Tampa Bay BuccaneersLavonte David, who signed a new deal to play a 12th season with the Buccaneers, is joining a very exclusive club in franchise history and wants to finish what he started in the only NFL home he's knownScott Smith
The one-year contract that inside linebacker Lavonte David signed on Thursday doesn't guarantee that he will spend his entire NFL career as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer, but it does keep the possibility alive. That's something both David and the Buccaneers consider important.
"It means the world to me," said David of remaining a Buccaneer as he heads into his 12th season. "Everybody knew I wanted to be a Buccaneer throughout my whole career and I wouldn't rather be [any] other place. I'm glad I'm back, I'm glad we [were] able to get everything tuned out. I'm happy to be back. I feel like I've still got some good football left to play in me. Hopefully I'm going to finish it out as a Buccaneer."
The Buccaneers had little trouble justifying a fourth contract for David, even though fourth contracts with the same team are exceedingly rare, because the former 2012 second-round pick was still performing at a very high level in 2022. Pro Football Focus assigned David a grade of 85.1 for his efforts last season, the third highest mark among 81 qualifying linebackers.
Of course, that production, which included 124 tackles, 3.0 sacks and five passes defensed, also made David a more attractive figure on the potential free agent market, and the Buccaneers have been working around a very restrictive salary cap situation this offseason. David had a window to gauge what other potential landing spots were available to him during the two-day negotiation period that preceded free agency, but he learned earlier in his career to approach free agency with patience and eventually make an informed decision. In this case, his decision was informed in no small part by his desire to remain with the only NFL franchise he has known.
"Me, being in the league 11 years I just felt like I could be patient, I didn't have to rush anything, and in the back of my mind I knew the Bucs wanted me back and I knew I wanted to go back to the Bucs," he said. "So, I knew eventually it would all work out. Then hearing from other teams and hearing what they're thinking, just kind of getting in the mindset of how others think throughout free agency - just learn the whole process. That's what I took from it."
The 2023 season will be David's 12th with the Buccaneers, and he knows that puts him in a very exclusive group. Only three other men have played at least a dozen seasons for the Bucs while spending their entire careers in Tampa, and he knows the list by heart: Ronde Barber, Derrick Brooks and Paul Gruber. Barber and Brooks are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and all three are in the Buccaneers' Ring of Honor at Raymond James Stadium. (Mike Alstott was also on the Bucs' roster for 12 seasons but didn't play in his final one due to a neck injury; he is also in the Ring of Honor.)
"It's very important," said David of his desire to join that group. "Definitely, to be mentioned with those guys means a great deal. For me to be able to come to my 12th season with one organization is very rare, especially in this day and age with everybody jumping teams and just looking out for themselves. I feel like once you start somewhere, you want to build a legacy somewhere, you've got a lot of good things going at one organization, why would you want to leave? Thankfully, everybody on both sides - my side and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' side - were able to work things out and get both sides comfortable and happy. The main thing is, obviously they didn't want me to go nowhere and I didn't want to go nowhere."
David doesn't exactly have "unfinished business" in Tampa. He's already done enough to be considered one of the greatest players in franchise history, and after fighting through eight seasons without a playoff berth to start his career he has had a heavy dose of playoff action the last three years. He has a Super Bowl ring. But the 2022 season, which included a second straight NFC South title but an 8-10 record overall, playoffs included, wasn't a particularly satisfying cap to that run. Wanting to prove the Bucs as currently constituted are capable of more was part of his desire to return.
"I would say the whole season - not just the end of the season - everything was so up and down and wasn't consistent," he said. "We're a better football team than what we displayed. That playoff loss, losing at home in the wild card game, we basically played the worst game of the season. We [were] outmatched, we didn't play the way we know how to play football. Obviously, that factors in.
"When you're a competitor and a competitor like me, I feel like the best place was to redeem myself was in Tampa Bay - to stay in Tampa and kind of finish what I started. I've been there my whole career and wouldn't want to be nowhere else. I've made basically a family there so I'm definitely excited to be back and I'm ready to get back playing football."