Now Comes The Hard Part

January 27th, 2020

Another fresh column from The Sage of Tampa Bay Sports. Ira’s good friend Sean Sullivan, Bill Currie Ford general manager, will personally help you get the best value on your next vehicle purchase. Just ask for him.


When it comes to taking care of off-season business, the Bucs have a matched pair of edge rushers to lock up.

While Shaq Barrett reigns as the NFL’s savviest free-agent acquisition of 2019, his future production is linked to the return of Jason Pierre-Paul as his partner in mayhem. Both are eligible to cash in during free agency in March and Tampa Bay can’t afford to let either depart if Bruce Arians wants to finish what he started.

Barrett is the obvious priority after leading the league with 19.5 sacks and earning Pro Bowl honors. Todd Bowles utilized Barrett deftly off both flanks, capitalizing on his startling ability to make himself small before arriving in a big-time hurry.

We all know Barrett turned in one of the greatest opening months by a defensive player in the NFL’s 100-year history, registering 9 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 7 tackles for loss and 10 QB hits. And if not for a second-half meltdown at home against the Giants, Tampa Bay could have emerged from September sporting a 3-1 record.

During Barrett’s September to remember, JPP was still recuperating from a fractured vertebrae suffered in a May auto accident. But just when it appeared Barrett was a one-man show, he hit the wall.

That 600-pound wall was composed of a constant double-team by opponents who weren’t going to allow Barrett to wreck their offensive game plans. So when the Bucs traveled to New Orleans and faced Carolina in London, Barrett was suddenly no factor.

That’s a big, fat zero — zero sacks, zero forced fumbles, zero tackles for loss and zero hits. And guess what? The Bucs lost both games, yielding 68 points in the process.

Enter the freak.

Doubles Partners

Once JPP returned in Week 8 at Tennessee, opposing offensive coordinators soon realized they couldn’t make Barrett their sole focus of attention as a pass rusher anymore.

In those final 10 games, JPP surprised everyone, except perhaps himself, with 8.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. And accordingly, Barrett returned to form with 10.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 12 tackles for loss and 27 hits.

Now comes the hard part — keeping this disruptive tandem together.

They can do far more damage as doubles partners, but the cost of doing business just went up.

Barrett wants to be PAID, and who can blame the former part-time linebacker of the Broncos? A franchise tag on Barrett would set the Bucs back $16 million, a tidy sum but still $11 million less than a Jameis Winston franchise tag.

Arians vows that Barrett isn’t getting away, so it’s likely the Bucs lock him up prior to the start of free agency.

The Bucs restructured JPP’s contract following his injury, allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent in 2020. His base salary last season was $3 million, but that number was $11.25 million in 2018 and Pierre-Paul is still only 31.

The good news for Buc fans is JPP wants to play alongside another proven pass rusher. He and Barrett combined to drop opposing quarterbacks 28 times last season, the most takedowns by any tandem in the league.

True Need

The powers that be at One Buc Place realize Barrett will be a marked man in 2020 if JPP departs. Carl Nassib gives you what he’s got, but he doesn’t command the respect — or the attention — JPP has earned when formulating an offensive game plan against Tampa Bay.

Ask Barrett whether he wants Pierre-Paul back.

Ask JPP what it’s like having Barrett creating havoc on the other side.

These guys deserve each other. They need each other.

Marvin Gaye had it right. In this case, it takes two, baby, to make a dream come true.

Ira with his good friend and Bill Currie Ford general manager Sean Sullivan. Ask for Sean at Bill Currie Ford. He will help you personally and give you a special JoeBucsFan discount.

Ira Kaufman launched his professional NFL beat coverage in 1979, back when Earl Campbell was the toast of the league and Lee Roy Selmon was defensive player of the year. After a lifetime at The Tampa Tribune, “The Sage of Tampa Bay Sports” joined in July of 2016. His twice-weekly podcast and three columns per week appear here year-round and are presented by Bill Currie Ford. Tampa Bay’s only Hall of Fame voter is a regular on SiriusXM Mad Dog Radio and a part of the FOX-13 Tailgate Sunday show, in addition to his other appearances. 

18 Responses to “Now Comes The Hard Part”

  1. BamaRich Says:

    JPP should follow Barrett when prioritizing team needs.

  2. PSL Bob Says:

    Totally agree! We need to keep the D-line in tact, including Nassib. It wasn’t a fluke that the unit, including rotational players, was No. 1 in the league against the run. Add a RB and a safety in early rounds of the draft, and then strengthen the O-line in the remainder of the draft and FA, and this team will be legit, with or without Jameis.

  3. stpetebucsfan Says:

    Agree! They have proven their value and EARNED their contracts.

    Then depending on our QB decision we should draft another edge rusher along with an offensive tackle in the first two rounds…depending which round produces the BPA at those two spots. If it’s OT in the first and DL in the second or DL in the first and OT in the 2nd. Build trenches!

    3rd round we take either an RB or a QB hoping to get Russell Wilson like lucky moving the RB to 4th round. If we keep #3 we still need a QB..again we take the best BPA available at QB/RB in whichever round..3rd or 4th.

    Licht has been pretty successful with UDFA’s maybe we can find depth at safety in the final rounds and UDFA.

  4. Bucsfanman Says:

    I have to agree, Ira. Retaining BOTH would be the ideal scenario.

  5. Buccernutter Says:

    Can’t imagine who would disagree. Been searching for edge rushers since we let go of bennett and now we could sustain possibly the best duo in the league.

    I wish we could keep suh too but it’s not gonna happen. Maybe we should prioritize dt in round 1 or 2. In fact, go all in on the trenches this year.

  6. Defense Rules Says:

    Awesome article Ira. Bucs have no choice but to re-sign BOTH Shaq and JPP. I personally think it’ll take about $31 mil to make that happen on long-term deals with LOTS guaranteed ($18 mil a year on a 4-5 year deal for Shaq and $13 mil a year on a 3-4 year deal for JPP). Expensive yes, but that’s what you pay when you don’t ‘grow your own’ via the draft.

    The key wildcard IMO is Ndamukong Suh. Many fans seem to grossly underestimate the impact he had as a Buc this year IMO. It’s nice to say ‘replace him with a 2nd or 3rd stringer’ but that ‘ain’t gonna happen’ … Suh is a very unique player, not only in his toughness but also in his intelligence. His very presence in the center of our DLine commands respect, normally in the form of double-teams. Result: Others feed. IMO Shaq, JPP & Suh are a package deal & all 3 NEED to be re-signed or our defense will suffer. My guess is that it’ll take $10 mil a year for 2 years IF Suh even wants to remain a Buc.

    Nassib is also a wildcard who deserves to be re-signed but he’s got some ‘growing’ to do before he’ll command the BIG money. Still, in essentially 13 games he had 6 sacks, 8 TFLs, 11 QB Hits & 34 tackles. Not that shabby. Should be good enough to command say $7 mil a year for 2-3 years.

    Altogether, the 4 of them would probably cost us $48 mil or so. That’s a reasonable price IMO for the PERFORMANCE that those 4 guys gave us last year in TB’s defense. And based on their track record over years, they’ll do it again. It’s doable IF the Bucs are willing to allocate $90-$95 mil to building a strong defense this year, because that’s what it’ll take to keep this defense together. HOPEFULLY Bucs’ management is willing to make that commitment.

  7. BrianBucs Says:

    As I stated before, if the Bucs let any of their defensive studs walk because they need the cap space or cash to sign Winston, it would be absolutely ludicrous.
    Keep your front 7 together, then sign a cheaper QB that doesn’t turn the ball over and cost your team games

  8. Alanbucsfan Says:

    And they need Suh as well…

  9. Swampbuc Says:

    Right on Ira.

    OF the two I actually believe JPP is the more valuable player. But keep them both so that point is moot!

  10. Ndog Says:

    What is going to be typical Bucs is we get the entire defense back and it is rock solid next year but we totally botch the QB situation and our offensive scoring drops into the 30’s. That is sooooo Bucs, so we can stop people but now can’t score.

  11. GhostofSchiano Says:

    Agree with Defense Rules.

    The front four of Barrett, Suh, vea and JPP…..a whole season with an ever improving secondary. This could be the second coming of Bucs Ball. When Defense won games with quarterbacks like Dilfer and King.

  12. Joe in Michigan Says:

    We need to get these guys signed, and as Sean Sullivan has said, draft an edge rusher early. Keeps everyone fresh, hedges against injury, and will be JPP’s eventual replacement.

  13. Cobraboy Says:

    I agree with DL: JPP, Suh and Barrett are a package deal and far more important that Jameis Christ.

  14. JimbobBucsFan Says:

    My suggestion is let Suh walk, lock in Barrett and JPP for at least the next two years and do everything possible to obtain Jordan Phillips without selling the farm.

    OL and DL would remain priorities in the draft along with RB and S.

  15. stpetebucsfan Says:

    Agree completely with D.R.

    And Suh is the overlooked guy in all the FA talk. How important is he to Vea’s game. Two beasts in the middle make a frightening combination…a pick your poison for OC’s.

  16. WestChap Says:

    Agreed, but I would lock them up in order of overall impact to the D: Suh, JPP and then Shaq. Shaq should get tagged at 16 given only a single year of greatness… so Suh and JPP are the real negotiations. I hope they loved seeing that late season resurgence and want to see it through to full realization with Bowles and crew. If so, Bruce just needs to be fair with $10 and $13 respectively.

  17. Buczilla Says:

    Cool article and I agree 100%.

  18. Buccernutter Says:


    I agree with that but now we are discussing priority players. So you say Suh is a priority which I agree as he was a big reason for other’s success. However, are you suggesting we keep everyone? That is suh, jpp, barrett, jameis and nassib? That leaves very little room for anyone else. IMO a S, #1 CB, or even a OT is more important as I am confident Vea has received the torch and shouldn’t fall off a cliff without suh.

    Soooo, I say priority list goes JPP Barrett, Jameis, Suh, Perriman, Nassib in that order. Considering JPP Barrett and Jameis will cost roughly 60 total, that leaves about 30ish for other players. I would rather allocate that $ elsewhere than Suh. Just my opinion.

    I strongly disagree that JPP and Barrett won’t eat without Suh. That’s why a rookie or a middling free agent can replace him. Not productivity but physically as I suggested Vea is now a beast.