Inside Bucs tackle Tristan Wirfs’ ‘holdout’ for a new contract

TAMPA — Tristan Wirfs wants a contract extension and is not participating in organized team activities while negotiations continue.

What does that mean for the Bucs?

Right now, it isn’t really a concern. The Bucs love Wirfs, who in addition to being a three-time Pro Bowl tackle, is friendly, honest, intelligent and by all accounts one of the finest people in their locker room.

There are some important things to remember about Wirfs’ so-called “holdout.” These workouts are voluntary, and the Bucs aren’t bothered by Wirfs skipping them. He has worked tirelessly during the offseason program and is in tremendous shape.

Wirfs is set to play under the fifth-year club option, which will pay him $18.244 million. That’s a decent amount of money. Not the $28 million or more per year he could receive with a new deal, but significant.

Because he’s still under contract, Wirfs will not be able to skip games like a player who didn’t sign his franchise player designation.

Safety Antoine Winfield Jr. played out his final season under contract in 2023 and was rewarded by becoming the highest-paid defensive back in NFL history.

The Bucs used the franchise-player tag to prevent Winfield from becoming a free agent and to serve as a place-holder why they negotiated a new deal. Last week, he signed a four-year, $84 million contract.

That’s a precedent the Bucs have now established. Play out your rookie contract, and they will reward you.

Remember, too, if a deal is not reached by March, the Bucs could use the franchise-player designation on Wirfs twice (for 2025 and 2026), if needed.

With Wirfs out for the start of voluntary workouts Tuesday, Justin Skule started at left tackle. Free-agent addition Sua Opeta (Eagles) played left guard, incumbent Robert Hainsey was at center, Cody Mauch played right guard, and Luke Goedeke was at right tackle.

The second-team line had Silas Dzansi at left tackle, free-agent pickup Ben Bredeson (Giants) at left guard, first-round pick Graham Barton at center, Brandon Walton at right guard and Luke Haggard at right tackle.

The Bucs have spent lavishly this offseason, re-signing unrestricted free agents such as Winfield, wide receiver Mike Evans (two years, $52 million) and quarterback Baker Mayfield (three years, $100 million).

But Wirfs is not an unrestricted free agent. He’s in the same position that linebacker Devin White was a year ago, playing under a fifth-year club option.

Unlike White, the Bucs are eager to reach an extension with Wirfs. It could happen before the start of the regular season. But it has to make sense for the Bucs in both the short and long term.

How much will Wirfs ultimately sign for? Probably a million or more north of the four-year, $112 million the Lions gave tackle Penei Sewell.

The next hurdle will come June 11-13, when the Bucs begin mandatory minicamp. They could agree to allow Wirfs to attend to avoid any fines but not participate.

What’s behind Vea’s slimdown

Defensive tackle Vita Vea is said to have shed significant weight this offseason working out with former Bucs nose tackle Ndamukong Suh.

Vea, who signed a four-year, $71 million contract in 2022, is listed at 6-foot-4, 347 pounds but played significantly heavier than that last season.

He still recorded 43 tackles and 5½ sacks. But the Bucs are paying Vea to be great, not simply good.

“Vita has to play better,” co-defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers said earlier this month. “When you are talking about that and just looking at plays he’s leaving out there, Vita is a really strong man. When he uses his hands and proper technique, he’s hard to stop. That’s the thing. He plays hard and does everything we ask of him.

“Just, when you go back and look at some plays, (you say), ‘You should have made that play. You know that guy should not be blocking you.’ That’s kind of where we need him to take the next step, because he does everything. Everything else we ask him for.”

Licht takes blame for Whitehead

The Bucs’ biggest offseason addition is former Jets safety Jordan Whitehead. General manager Jason Licht said Whitehead, who played in Tampa Bay from 2018-21, never should have been allowed to leave.

A fourth-round pick in 2018, Whitehead and Winfield were big reasons the Bucs were able to win Super Bowl 55. His physicality were sorely missed during his past two season with the Jets.

The Bucs attempted to replace Whitehead with Mike Edwards, a ballhawk who was more of a free safety and rotational player. When Edwards signed with the Chiefs after the 2022 season, Tampa Bay failed trying to fill that position with Keanu Neal, Logan Ryan and Ryan Neal. Last season, they also used Kaevon Merriweather, Dee Delaney and even Zyon McCollum at safety.

“With Jordan, it was a mea culpa,” Licht said on the “Loose Cannons Podcast.” “We had to draw the line at some point. And I made a mistake. I’m glad we got him back. It was a mistake that I regretted the minute we let him walk. Luckily, I had a chance to get him back. And nobody’s happier than him, (safeties coach) Nick Rapone, (head coach)Todd Bowles, myself. He’s going to make a big impact for us this year.”

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