With all starters back for 2021, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took a step toward keeping key talent in the bay beyond next season.
Bucs general manager Jason Licht said the team will pick up Vita Vea’s fifth-year option during a press conference on Thursday. Vea has been a steady force on the defensive front for three seasons since the Bucs took him with the 12th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
“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 in the press conference.
The nose tackle missed time in 2020 due to an ankle injury in Week 5 at Chicago and didn’t return until the NFC Championship game in Green Bay. He played 33 snaps at Green Bay and 31 snaps in the Super Bowl, recording a tackle.
“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 in a press conference 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 tallied two sacks and 10 tackles before the injury. He helped the Bucs run defense, allowing 2.95 yards per play versus a 3.98 yards average by the Bucs without him according to ESPN Stats & Information per ESPN’s Jenna Laine.
“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. “Very exciting day — coaches, scouts, players, owners, everybody. We were all very excited.”
Vea will make $7.638 fully guaranteed with the fifth-year option according to ESPN’s Jenna Laine. She noted the deadline for teams to make fifth-year options official is May 3.
He has 7.5 sacks and 73 tackles in his career among his 29 starts and 34 games played. He also grabbed a 1-yard touchdown pass from former Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston in 2019.
Vea starred at Washington for three seasons before the Bucs drafted him.
He helped the Huskies reach the College Football Playoff semifinal in the 2016 season. The 2017 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year finished his college career with 99 tackles and 9.5 sacks.
Vea came into Green Bay ready for any scenario for his first game in more than three months.
“I prepared myself if I wasn’t going to play, if I was just going to stand there on the sidelines or if I was going to get 30 snaps or get 10 snaps,” Vea said before the Super Bowl.
Vea said fellow defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh helped him out during his recovery by connecting him with his chef. Vea added that working out in the weight room six days per week made a difference.
“I knew at the end of the day I’ll be back,” Vea said.
Shoring up Defense
Tampa prioritized its defensive starters in free agency, keeping linebackers Shaquil Barrett and Lavonte David at home.
The Bucs also re-signed Suh, which complements Vea on the defensive line. Linebacker Kevin Minter also re-signed, which gives the Bucs some depth on defense.
Work remains in the secondary where the Bucs lost backups in Andrew Adams and Ryan Smith to free agency.