Buccaneers place franchise tag on NFL sack leader Barrett

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP)The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have placed the franchise tag on NFL sack leader Shaquil Barrett, a move that also could mean Jameis Winston’s time as the team’s starting quarterback is coming to an end.

Monday’s announcement had been anticipated ever since coach Bruce Arians stated late last season that the 27-year-old outside linebacker “ain’t going anywhere” after setting a team record with 19½ sacks in 2019.

Barrett signed a one-year, $4 million contract in free agency with the Bucs last winter after spending the first five seasons of his career with the Denver Broncos. The franchise tag for a linebacker calls for a salary of just under $16 million for 2020.

Arians reiterated during last month’s NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis that retaining key players from an improving defense was a greater priority than holding on to Winston, who led the NFL in passing yards while also leading the league in turnovers last season.

Winston earned nearly $21 million in the final year of the contract he signed as the No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft. He threw for 5,109 yards and became Tampa Bay’s all-time passing leader, but also made NFL history as the first player with at least 30 touchdown passes and 30 interceptions in a season.

Winston, 26, will become an unrestricted free agent if the Bucs, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2007, don’t re-sign him by Wednesday. With more than $74 million in salary cap space available, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers and Teddy Bridgewater are among the players Arians could pursue as a potential replacement.

The team also could make a run at bringing back two key performers – Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh – from a defense that improved dramatically over the second half of last season, when the Bucs finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs for the 12th straight year.

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