Feb 4, 2021; Tampa, FL, USA;  Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Vita Vea (50) against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Bucs GM: Vita Vea’s fifth-year option will be picked up

Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht said Thursday that the club will pick up the fifth-year option on mammoth defensive tackle Vita Vea.

That would place the 12th overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft under contract for 2022 at $7.6 million.

Vea played in just five regular-season games in 2020 after suffering a gruesome right ankle injury in a contest against the Chicago Bears on Oct. 8.

The ankle was badly fractured and the overwhelming belief was that Vea’s season was over. But he returned to play in the NFC Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers and the Super Bowl win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

“He plays a very pivotal role in our defense,” Licht told reporters. “When he’s in there, a lot of things happen, not just for him but everybody else around him. The day that we found out that he was gonna come back and play, it was a very big day for all of us, a very exciting day — coaches, players, scouts, owners, everybody. We were all very excited.”

Vea, 26, has 73 tackles and 7.5 sacks in 34 games (29 starts) over three NFL seasons. Just as important as the numbers is that he often clogs the interior of the line with his 6-foot-4, 347-pound frame.

The Buccaneers have kept all the starters off their championship squad but reserve wideout Antonio Brown remains unsigned. An NFL Network report says the two sides are not close in terms of the money.

–Field Level Media

Feb 3, 2021; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Vita Vea during NFL football practice, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021 in Tampa, Fla. The Buccaneers will face the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 55.  Mandatory Credit: Kyle Zedaker/Handout Photo via USA TODAY Sports

Bucs’ Vita Vea didn’t let a bad break halt his season

Nobody would have blamed Vita Vea if he had called it a season and began looking forward to the 2021 campaign.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers mammoth defensive tackle suffered a gruesome right ankle injury in a contest against the Chicago Bears on Oct. 8. The ankle was badly fractured and the overwhelming belief was that Vea’s season was over.

His next important football game was supposed to be 11 months away.

But Vea recovered to play in the NFC Championship Game victory over the Green Bay Packers on Jan. 24 and will be back in the trenches in Super Bowl LV when the Buccaneers play the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday in Tampa.

A key component of the situation was this: While nearly everybody was ruling Vea out for the season, he wasn’t declaring himself done.

“I think it was the next day or that night — I think I had it in my head,” Vea said of making it a goal to return during the playoffs. “Obviously, I was down and out that night, but I think that night I told myself, ‘If you just push through this, push through rehab, you might have a chance.’

“They told me I might have a small chance of making it, so I took those chances of what they said, and I really took it to heart. That’s what I stuck with.”

The payoff occurred when the 6-foot-4, 347-pound Vea returned against the Packers and played in 33 snaps. The strong run-stopper helped limit Green Bay to 67 rushing yards with a long gain of 12.

Vea, who turns 26 on Friday, didn’t suffer any setbacks and said he is healthy and ready for an increased role in the Super Bowl.

“I think I’m completely healed,” Vea said. “Otherwise, I don’t think I would be playing if I wasn’t.”

Having Vea adds another standout to a defensive unit filled with top-line players.

The Buccaneers led the NFL in rushing defense (80.6 yards per game) even with Vea missing the final 11 regular-season games. Putting him back in the interior next to elite run-stopper Ndamukong Suh only makes the Tampa Bay defense more stout.

Vea was sidelined when Kansas City recorded a 27-24 victory over host Tampa Bay in Week 12 but Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is well aware of his prowess.

“He’s a guy that you’ve got to know where he’s at every single play,” Mahomes said. “He obviously is super disruptive in the run game, but he’s just as good as a pass rusher. You don’t see guys like that — playing that position, that can rush the passer like that — that much.

“For him, he’s a special talent and I’ll have to know where he’s at every single play in order to not let him disrupt the entire game.”

Vea was a first-round pick (12th overall) in 2018 out of Washington. In 34 NFL games (29 starts), he has 73 tackles and 7.5 sacks.

He had 10 tackles and two sacks before the injury, which occurred when he was tackling Chicago running back David Montgomery. Teammate Devin White also was closing in to help make the tackle and Vea’s right ankle got caught under White’s body.

Nearly four months later, Vea will play in the biggest game of his career. He looks back at the journey and understands that his positive mindset played a big part on why he made it back this season.

“I don’t think it was that hard, honestly,” Vea said of his attitude. “I’ve got a good group of people around me — I had my family and friends in my ear the whole time, my teammates over here. I stayed over here and I stayed in meetings. I was coming to position meetings, defensive meetings and stuff like that.

“I think that just helped me stay locked into football, really keep my mind off the injury and focus on learning more about football.”

–Field Level Media

Oct 8, 2020; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers nose tackle Vita Vea (50) sacks Chicago Bears quarterback Nick Foles (9) during the third quarter at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

Buccaneers designate DT Vita Vea for return

Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Vita Vea was designated for return from injured reserve and will practice with the team on Wednesday.

Vea suffered a broken lower leg October 8 against the Chicago Bears and was thought to be out for the season.

“It’s a big, big loss,” head coach Bruce Arians said at the time of the injury.

The imposing nose tackle could be activated for a limited role at Green Bay on Sunday in the NFC Championship game.

Vea, 25, was taken off the field on a stretcher with an air cast around his lower leg and ankle with what was originally thought to be a fractured ankle in a Thursday night loss to the Bears.

But the Buccaneers updated the injury to a broken leg.

In five games before he was injured, the 330-pound Vea had 10 tackles and 2.0 sacks in 2020.

Pairing Vea with Ndamukong Suh could be a major boost for a Tampa Bay defense that had been stellar against the run before Alvin Kamara had 18 carries for 85 yards on Sunday.

–Field Level Media

Oct 8, 2020; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers nose tackle Vita Vea (50) sacks Chicago Bears quarterback Nick Foles (9) during the third quarter at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Bucs fear DT Vea out for season

Tampa Bay Buccaneers nose tackle Vita Vea could miss the rest of the season with an ankle injury, ESPN reported Friday.

“It’s a big loss. You don’t have another Vita, that’s for sure,” Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said following Thursday’s loss in Chicago. “But other guys will step in and step up and play good.”

Vea, who sacked Bears quarterback Nick Foles in the third quarter, later was carted off the field Thursday. The Bears beat the Buccaneers 20-19.

Vea is scheduled for an MRI exam to determine the extent of the damage.

The 25-year-old has been a force as a run-stuffer this season, his third in the NFL since being drafted 12th overall in 2018.

–Field Level Media