recipient since last season, after negotiations broke down. The Panthers have not offered a negotiating masterclass here, as Burns has been extension-eligible since the 2022 offseason. Since-fired GM Scott Fitterer had viewed Burns as a re-up candidate for two offseasons, but multiple rounds of trade talks boosted the 2019 first-rounder’s leverage.

In what looks like a mistake, the Panthers passed on a Rams offer that included two first-rounders and a third for Burns at the 2022 trade deadline. Carolina then kept Burns out of 2023 trade talks with Chicago about the No. 1 pick, ultimately sending D.J. Moore to the Windy City for the Bryce Young draft slot. Carolina also kept Burns at the 2023 deadline, as teams looked into the top pass rusher on the NFL’s worst team. Burns also saw his position’s market change via Nick Bosa‘s record-setting extension ($34MM per year). The 49ers’ landmark accord came to pass after Burns had set a $30MM-AAV price point, complicating Morgan’s upcoming assignment.

Burns, 25, has registered at least 7.5 sacks in each of his five seasons. While he has only topped nine in a season once (2022), the two-time Pro Bowler is one of the league’s better edge rushers. Given the Panthers’ history with Burns, it would be borderline shocking to see the team allow the Florida State alum to leave in exchange for merely a third-round compensatory pick.

Burns has said he wants to stay with the Panthers; he is unlikely to have a choice this year. The Panthers last used the tag to keep right tackle Taylor Moton off the market in 2021; the sides agreed to an extension that offseason.

Tee Higgins, WR (Bengals)
Tag cost: $21.82MM

Seeing their hopes of capitalizing on the final year of Higgins’ rookie contract dashed due to Joe Burrow‘s season-ending injury, the Bengals look to be giving strong consideration to keeping the Burrow-Higgins-Ja’Marr Chase trio together for one last ride of sorts. The Bengals hold $59.4MM in cap space — fifth-most currently — and structured Burrow’s extension in a way that makes a Higgins tag palatable. Burrow’s deal does not spike into historic cap territory until 2025.

While a future in which Chase and Higgins are signed long term is more difficult to foresee, the Bengals still carry one of the AFC’s best rosters. It is likely Burrow’s top two weapons remain in the fold for at least one more year. Higgins, 25, did not come close to posting a third straight 1,000-yard season. Burrow’s injury had plenty to do with that, though the former second-round pick started slowly. A Bengals 2023 extension offer underwhelmed Higgins, but the Bengals kept him out of trades. A tag will give Cincinnati the option to rent him for 2024. A tag-and-trade transaction is viewed as unlikely, as the Bengals load up again.

How the organization proceeds beyond 2024 will be a key storyline, but the Bengals — who kept Jessie Bates in similar fashion in 2022 — are positioned well to run back perhaps the NFL’s best receiving tandem. While director of player personnel Duke Tobin stopped short of guaranteeing Higgins will be a Bengal in 2024, signs point to it.

Justin Madubuike, DL (Ravens)
Tag cost: $22.1MM

Seeing their defensive coordinator depart and once again facing questions at outside linebacker, the Ravens have the option of keeping their top 2023 pass rusher off the market. They are probably going to take that route. Madubuike raised his price considerably during an impact contract year, leading the Ravens with 13 sacks. While Mike Macdonald was able to coax surprising seasons from late additions Jadeveon Clowney and Kyle Van Noy, Madubuike drove Baltimore’s defensive engine and will likely be guaranteed a high salary by signing his franchise tender.

Perennially interested in hoarding compensatory picks, the Ravens have regularly let breakthrough pass rushers walk in free agency. This dates back to the likes of Paul Kruger and Pernell McPhee and subsequently included Za’Darius Smith and Matt Judon. The Ravens have only been able to replace Judon with stopgap options — from Clowney to Van Noy to Justin Houston — and again must figure out a solution alongside Odafe Oweh on the edge. Madubuike, 26, proved too good to let walk; the former third-round pick will once again be expected to anchor Baltimore’s pass rush in 2024.

Antoine Winfield Jr., S (Buccaneers)
Tag cost: $17.12MM

We mentioned Winfield as the Bucs’ most likely tag recipient around the midseason point, and signs now point to that reality coming to pass. The Bucs want to re-sign Baker Mayfield and Mike Evans. The bounce-back quarterback’s tender price would check in at nearly $36MM, and because Evans was attached to a veteran contract, his tag number would come in well north of Higgins’ — at beyond $28MM. As such, the Bucs cuffing Winfield has always made the most sense, and after the second-generation NFL DB’s dominant contract year, it would be stunning to see the team let him walk.

The Bucs have let their recent top free agents test free agency, only to re-sign Shaquil Barrett (2021), Carlton Davis (2022) and Jamel Dean (2023). Winfield may be on a higher plane, having secured first-team All-Pro acclaim last season. Davis and Dean have never made a Pro Bowl; Winfield’s productive and well-regarded 2023 stands to separate him. Winfield, 25, tallied six sacks and three interceptions while forcing an NFL-leading six fumbles. This included a pivotal strip of DJ Chark in the Bucs’ Week 18 win over the Panthers, which clinched them the NFC South title.

Winfield will undoubtedly be eyeing a top-market safety extension. Derwin James established the current standard, $19MM per year, just before the 2022 season. Last year’s safety market did not feature big-ticket prices, for the most part, but the Falcons made Jessie Bates (four years, $64MM) an exception. If Winfield were to reach free agency, he would be expected to eclipse that.

The Bucs, who have used the tag three times in the 2020s, should not be considered likely to let Winfield follow Davis and Dean’s path by speaking with other teams. Tampa Bay has used the tag three times in the 2020s, cuffing Barrett in 2020 and tagging Chris Godwin twice. The team eventually re-signed both, and while the statuses of Mayfield and Evans (and All-Pro tackle Tristan Wirfs) create a crowded contract queue, the Bucs will certainly be interested in re-upping Winfield.

On tag radar

Saquon Barkley, RB (Giants)
Tag cost: $12MM

Barkley has said he wants to finish his career with the Giants, and the team will meet with the Pro Bowl running back’s camp at the Combine. But a recent report indicated the team is highly unlikely to tag the six-year veteran a second time. The Giants should not be ruled out from reversing course and keeping Barkley, given his importance to an otherwise low-octane offense, but it appears they are prepared to move on if the talented RB does not accept their extension offer this time around. A host of talented backs await in free agency, though Barkley would likely be the top prize were he to reach the market.

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Buccaneers Likely To Use Franchise Tag On S Antoine Winfield Jr.

Baker Mayfield‘s resurgence gives the Buccaneers a host of tasks to complete this offseason, as a handful of cornerstone players are less than a month from hitting the open market. One of them is unlikely to have that option, regardless of how extension talks play out.

The Bucs are likely to use their franchise tag on Antoine Winfield Jr., according to CBS Sports’ Jonathan Jones. The tag window opens Feb. 20 and closes March 5, giving teams the customary two-week period to work out a deal before the tender price goes on their cap sheet. With the safety number on the lower end, Winfield makes more sense as the Bucs’ tag recipient than Mayfield or Mike Evans.

[RELATED: Bucs Eyeing Mayfield Deal Before Free Agency]

Suggested here as the likely Bucs franchise player months ago, Winfield closed out his season with a value-cementing stretch. The second-generation NFL DB scored a first-team All-Pro nod, despite being left off the Pro Bowl roster, and will be in line for top-market money at the position. Derwin James‘ $19MM-per-year pact still holds the No. 1 AAV spot at safety, and Jones notes the Bucs will need to give Winfield a deal on that level to lock him down. Unless the sides can reach a monster extension by 3pm CT on March 5, the tag is likely coming out for the former second-round pick.

The safety tag is on track to check in around $17.2MM this year. That is a more reasonable scenario than tagging Mayfield at nearly $36MM. A Bucs-Mayfield resolution, one both sides want to reach, will need to be agreed to by 11am March 11; the legal tampering period’s launch will allow the Bucs QB to negotiate with other teams. Although Mayfield may not be worth that tag, the Bucs would run the risk of losing him if they cannot agree to terms by that March 11 point.

Winfield broke through with a dominant contract year. The Minnesota alum finished with six sacks and an NFL-leading six forced fumbles, including a goal-line strip of DJ Chark that allowed the Bucs to hold off the Panthers in Week 18 — a win vital to the team’s eventual journey to the divisional round. The 25-year-old defender also established new career-high marks in tackles (122) and interceptions (three) last season. There is not much more he could have done to make a case to become the NFL’s new highest-paid safety.

Last year’s free agency divided the top safeties into two tiers: Jessie Bates and the field. The Falcons gave Bates a four-year, $64MM deal. That could serve as Winfield’s floor in Bucs talks. The top of the safety market has not moved since James’ summer 2022 deal, one that came in just north of Minkah Fitzpatrick‘s 2022 Steelers re-up ($18.2MM per year). The Seahawks erred by giving Jamal Adams a monster extension in 2021 — a $17MM-per-year deal that moved the market considerably — but the Chargers, Steelers and Broncos (Justin Simmons) have benefited from authorizing high-end safety accords. Bates also made an impact in his first Atlanta season.

A starter since Day 1 with the Bucs, Winfield played a key role in Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl LV romp over Kansas City — a win that has aged particularly well in light of the Chiefs’ recent success. He joins Tristan Wirfs in that regard. Tampa Bay’s other impact 2020 draftee is signed through 2024, via the fifth-year option, but looks to be in range to reset the tackle market. Unless the Bucs want to move into a tag situation with Wirfs in 2025, their best bet will be to hammer out a big-ticket extension this offseason. Two market-setting extensions and a major Mayfield raise suddenly changes the equation for the Bucs.

The Bucs have done well to keep their homegrown DBs in recent years. They re-signed cornerbacks Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean in 2022 and 2023, respectively, letting each test the market briefly. While eager to keep Winfield paired with the veteran corners, the Bucs do not look ready to let the dynamic safety talk with other teams come March. Thanks to using void years to restructure Winfield’s rookie contract last summer, a small dead-money bill ($1.6MM) will arrive Monday, Jones adds.

Mayfield and Winfield join Evans and Lavonte David as free agents the Bucs are interested in re-signing. The team holds just more than $36MM, but Jason Licht has been one of the more active GMs on the restructure front in recent years. This was due largely to the team’s effort to load up around Tom Brady and then create necessary cap space after the retired QB’s void years-driven bill came due in 2023. Brady’s contract is now fully off the Bucs’ books, opening the door for the team to pursue new deals with its in-house UFAs-to-be.

Buccaneers Open To Extending Baker Mayfield; Latest On Mike Evans, Antoine Winfield Jr.

Baker Mayfield‘s 2021 and ’22 seasons tanked his 2023 free agent market. He settled for backup money from the Buccaneers, who were looking to cut costs after the Tom Brady $35.1MM in dead money hit their cap. Mayfield fit the bill, signing a one-year deal worth $4MM.

Midway through the season, Mayfield is on pace to fare better on the 2024 market — should he land in free agency. Mayfield, 28, entered the season joining Kirk Cousins and Ryan Tannehill as starting quarterbacks in contract years. With Tannehill benched and Cousins out for the season, Mayfield is the only one left who has a clear path to adjusting his 2024 stock. The Bucs are an interested party, which makes sense given their standing.

The Bucs are open to the idea of a second Mayfield contract, Jeremy Fowler of notes. They have exclusive negotiating rights with their current starter until March’s legal tampering period. That said, Fowler adds the sides have not engaged in negotiations just yet. It would make sense for both parties to let more of the season play out. Mayfield could elevate his stock with a strong finish, but given his inconsistent career, the Bucs also may still be leery of a more lucrative payment to a middling quarterback.

Far from middling in 2021 and ’22, Mayfield was with three teams last year and finished with league-worst QBR. Some Panthers staffers viewed Mayfield’s late arrival in Charlotte, which came to pass because of lengthy negotiations between Cleveland and Carolina regarding both draft compensation and an adjusted contract, impacted his poor Panthers performance. Mayfield played through a shoulder injury for most of his 2021 season in Cleveland, and the Browns moved on via the controversial Deshaun Watson trade/extension.

Mayfield ranks 14th in QBR through nine games, and he is completing passes (64.6%) at a career-high rate while carrying 14-5 TD-INT ratio. While the Bucs lost four straight after a 3-1 start, Mayfield had them in position to upend the Texans before a C.J. Stroud last-minute drive. He has tossed two touchdown passes in each of the past three games while throwing just one INT in that span.

While Cousins has been one of the game’s most consistent quarterbacks during his Minnesota stretch and Tannehill has seen ankle trouble (and the Titans’ second-round Will Levis investment) ding his stock, Mayfield can change his perception over the next two months. It would be highly unlikely to see Mayfield rival Cousins for AAV in 2024, but a midlevel QB accord could be in play.

Mayfield’s top target is also in a contract year. Mike Evans came up briefly at the trade deadline, but the Bucs showed no indication then or in August — when the Jets initially called — they were open to dealing the nine-time 1,000-yard receiver. Blazing toward a record-extending 10th straight 1,000-yard year to start a career, Evans is playing out a contract he inked in 2018. The Bucs are not believed to have proposed a second extension to the best wideout in franchise history, but Fowler adds some around the league believed the door is not shut on Tampa Bay revisiting talks and finding a way to retain the free agent-to-be.

Evans set a Week 1 extension deadline, making his dissatisfaction with contract talks public late in the summer. Nothing materialized, but GM Jason Licht has continually praised the likely Hall of Fame-bound talent, and although Evans said no offer has come despite off-and-on talks over the past two years, the longtime GM said in August the team wants Evans to stay in Tampa long term. Considering how close Evans would be to becoming a first-time free agent, the Bucs may have to battle other teams on the open market.

Then again, Tampa Bay has done well in that department. Over the past three offseasons, the team has re-signed Shaq Barrett, Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean and Lavonte David after letting them gauge the market during recent tampering periods. An Evans departure would obviously create a glaring need for the Bucs, which would point to the organization being interested. It remains to be seen, however, if the team is ready to pay upper-echelon money to convince the 30-year-old weapon to pass on outside interest come March.

The best bet for a Bucs franchise tag, though, might be Antoine Winfield Jr. Much younger than Mayfield and Evans, the 25-year-old safety would be on track to become one of the top 2024 free agents. A summer rumor indicated the Bucs were interested in extending Winfield, but nothing has come of it yet. At midseason, Fowler adds the Bucs have not made aggressive attempts to re-sign their young players just yet. Given the timelines of the Davis and Dean deals, it is not too surprising the Bucs have not gotten serious on a second Winfield contract yet.

This year’s safety market largely settled in south of $10MM per year, but Jessie Bates was the outlier, signing a four-year, $64MM Falcons pact. Winfield’s age and productivity would put him in line to rival Bates’ accord, which could conceivably bring the tag into play. A few teams have cuffed safeties during the 2020s. The Broncos tagged Justin Simmons twice, while the Bengals (Bates), Vikings (Anthony Harris), Saints (Marcus Williams) and Jets (Marcus Maye) unholstered the tag as well. Those tag prices all came in south of $13MM. OverTheCap projects the 2024 safety tag to be north of $18MM, which would make such a decision more difficult.

While the Bucs exercised Tristan Wirfs‘ fifth-year option to extend his negotiating timeline, they have until early March to keep their 2020 second-round pick off the market.

NFC Rumors: Bucs, Lions, Panthers, Packers

The Buccaneers may be considered as a rebuilding squad, but that doesn’t matter much to the players fighting for roster spots in the late preseason. As the regular season inches nearer and nearer, two starting positions are starting to come into focus, according to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times.

On offense, center Ryan Jensen has not returned to practice as he continues to recover from three knee ligament tears that he opted not to have surgery on. In his absence, Robert Hainsey and Nick Leverett have been competing for the starting job. Hainsey likely has a bit of an edge after playing the position in college and starting all 17 games last season for Tampa Bay, but Leverett has meshed well in new offensive coordinator Dave Canales‘ new zone-blocking scheme. Even if Hainsey can’t hold onto the job, Leverett may keep the position competitive.

On defense, Dee Delaney has really stepped up at nickelback after the team opted to move Antoine Winfield Jr. back to free safety full-time. Delaney, who spent four years at The Citadel before transferring to Miami (FL) and going undrafted, has stuck in Tampa Bay, playing 32 games over the past two seasons while starting three of them. Delaney has had a great camp as reflected in a stellar performance in last week’s preseason game against the Jets. Undrafted rookie Christian Izien has also impressed with physical play throughout the preseason, while rookie sixth-round pick Josh Hayes has fallen a bit behind in the position battle.

Here are a few more roster battles to watch heading into the final weekend of preseason games this season:

  • Nate Sudfeld was viewed as a solid backup option at quarterback for the Lions last season. Coming into 2023, though, he may be struggling to retain a roster spot, according to Justin Rogers of The Detroit News. Obviously, Jared Goff has the starting job locked up, but recently signed veteran Teddy Bridgewater has made a strong case for the QB2 role behind him. Sudfeld still has value to the team, but head coach Dan Campbell made it clear that his roster status depends on if he adds more value to the team than depth at other positions on the roster. If CB5 or CB6 end up adding more value than Sudfeld as QB3, he may find himself missing out on the initial 53-man roster.
  • As starting guard Austin Corbett waits to be cleared following ACL surgery, the Panthers‘ situation at guard is feeling a bit precarious. A tweet from Joseph Person of The Athletic tells that a decision on the starting right guard job in Corbett’s absence has been delayed until the returns from injury of rookie fourth-round pick Chandler Zavala and undrafted rookie Nash Jensen. Head coach Frank Reich wanted both rookies to have a chance for the spot before making the decision. Zavala was recently activated from the physically unable to perform list and hasn’t seen much action. Jensen was impressing early in the offseason before a back injury slowed his progress. They’ll compete with Cade Mays and Justin McCray for the position, but Person believes that Carolina may pursue some added competition at roster cutdowns.
  • Last week, the Packers‘ seventh-round pick from last year, Rasheed Walker, got the starting call at left tackle ahead of usual backup Yosh Nijman, according to Matt Schneidman of The Athletic. Nijman has been the usual go-to at tackle when starter David Bakhtiari isn’t available, but Schneidman thinks that Walker may have worked his way past Nijman on the depth chart as of late.