When will Tristan Wirfs and Antoine Winfield Jr. get paid?

by Neivo Team
When will Tristan Wirfs and Antoine Winfield Jr. get paid?

With the NFL draft over, the Buccaneers are on a slow but steady ramp to the 2024 season. Their roster is largely set, but two major issues remain: the long-term contract statuses of left tackle Tristan Wirfs and safety Antoine Winfield Jr.

It would not be hard to argue that Wirfs and Winfield Jr. are the best players on Tampa Bay’s roster. They are the last two players to earn first-team All-Pro bids in a Bucs uniform, Wirfs in 2021 and Winfield Jr. just last season. Drafted consecutively in 2020, Wirfs and Winfield Jr.’s ascension to the elite in the NFL harken back to when Tampa Bay drafted Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp with consecutive picks in 1995.

This begs the question: when will the Bucs sign them to the long-term contracts they deserve? Wirfs is due to play the 2024 season on the fifth-year option of his rookie deal, while Winfield Jr. is on the franchise tag. While their services are ensured for at least one more season, the Bucs should not want either player sniffing free agency in 2025.

Tampa Bay’s lack of urgency may have already cost them millions of dollars. Last month, Lions right tackle Penei Sewell became the highest paid offensive lineman in the NFL by average annual value, signing a four-year, $112 million extension with Detroit. Sewell reset the tackle market at $28 million per year, but he is one of the best tackles in the league and is certainly on par with Wirfs.

The main distinction between them is that Sewell plays right tackle and Wirfs plays left tackle, which historically commands a higher salary than any other offensive line position. Sewell’s new contract gives Wirfs significant leverage to reset the tackle once more and potentially earn north of $30 million per year.

Fortunately for the Bucs, there should not be any other tackles of Sewell or Wirfs’ caliber expected to sign an extension in the immediate future. The floor on Wirfs’ extension should essentially be set. All that remains is how high Tampa Bay is willing to go beyond that.

Dec 24, 2023; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (31) reacts after recovering a fumble against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the fourth quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Winfield Jr.’s prospects are a little more complicated. The Bucs placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on their star safety, which gives him the ability to negotiate with other teams with Tampa Bay getting right of first refusal. Additionally, there has been no indication that Winfield Jr. has signed the tag, which would keep him out of the facility until he does.

Coming off an All-Pro season, Winfield Jr. is almost guaranteed to reset the safety market. Chargers S Derwin James is the NFL’s top paid safety, earning $19 million per year. This would make the floor for Winfield Jr. at least $20 million per year.

Though the Bucs would no doubt like to avoid resetting the safety market by a huge margin, they do have greater incentive for getting a deal done with Winfield Jr. sooner than later. His 2024 cap number is set to be $17.1 million, which is a large number considering the Bucs currently have less than $400k in cap space, according to Over the Cap. This isn’t enough to even sign the 2024 draft class.

Winfield Jr.’s contract extension could give the Bucs sufficient cap space to sign their draft class and add a little breathing room to sign free agents in case of injuries. With Wirfs set to play on the fifth-year tag, his extension bears no such benefit this year.

With $62.2 million in cap space in 2025, there is no real hinderance to the Bucs getting a long-term deal done with both players. There also has been no indication that either side has lost interest in extending their relationship. While timing appears to be the only real question remaining, the closer it gets to training camp and the preseason, the more anxiety will build from the lack of progress in locking up two of Tampa Bay’s top players.

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