Secret meeting in March persuaded Devin White to drop trade demand

Buccaneers linebacker Devin White wanted out. He felt disrespected by the fact that he had given four years to the team and hadn't gotten a long-term contract.

Somehow, the Bucs turned it around so dramatically that White called himself "selfish" for wanting a new deal.

Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times explores the process for getting White back in the fold for 2023. Per Stroud, it happened through a secret meeting in March between White, coach Todd Bowles, and G.M. Jason Licht.

Stroud asked Bowles how they got White to abandon his request to be traded.

“Just tell him the truth,” Bowles told Stroud. “There’s a lot of guys that play under the fifth-year option. We just had to get rid of $60 million [in cap space]. How can we go back and disperse what we had to get rid of to get under the cap? A lot of people play under the fifth-year option. It’s not a slap in the face. When you get drafted in the first round? You get a fifth-year option. If you get drafted in the second round, you get four years."

While that explanation worked on White, there are two major flaws in it.

First, the 2011 CBA set up a system that protected against high first-round picks making millions and never earning it. The highly-drafted players who aren't busts have every right to expect a long-term deal — and the contract they didn't get when drafted in the top five (as White was in 2019). When the team opts not to pay the money that wasn't paid under the rookie deal and to instead squat on the player's rights through a full five years, the player has every right to be upset.

And it is a slap in the face when the player is good enough to get long-term security but the team forces him to get through a fifth year before even considering it, especially at a position that carries with it a high degree of injury risk.

Second, the salary-cap argument is (all due respect) baloney. A long-term deal for White could have reduced his cap charge below $11.7 million, helping the effort to clear cap space not impede it. (Of course, that would have required the Bucs to give White a significant signing bonus. Which they rarely if ever do. But that's their problem, not the player's problem.)

"I understand his point," Bowles added regarding White's prior mindset. "He wasn’t disrespectful or anything like that. Devin is a real bright guy. He’s one of the best leaders we have on the team, and he works hard every day. It’s like he couldn’t understand it at the time. It’s like you’ve just got to play your way through it and go from there. Somebody is going to pay you. If you do your job, it takes care of itself.”

But what if, in the last game of the regular season or the playoffs (if the Bucs make it), White tears an ACL? There goes the payday, from somebody, anybody, everybody.

And what if White throws caution to the wind and becomes an All-Pro this year? The Bucs will apply the franchise tag for 2024 — and next year Bowles will say, "A lot of people get franchised. It’s not a slap in the face."

The inescapable reality is that the Bucs are playing the CBA game with White, because they can. And they somehow managed not only to persuade him that their approach was the right one, but also to get him to admit that his desire to get the contract he deserves was "selfish."