Buccaneers gave Lavonte David what he's worth

TAMPA, Fla. -- Lavonte David is an outside linebacker. So why is he getting paid like a middle linebacker?

It's simple really. It's because, as the weak-side linebacker in the Tampa 2 defense, David is as important as any middle linebacker.

David and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers agreed to a five-year, $50.25 million contract extension (with $25 million guaranteed) Sunday night. That makes David, 25, the highest-paid 4-3 outside linebacker in the league. And the Bucs believe he is worth every penny.

The Bucs are reaching back into their history because they believe David, who was heading into the final year of his rookie contract, is the second coming of Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks. They also believe defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is the second coming of Warren Sapp. That's why they extended McCoy's contract last year.

The Bucs believe McCoy and David and some complementary pieces can make them a top-10 defense and take the pressure off rookie quarterback Jameis Winston.

Coach Lovie Smith, who was the linebackers coach back in the days of Tampa Bay's defensive heyday, repeatedly has said David is the best outside linebacker in the league.

Even before the Bucs announced the extension Sunday, Smith set a lofty goal for David, who had five interceptions in 2013. David dropped a potential interception in Sunday's practice and Smith said he expects more big plays from the linebacker.

"You don't know when an opportunity is coming on the defensive side," Smith said. "That's a bad thing, especially for Lavonte. I mean, Lavonte David is as good as there is. He should be a five-plus-interception linebacker every year. He will."

While the Bucs clearly recognize David's value, the rest of the league and the media have been slow to catch on. David has been selected to the All-Pro team, but never has made it to the Pro Bowl.

Maybe the new contract will put him more in the public's conscience. But the Bucs already know they have something special and that's why they gave David the big deal.