Wednesday afternoon it was announced that a certain star linebacker got a large contract extension. And no, he doesn’t play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That man was San Francisco 49ers linebacker Fred Warner. His new deal comes in at five years and just over $95 million.
It was also reported that the Colts star linebacker Darius Leonard could be receiving an extension soon, as well. This extension is also expected to be in the $19 million per year range. Each of these reset the market for the highest paid linebacker in the NFL.
So how does this affect the Bucs?
It won’t be long before the Bucs have to extend Devin White. He is entering his third season and has already established himself as one of the best linebackers in the game. Whether he’s better than Warner or Leonard, I’ll leave that debate for another time. However, it could be said that White is every bit as productive as those two guys.
White has more career quarterback hits than either Warner or Leonard, despite those two having played one more season. In fact, White has nearly three times as many career sacks as Warner does. This is just one indication of how White lives in the backfield as much, if not more than these two.
The same can be said with tackles for loss. White made 15 tackles in the backfield last season. This is more than any single season of Leonard’s career and the total amount Warner has made in his three years combined. Needless to say, White is at a minimum on their level in this department.
White also racks up tackles as well, if not better than these two. His 140 total tackles is more than Warner has ever made in a single season and more than Leonard in either of his two Pro Bowl seasons. All of these guys are fast and physical. They are all tackling machines whose plays from sideline to sideline.
What separates them?
Where White is weakest, these two are very strong. In his best games White is inconsistent in pass coverage. In his worst games he’s a liability. It is here that may prevent him from resetting the linebacker market again in a year or two.
That’s not to say he can’t become a strong coverage player. With his size and speed White has the physical tools to stick with tight ends and running backs. It is just a matter of experience and anticipation for him moving forward. Thus mental part of the game is still developing for the 23-year-old.
On the other hand, Warner is (in my opinion) the best coverage linebacker in football. Leonard is very good in his own right and has more interceptions than Warner and White combined. This three-down impact is what makes them the top two paid linebackers in the league.
Other notable contracts
Although White may fall short in some aspects to the two guys at the top, he certainly fairs well compared to the next tier. Guys like C.J. Mosley, Zach Cunningham, and Shaq Thompson all fall in the top-10 of linebacker salaries. And while these are all good players, it’s hard to say that White isn’t better than the bunch.
This makes the range of salary between $13.5 million per year (Thompson) and $17 million per year (Mosley) a bit low for White. Based on this, he will likely come in around the $18 million per year mark at minimum. This would tie White with Bobby Wagner as the third-highest paid linebacker in the league (assuming Leonard’s extension).
This is all just speculation for now. After all, White still isn’t a finished product and could continue to ascend. With that said, based on what other linebackers around the league are making it seems like White will be one of the three highest-paid linebackers in the game, at minimum.
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