Lavonte David and Tom Brady have a few things in common, and enjoying a Super Bowl LV victory is one made possible by another, namely their ability to shrug off Father Time. While David is far from having to do it in his 40s -- as Brady currently is -- the fact the veteran linebacker is on the supposedly wrong side of 30 and keeps performing like a possessed 20-year-old is one of the reasons he'll be sought after heavily in the 2021 free agency wave to come.
He finished the 2020 regular season with 117 combined tackles (82 solo), six pass break ups, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, 1.5 sacks and an interception in 16 starts, numbers that remain consistent year-over-year. He'd add another 26 combined tackles (22 solo), four pass break ups and a sack to his tally in the postseason and was a key reason the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hoisted their first Lombardi trophy in nearly 20 years, his value entering the open market hovering around a robust $12.4 million -- per Spotrac.
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A Pro Bowler, three-time All-Pro and now Super Bowl champion, a highly durable and uber-talented David shows no signs of slowing down as he readies for his next multi-year contract, and it's time to take a look at the top five teams that can both pay him what he deserves and who require his services.
[Note: Cap numbers are based upon the $180 million floor, and not the pending final cap figure -- courtesy of Spotrac]
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Approximate Cap Space: $24 million
There's no place like home. That statement doesn't always hold true, but Dorothy was certainly onto something. David has been a longstanding force in Tampa, and they're hoping to keep him right where he is going forward. Considering the success the team is now enjoying and the addition of a potent defensive coordinator in Todd Bowles, it would also stand to reason David would want to sign a new deal to stay onboard for the foreseeable future, and the Buccaneers aren't exceedingly cash strapped at the moment, but the complication of working out a deal for both David and defensive end Shaq Barrett might create some hiccups.-- something that will also free up cap space for 2021 -- it'll help Bruce Arians keep the band together to potentially run it back this coming season with David helping to lead a vicious defense.
Approximate Cap Space: $37 million
If you're in Charlotte, imagining David in a Panthers uniform is enough to make your salivary glands work up a lather. The team is still feeling the absence of a now-retired Luke Kuechly, and they could definitely stand to add a dynamic complement to the play of linebacker Shaq Thompson. It's not that Tahir Whitehead isn't good, but he isn't David, and they're only months apart in age. Additionally, Whitehead is an unrestricted free agent himself this offseason, furthering the point about this team needing to make a big move at the position. With Thompson locked in for the long run, a tandem of he and David would be destructive in the NFC South and the conference as a whole, and stealing him away from the rival Bucs would be all of the icing on all of the cakes.
Approximate Cap Space: $25.74 million
What if David had been on the Browns roster when they went up against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Divisional Round? That is the kind of question Cleveland must ask themselves, because it's quite possible a veteran mind like David would have made quarterback Chad Henne pay dearly for attempting the called QB run that wound up saving the day for Andy Reid when Patrick Mahomes left the game with injury. Fact is, for as talented as the Browns are on defense, they're always looking to get better -- as evidenced in their reported interest in J.J. Watt -- and they have the cap space to make it happen. They're mostly set offensively, but still feel a defensive piece or two away from taking the next and final steps. David could definitely help in that regard and especially since, like David, linebacker B.J. Goodson is set to hit free agency.
Approximate Cap Space: $31.51 million
So you've found your franchise quarterback in Justin Herbert and, as such, your offense looks promising going forward. The defense, however, continues to battle durability issues and inconsistency in Los Angeles, and David suffers from neither of those issues. He would be a steady hand in the heart of the defensive unit, and if all-world talent Derwin James can remain healthy and a newly-extended Joey Bosa continues to dominate as he has been, well this could be a Chargers defense that'll give the AFC a good bit of hell in 2021. It's a unit that ranked 23rd in the league in points allowed per game (26.6) and that stat is a key reason they finished 7-9 and were on the receiving end of several gut-wrenching losses. Tandem David with linebacker Kenneth Murray and the aforementioned talent and get to the business of giving Herbert a fighting chance on a weekly basis, while also potentially keeping David out of the hands of a rival suitor listed next here.
Approximate Cap Space: (-)$2.573 million
One of these things is not like the others, as the Raiders are the only team on this list that could and should be interested in David but would need to do some serious cap maneuvering to make it happen. Time will tell if they're able to trade away backup quarterback Marcus Mariota or if they'll release him for cap relief, but whatever they need to do to help fix a defense that was ranked third-worst in the league needs to be done. The Raiders have a solid linebacker corps, but not an elite one, and that means it could stand to benefit from an upgrade like David. They like what they saw in the first year of Nick Kwiatkoski's three-year deal, but pretending he's equal to David is not a thing. So let the younger Kwiatkoski learn more under David and start making some noise defensively, after an unforgiving season on that side of the ball.
Sleeper Pick: Cincinnati Bengals
Approximate Cap Space: $43.35 million
Joe Burrow will likely be back in uniform after suffering a devastating knee injury that prematurely ended his promising NFL rookie season, but that won't fix the defense. The Bengals allowed 424 points in 2020 (26.5 per game), bad enough to seat them as the 22nd-ranked unit in the league. If they truly want to change the culture in Cincinnati, they'll have the same interest in David for the same reason the Chargers would/should -- to give their young QB a better chance to win games. The Bengals LB duo of Germaine Pratt and Josh Bynes combined for only one sack all season and zero forced turnovers, and David had two more pass break ups than the two put together. This isn't to say there isn't ability at LB currently present in Cinci, but it is to say they don't have a Lavonte David in the LB room, but they could change that soon.