Wide receiver Chris Godwin is the Bucs’ franchise player

By Rick Stroud
Tampa Bay Times/TNS

TAMPA, Fla. - Chris Godwin was asked to give up his beloved No. 12 to Tom Brady last year, then won a Super Bowl in return. Now he must forfeit free agency for a chance to win another one.

The Bucs used the franchise player tag on the 25-year-old Godwin on Tuesday. The designation will guarantee Godwin at least $16.43 million on a one-year contract, the average salary of the top five receivers in the NFL.

It is a healthy raise considering he earned only $2.133 million in base salary for 2020, the final year or his rookie deal. You can understand why he may have preferred a long-term contract. And as the franchise player, the Bucs and Godwin have until July 15 to still make that happen.

But the decision Tuesday came down to using the franchise player designation on Godwin or linebacker Shaquil Barrett, who was tagged last year.

Barrett will be 29 in November. But tagging him again would have almost certainly meant losing one of the top receivers in the NFL, a guy the Bucs discovered in the third round out of Penn State and a vital piece of the passing and running attack around Brady.

Mike Evans, who will enter his eighth season, still is a No. 1 receiver with no sign of slowing down. But Godwin is younger, and with more money expected to be pumped into the salary cap in 2021, the Bucs would be in a better position to extend him then.

You can also view this as the optimism about the Bucs’ ability to still reach a long-term accord with Barrett. In his first season with the Bucs, Barrett led the NFL with 19.5 sacks and made the Pro Bowl.

Because of the pandemic, it was hard to sign him to long-term deal, but the franchise tag meant he went from earning $4 million to 15.8 million.

His production also fell to eight sacks during the 2020 regular season. Barrett, however, was a force in the playoffs with four sacks, including three in the NFC Championship Game win at Green Bay.

To use the franchise tag on Barrett for a second straight year, the Bucs would have had to guarantee him 120% of his 2020 salary. Barrett has said he would like to “break the bank” in free agency and may get his chance.

Of course, Barrett isn’t the only free agent impacted by Tuesday’s news.

Linebacker Lavonte David also will become an unrestricted free agent, though the Bucs have discussed trying to re-sign him. David, who has spent nine seasons with the Bucs, has said he would like to finish his career in Tampa Bay. But at 31, he has a Super Bowl ring and could be looking for one more big payday.

The Bucs would like to retain as many free agents as possible, a list that also includes tight end Rob Gronkowski, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, kicker Ryan Succop, running back Leonard Fournette and wide receiver Antonio Brown.

They will have to create some more room under the salary cap by restructuring contracts. They may start by adding another year to Brady’s deal, set to expire after 2021.

The projected salary cap for 2021 is $180.5 million, but that number could increase if the NFL extends some current TV contracts.

It’s an allocation system. On Tuesday, the Bucs chose Godwin over Barrett and David.

They chose offense over defense. Touchdowns over tackles and sacks.

But the free-agent game has just begun and there still is time left on the clock.

The Bucs are using the franchise player tag on wide receiver Chris Godwin.