It is fair to say that Tampa Bay’s Antoine Winfield Jr. is the best safety in the NFL this season. The numbers are there. He has two interceptions but, just as important, he has 11 passes defensed, already a career high. He has three forced fumbles and three recoveries. Winfield has 89 tackles, five off his career high, and at a 91.2 on Pro Football Focus’ grading system, he is rated the No. 1 safety in the league. He’s also the subject of many Buccaneers rumors.
That’s because Winfield will be a free agent this offseason, and figures to be a very expensive one—Spotrac estimates his market value at $16.3 million per year when he becomes a free agent after the season. Given the many holes that the Buccaneers must plug after the year, and despite how good Winfield is, safety is probably going to land lower on the priorities list.
The Buccaneers could use a franchise tag on Winfield and get him for another year, but that is no bargain, either—the number is estimated at $14.6 million, according to OverTheCap.com.
Buccaneers Rumors Around Antoine Winfield Jr. Will Persist
No one likes Buccaneers rumors that result in a talent downgrade, of course. But there is some sense to this one. Winfield is probably gone in the offseason. Savage has been a hit-or-miss safety during his four seasons in the NFL, having entered as a first-round pick in 2019 and earning All-Rookie accolades from the get-go.
His career stalled, though, and by the 2022 season, he was benched. But the Packers had already picked up his fifth-year option and he has revitalized his value this season, despite having to go on IR with a calf injury in the middle of the season.
Wrote B/R: “If Antoine Winfield Jr. ends up walking in free agency, Tampa Bay is going to need a free safety who can roam the field. Savage can fill that role, as he has the speed to be a good center fielder and help cover sideline to sideline. He also has good ball skills with nine career interceptions and 31 passes defended in five years.
“While he certainly isn’t the same caliber of player as Winfield is, the Packer will probably be one of the front office’s best options for replacing the 2021 Pro Bowler.”
Darnell Savage Has Improved
If you are suspicious of Buccaneers rumors that involve disappointing players suddenly coming to life in contract years, you’re probably right to be suspicious. Savage did play well when he was earning his contract, then tailed off once he got the fifth-year option.
But that is part of the gamble, part of why the Bucs could get him at a reduced rate compared with Antoine Winfield Jr. And according to Packers defensive backs coach Ryan Downard, the improvement in Savage this season could well be a function of a young player maturing.
“I’ve stood up here and told you I believe in him, his abilities,” Downard told reporters in September. “I thought he did a really good job trusting himself, pulling the trigger. I just think it’s a product of his preparation. He’s really flipped the switch in terms of practice habits. Not to say that he wasn’t practicing hard in the past. That’s not what I’m saying. But he’s managed to take it to a new level.
“It’s so easy just to let off the gas and say, OK, I would’ve made that rather than taking that extra step and fitting up next to the hip. He’s really done a great job, just his overall demeanor and approach. We saw some of the results be reflected.”