Tampa Bay took a step toward securing its starters beyond 2021 on Monday by picking up defensive tackle Vita Vea‘s fifth-year option.
NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported the news on Monday. Vea’s fifth-year option means he will play in Tampa through 2022 and will earn $7.638 million that year.
The #Bucs exercised their fifth-year option on DT Vita Vea.
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) April 26, 2021
Bucs general manager Jason Licht talked about doing that earlier in the month during an April 1 press conference.
“He plays a very pivotal role in our defense. When he’s in there, a lot of things happen for not just him, but everybody else around him,” Licht said.
Vea played in the first five games in 2020 and had 10 tackles and two sacks before missing the rest of the regular season due to a broken ankle. The 6-4, 347-pound veteran returned in time for the NFC Championship game where he played 33 snaps. He also played 31 snaps in Super Bowl LV.
“The day we found out he was going to come back and play, it was a very big day for all of us,” Licht said in the press conference. “Very exciting day — coaches, scouts, players, owners, everybody. We were all very excited.”
The Bucs drew critics years before when they took Vea at No. 12 in the 2018 NFL Draft out of Washington after trading down according to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times. Vea has proved valuable otherwise with 73 tackles and 7.5 sacks amid 34 games played in three seasons.
Pro Football Focus graded Vea for second among interior defensive linemen at 90.4 and pass rushing at 90.3.
Vita Vea among interior DI:
🔺 90.4 PFF Grade (2nd)
🔺 90.3 Pass-Rush Grade (2nd)
Wishing a speedy recovery to Tampa Bay's promising young defender pic.twitter.com/7jn3VRD7yL
— PFF (@PFF) October 9, 2020
The Bucs noticed Vea’s absence in the run defense last year after his injury. Tampa gave up 3.98 yards per run without Vea after allowing 2.95 yards on average per ESPN Stats & Information via ESPN’s Jenna Laine.
Tampa became an elite run defense with Vea in the trenches for 21 games during the past two seasons. The Bucs held teams to 3.43 yards per carry and 77.2 yards per game for tops in the league during that span from 2019 to 2020 per Buccaneers.com. No team in the league had led in run defense consecutive seasons since the Minnesota Vikings from 2006 to 2008.
Vea’s fifth-year option makes it five consecutive years the Bucs have picked up a fifth-year option for a top draft pick. Wide receiver Mike Evans and tight end O.J. Howard received the fifth-year option as did former Bucs Jameis Winston and Vernon Hargraves according to CBS Sports’ Jonathan Jones.
“A Small Chance”
Vea had a sliver of hope to play again after his ankle injury at Chicago in Week 5. He just needed the Bucs to make a deep playoff run.
“Obviously I was down and out that night, but I think that night I told myself ‘if you just push through this, you push through rehab, you might have a chance,'” Vea told reporters before the Super Bowl. “They told me I had like a small chance of making it, so I took those chances of what they said, and I really took it to heart.”
Vea credited defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh for connecting him with his chef during rehab as a key part of getting back on the field.