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What do the Bucs do with Devin White?

With a $55 million cap overage looming, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will have their fill of tough roster decisions this offseason. One of the bigger decisions that is flying under the radar is what the Bucs will do with the apparent heart of their defense, linebacker Devin White.

To some, this question may seem absurd. White was selected for the 2019 All-Rookie Team, and voted to the 2021 Pro Bowl. He was selected NFC Defensive Player of the Week three times, and NFC Defensive Player of the Month in September 2022. White finished top-ten in solo tackles in 2020 (97) and 2021 (87), and has 20.5 sacks in his four-year NFL career as an off-ball linebacker. His two interceptions and two fumble recoveries during the 2020 playoffs were instrumental to propelling the Bucs to Super Bowl LV.

A three-year captain, White is unquestionably a team leader in Tampa. He is frequently the man in the middle of the pre-game huddle, hyping up the team before kickoff. Quite simply, since 2019, Devin White has been a marquee player for Tampa Bay.

(AP Photo/Danny Karnik)

Given his profile and accomplishments, White appears due for a massive pay day. As it stands, he will play in 2023 on his fifth-year option, a hefty $11.7 million cap hit for Tampa, per Over The Cap. This money is guaranteed, though the Bucs can sign him to a new contract that can diminish his 2023 cap hit. Extending him now has to be on the table to help square Tampa’s cap debt.

So, the real question is, should the Bucs pay Devin White to be their linebacker of the future? The answer is not so simple.

Yes, White was instrumental to the Bucs’ 2020 Super Bowl run, but despite the hype he garners, his play has been highly uneven throughout his NFL career. He may have a reputation as a playmaker, but the numbers tell a different story.

Devin White Stats and League Rank, 2019 – 2022

Year

Pressure Rate

Rank*

Interceptions/Fumbles Forced

Rank*

Passer Rating Allowed

Rank*

Missed Tackle Rate

Rank*

2022

22.6%

18/52

2

15/52

121.8

51/52

14.0

42/52

2021

26.9%

6/58

0

48/58

107.1

39/58

15.6

52/58

2020

25.4%

3/46

3

7/46

102.2

26/46

10.3

27/46

2019

14.4%

38/58

4

7/58

99.1

24/58

13.3

37/58

No stat works more in White’s favor than his pressure rate. He is among the best linebackers in the game when it comes to blitzing the quarterback. He also has a knack for creating turnovers, a highly valuable skill that is not easy to duplicate.

The problem is, White is pretty bad at just about everything else. It would be difficult to describe him as anything but a liability in pass coverage. He plays zone coverage too soft, and does not appear comfortable carrying receivers.

White also misses a lot of tackles, consistently finishing in the bottom half of the league in missed tackle rate. Here, White’s blazing speed can be a liability as he frequently comes in too hot on tackle attempts, and bounces right off ball carriers.

(Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

White’s downsides should give the Bucs pause when considering his long-term future in Tampa. White may expect a top-of-the-market deal with his next contract, but linebackers making top money like Roquan Smith and Fred Warner are assets in pass coverage, and reliable tacklers.

White’s uneven play is a major dilemma for the Bucs. He would be difficult to replace as a pass rusher, but his deficiencies in coverage and as a tackler are hard to overlook given his central role in the defense. It likely comes down to White’s asking price on his next contract. Smith and Warner average around $20 million per year. If White insists on matching that value, the Bucs may have no choice but to explore trading him now.

In spite of blemishes, White’s athletic profile and age could make him attractive to teams bereft of defensive playmakers, particularly pass rushers. Tampa’s other roster moves and priorities this offseason will also dictate just how pressed they will be to give White a significant pay increase.

Jettisoning White’s $11.7 million cap hit also gives Tampa a greater shot at retaining Lavonte David, who remains one of the best linebackers in the league. The Bucs could then use the draft capital from the trade to make a less expensive investment at the linebacker position.

While White appears to be a valued member of the Bucs roster, no decision should be taken off the table. If White cannot agree to a salary that reflects both his strengths and his flaws, Tampa may be better off making a change at the center of the defense.

Story originally appeared on Buccaneers Wire