Bucs Face Big Decision With Pro Bowler in 2023

Todd Bowles

Getty Todd Bowles and the Buccaneers will need to make a call on Antoine Winfield Jr. for 2023.

As Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Antoine Winfield Jr. begins working with high-profile agent David Mulugheta, the Bucs organization faces a tough call.

Mulugheta, an agent with Athletes First, represents numerous NFL stars such as Aaron Rodgers, Dak Prescott, Deshaun Watson, Kyle Pitts, Michael Thomas, and Jalen Ramsey. Mulugheta announced Winfield, a 2021 Pro Bowler, as a client on Monday, November 14. With the move and solid play, Winfield could command a big contract for beyond the 2022 season, and the Bucs are $49 million in the hole on salary cap space for 2023, per Spotrac.

Winfield has made his case for a bigger deal on the field this season. He has 44 tackles, an interception, a forced fumble, three sacks, three quarterback hits, and two pass deflections in eight games played. After missing two games with a concussion, Winfield made a difference in the Bucs 21-16 win over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, November 13, with five tackles, including one for loss.

He has one year left on his rookie contract, but the Bucs could extend his contract in the offseason before he becomes a free agent in 2024. Tampa Bay drafted Winfield in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft, and he signed a four-year deal for $7.3 million, per Spotrac.

Ramsey, the second-highest paid defensive back in the league, has a five-year, $100 million deal with the Los Angeles Rams according to Spotrac. Derwin James, another defensive back client of Mulugheta’s, has the ninth-biggest contract at $76.5 million over four years, per Spotrac. Winfield’s services list at a $16.3 million annual market value, per Spotrac.

Bucs Already Struggled Without Winfield

Tampa Bay could ill afford to lose Winfield, and that showed during a mostly dismal three-game stretch when he sustained a concussion.

The Bucs fell 21-3 against the Carolina Panthers on October 23 when he got injured, and the Bucs couldn’t recover against the Baltimore Ravens on October 27 in a 27-22 loss. One blown coverage against the Rams on November 6 put the Bucs in a pickle until the offense found its footing in the final minute for a 16-13 victory.

Winfield already established himself as a key starter coming into this season after 29 starts during his first two seasons. He started all 16 games in 2020 as he helped the Bucs win Super Bowl LV, and he started 13 games in 2021 amid a foot injury. His role only increased for this season, Buccaneers.com’s Scott Smith explained.

“In order to get the third-year defender into position to make even more plays, they devised a new role for him in 2022,” Smith wrote. “Now, Winfield starts at safety in the Bucs’ base defense but moves up into the slot in sub packages, which generally account for 60-70% of the snaps in a given game. ”

Winfield Just One of Many Concerns for Bucs in 2023

Besides finding a way to extend Winfield with a dire salary cap situation in 2023, the Bucs have a boatload of unrestricted free agents next year. Quarterback Tom Brady headlines that crew, but the Bucs also have key free agent all over the field to consider.

Offensive free agents include backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert and skill players Julio Jones, Kyle Rudolph, Giovani Bernard, Breshad Perriman, and Scotty Miller. Linemen Aaron Stinnie, Josh Wells, and Nick Leverett will also become free agents.

Defensive free agents include linemen Akiem Hicks, William Gholston, Rakeem Nunez-RochesPat O’Connor, and Deadrin Senat. Linebackers Lavonte David, Carl Nassib, Anthony Nelson, and Genard Avery could also hit free agency. Defensive backs Jamel Dean, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Mike Edwards, Keanu Neal, Logan Ryan, and Dee Delaney likewise will look for new deals in Tampa or elsewhere.

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