Super Bowl LV between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers has a ton of backstories with the game about to kick off here in the matter of a few days.
Tom Brady continuing to make his mark as the greatest of all-time. Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes looking to earn a second consecutive Super Bowl title. His head coach, Andy Reid, attempting to put his name in the history books.
However, there’s another major backdrop to this big game. Upcoming NFL free agency. Primarily, there’s a ton of Buccaneers players set to hit the open market. Strong performances in Super Bowl LV could set them up for big pay days. The same thing could be said for a couple Chiefs players entering NFL free agency. Here, we look at five such players.
Leonard Fournette, running back, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jettisoned from Jacksonville quicker than Blaine Gabbert after he cut his mullet, Fournette seemingly landed in a perfect situation with the Buccaneers. The former No. 4 overall pick was coming off a 1,674-yard season with the Jaguars. Despite this, there was some concern over his immaturity off the field and consistency on the field.
At least initially, that held up in Tampa Bay. Fournette gained less than 20 rushing yards in seven of his 13 regular-season appearances. In fact, he was a healthy inactive a couple times. For some reason, things picked up for the LSU product in the playoffs. He averaged over 100 total yards at a clip of 5.5 yards per touch in the three playoff games leading up to Super Bowl LV.
Set to take on a Chiefs defense that ranked in the bottom 12 of the NFL stopping the run during the regular year, this is a prime opportunity for Fournette to prove his worth to other teams as he enters NFL free agency. Will he be up to the task?
Demarcus Robinson, wide receiver, Kansas City Chiefs
Despite landing on the COVID-19 list earlier this week due to a close contact, there’s a good chance that the 26-year-old Robinson will be able to go for Super Bowl LV. He just needs to continue testing negative, which has been the case over the past couple days.
Should the impending NFL free agent play, he’ll have a prime opportunity to prove himself as a starter-caliber receiver. That’s especially true with fellow Chiefs receiver Sammy Watkins still hobbled to injury. Remember, Robinson played 39 snaps on offense in last season’s Super Bowl win over the 49ers — failing to catch a pass in the process.
Seen as a fourth-tier option for Patrick Mahomes behind Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Mecole Hardman, the opportunities might be limited Sunday. But Robinson needs to take full advantage of said opportunities. The former mid-round pick from Florida caught 45 passes for 466 yards while hauling in an eye-opening 76.3% of his targets during the regular year.
Lavonte David, linebacker, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
An argument could be made that David will earn his final huge long-term contract during NFL free agency. He could stink up the joint at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa on Sunday and would still be of huge interest for multiple teams on the open market.
Even then, a strong showing for the 31-year-old linebacker could very well up the ante. The former Pro Bowler was absolutely brilliant this past regular season, racking up 117 tackles (82 solo), 12 tackles for loss, six passes defended and three forced fumbles. It might have been the best performance of David’s career.
Things will not be easy for David in potentially his final game as a member of the Buccaneers. The veteran will be tasked with providing underneath coverage against legendary tight end Travis Kelce. David will also be asked to maintain the edge when Tyreek Hill has the ball in the run game. Struggles here could force interested teams to take a step back once NFL free agency opens.
Le’Veon Bell, running back, Kansas City Chiefs
A three-time Pro Bowler during his time with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Bell still says he doesn’t regret holding out the 2018 season. That’s an interesting stance to take given that he’s tallied all of 1,117 rushing yards in the 26 games since. Now 28 years old, any idea given to Bell receiving a lucrative payday can be thrown out the window.
Even then, the former All-Pro back has a chance to prove his worth as a capable cog in the backfield. Unfortunately, he put up just six yards on two attempts in the divisional playoffs against Cleveland and missed the AFC Championship Game with a knee injury. Set to play in Super Bowl LV, Bell needs to have a turn-back-the-clock performance simply to prove that he should remain in the NFL.
Shaquil Barrett, EDGE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This is one of the better stories heading into Super Bowl LV. An undrafted free agent of the Broncos back in 2014, Barrett took an extended path to stardom. He played five seasons with Denver as a part-time pass rusher, playing pretty darn well in the process. That included 35 quarterback hits and 14 sacks.
However, it all changed when the Colorado State product signed a mere one-year, $4 million contract with Tampa Bay ahead of the 2019 season. In the 31 regular-season games since, Barrett has recorded a resounding 53 quarterback hits, 27.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles. Elite-level stuff right there.
Playing under the $15.83 million franchise tag this season, Barrett can enter NFL free agency on a high note. He gets to take on a Chiefs team that’s without starting tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz. There’s some actually putting money on Barrett earning the Super Bowl LV MVP. If that were to happen, he’d be looking at $20-plus million annually in free agency.