Top Potential Landing Spots for Edge-Rusher Shaq Barrett in 2021 NFL Free Agency
Shaquil Barrett might become the highest-paid non-quarterback free agent this offseason.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers star and two-time Super Bowl champion is the ultimate example of an NFL player who bet on himself and succeeded. Just two offseasons ago, Barrett signed a one-year deal worth $4 million with the Bucs and broke out with 19.5 sacks, which helped him earn a $15.8 million franchise tag for 2020.
One Lombardi Trophy later (he won his first with the Denver Broncos in 2015), Barrett will be one of the stars of free agency. He was again an elite performer this season, posting eight sacks, 24 hurries and 42 pressures.
Barrett, appearing on SiriusXM's Mad Dog Sports Radio with Adam Schein, said it best about a long-term contract (h/t ProFootballTalk's Mike Florio): "I feel like it's time for me to break the bank now, and I most definitely want to do that to be able to set my family up better and most definitely going to keep producing so it's not like anything is going to fall off. I still think I got a lot left in the tank. I'm still getting better, actually."
The list of teams interested in Barrett figures to be long because pressure is king for defenses in the modern NFL and a 28-year-old well-versed in that area doesn't often slip to market. Team need and cap space or the creativity to free up enough room were big factors in compiling this list of potential landing spots.
The Cincinnati Bengals aren't the first team that comes to mind in conjunction with premier free agents, but that started to change last year when they were one of the market's biggest spenders.
Fun fact: Those Bengals made the best offer for Barrett in 2019 before they pulled the bid over a shoulder issue, per Paul Dehner Jr. of The Athletic.
Maybe the second time is the charm, right?
The Bengals cobbled together just 17 sacks last season, they traded Carlos Dunlap, and leading pass-rusher Carl Lawson is scheduled for free agency. But Cincinnati ranks fifth with $45.6 million in projected cap space and could look to keep Lawson and bring on another presence to boost the pass rush.
Barrett may not want to consider the Bengals again after what happened, but they are an obvious fit because of need and cap space.
Don't forget the Jacksonville Jaguars when dreaming about landing spots for Barrett.
They look like a team ready to overpay to spur a rebuild around new head coach Urban Meyer. And the front office has the cap space to do it, sitting first in projected wiggle room with $79.6 million.
Generating more pressure should be one of the first things on any team's rebuild list, and that's especially the case for the Jags, who mustered just 18 sacks last year. Adding Barrett to the high-upside combo of Josh Allen and K'Lavon Chaisson would be a good way to boost the unit in the short term and dramatically alter its outlook for the long term.
Speaking of the long term, the Jaguars have the first pick in the draft, which is earmarked for Trevor Lawrence. Paying—if not overpaying—Barrett would free them to use their other premium draft assets to pepper the depth chart around the likely new quarterback with big investments, too.
From Barrett's perspective, the Jaguars would mark a dramatic change. But perhaps nobody can pay more.
New York Jets
On the rebuilders front, much of the same logic applies to the New York Jets.
Having come over from the San Francisco 49ers, new head coach Robert Saleh knows the value of players who can create pressure. As the Niners' defensive coordinator for the last four years, he worked with talented edge-rushers such as Nick Bosa.
Barrett is one of the NFL's best in that department.
The Jets managed 31 sacks last year, but only Quinnen Williams (seven) had more than 3.5, meaning the team lacked a critical edge presence like the one Barrett could provide.
Like Jacksonville, New York might have to overpay Barrett with some of its $75.5 million in free cap space. He would not only become a foundational building block, however, but also free up the second pick to be used elsewhere. Ditto that for the 23rd pick and three others in the first three rounds.
The Dallas Cowboys don't rank among the league leaders in cap space, but after fielding a historically inept defense for the better part of last year's campaign, the front office could figure out a way to make things work.
Dallas has $27.8 million in projected space but must wrap up Dak Prescott in some fashion. Some contract restructures and creativity in the form of releases or trades could lead to plenty of room.
And a player who creates pressure like Barrett should always be an interest. The Cowboys managed just 31 sacks last year with DeMarcus Lawrence tallying 6.5. He was one of two players with more than 3.5. (Aldon Smith had five.)
A Barrett-Lawrence combo on the edges would be costly, yet it would be the sort of defense-altering pairing that makes whomever lines up behind them look better.
If the Cowboys fancy themselves contenders, as they should with Prescott and in a weak NFC East, offering a contract to one of the best free agents should be a priority. For Barrett, jumping from one contender to another certainly wouldn't be as bad as joining a rebuilder.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It's still hard to imagine Barrett leaving the Buccaneers.
After they won the Super Bowl and with key cogs such as Tom Brady set to be back next year, it feels like merely a matter of logistics.
Barrett is one of several key free agents Tampa Bay will have to worry about re-signing. Others include star linebacker Lavonte David, tight end Rob Gronkowski and even Leonard Fournette and Antonio Brown. Its projected $30 million in space will go only so far.
But star wideout Mike Evans said he'd take a pay cut to help the team, so it seems like the Bucs won't have a hard time keeping things rolling into next season.
That's great news for Tampa Bay and bad news for the rest of the NFC. Barrett was one of three Bucs with eight or more sacks and played a key role in the playoffs and Super Bowl.
While a little anticlimatic, if the Buccaneers can make it work, a return makes perfect sense for both sides.