Chris Godwin faces potentially difficult decision between sticking with Bucs, cashing in as free agent

Chris Godwin finds himself in a somewhat unique position.

First, he's a Super Bowl champion, a title all football players chase and few achieve. But he's also a Super Bowl-champion free agent, and he's in line to get paid -- it just might not come from the employer of his fellow champions.

Tampa Bay has a cast of key contributors it will hope to retain after catching fire and riding its hot streak to a Super Bowl LV victory over the Chiefs. Godwin is among them, but he's set to command a healthy salary on the open market, presenting him with a difficult balancing act between compensation and competition.

"It's very interesting. The team is heading in the right direction," Godwin said during an appearance on the Pat McAfee Show. "This is something that I saw kind of happen over the last couple of years. Me and Mike (Evans) would have conversations going back to last year about how we felt like we were right there, like we had the right core group of guys to really make a run. We just needed a couple more pieces. You get Tom (Brady), and then it takes off in year one. I know a lot of people didn't really expect it to end how it did. But shoot, that was the goal for us.

"For me, looking at free agency, that's definitely something I'm really considering. I want to be here. I love the guys on the team. I think we've got something special. But at the same time you got to consider all the possibilities out there and consider doing what's best for you and your family."

Godwin was a third-round pick out of Penn State in 2017, a steal for a receiver who has proven to be an excellent complement to Evans and carries the potential of a No. 1 target. Because he didn't go in the first two rounds, Godwin didn't make a ton of money on his rookie deal. But if he lands among the likes of Jarvis Landry, Cooper Kupp and Stefon Diggs -- players to whom he's statistically comparable at the time they signed their second contracts -- he'll make anywhere between $14.4 million and $15.75 million per year. And with the continuing rise of market value (even amid a salary cap crunch), he'll likely command more, safely putting him in the $16 million range for 2021.

As they currently stand right now, the Buccaneers don't have enough cap space -- $13.36 million with a projected cap of $180.5 million, per Over The Cap -- to fit Godwin at any of those average annual values. And the franchise tag is likely to be even more costly based on the average annual value of the top five receiver contracts in the league right now, placing that number around $21 million, though their individual pay schedules for 2021 might slightly deflate that number.

This is the reality, and the Buccaneers still need to find a way to keep 2020 franchise tag recipient Shaquil Barrett, Ndamukong Suh, Lavonte David and Rob Gronkowski, among others.

"I think I'm in the same boat as a lot of players," Godwin said. "Like, you want to get some long-term security, you want the team to commit to you, as well. I think an extension would be ideal, but at the end of the day if the franchise [tag] is what happens, then that's what I gotta do and then we'll revisit later. I want to be in Tampa, but at the end of the day I want to get paid too."

Godwin told McAfee he wasn't naive in his approach to free agency, understanding that the biggest payday could land him with a team in the polar opposite situation of the Buccaneers, who are entering 2021 bent on repeating as champions with Brady entering the final year of his two-year, $50 million deal. He values happiness more than maximum income, he said, and he knows he'll be more than content in Tampa Bay.

But the Buccaneers will have to figure out how to create space to pay Godwin near his market value. Even with a hometown discount, the financial gymnastics are still going to be difficult. Sticking the landing isn't as easy as fiddling with a calculator, especially in this unique financial landscape.

"The goal obviously is to get paid, right? But, at the same time, I'm not stupid," Godwin said. "I'm not going to put myself in a situation where I'm going to be miserable for some years to come just for a couple extra dollars. I think my happiness is paramount in all of this and part of that happiness is winning. Just having a bunch of different guys on the offensive side that can make your job a little bit easier but also give you the best chance to win is something that I'm strongly considering. It's a big reason why I want to be here. I know I can trust my dogs when it's time to go to battle."

The money will come from multiple directions. That much is guaranteed. But whether the Buccaneers can produce an offer competitive enough to land among the top suitors remains to be seen. With the franchise tag window opening Tuesday, the clock has officially started ticking on Godwin's decision window.

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