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With Brady’s team-first contract, the Buccaneers are keeping the title gang together

Rob Gronkowski and a number of other key players will remain in Tampa Bay.

Tom Brady reworked his big-ticket contract last week to free up money in free agency. (AP Photo/Brett Duke, File)

Tom Brady doesn’t merely lead teams to Super Bowl wins on the field. He also helps keep together championship teams that have salary cap issues.

So sackmaster Shaq Barrett, fellow standout linebacker Lavonte David and old buddy Rob Gronkowski will remain in Tampa Bay.

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Just as he had done several times in New England, Brady reworked his big-ticket contract last week to free up money in free agency. The Buccaneers used it to keep David, and on Monday, the first day of “legal tampering” before the NFL’s business year begins on Wednesday, the 28-year-old Barrett agreed to a four-year, $72 million contract with $36 million guaranteed, agent Drew Rosenhaus confirmed.

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Later in the day, Gronk agreed to return for his 11th season with Brady on a one-year, $10 million deal — up from the $9.25 million he earned in 2020.

Meanwhile, back in Brady’s former stomping grounds, the Patriots were spending wildly in an attempt to recapture the glory he produced before heading south last season.

New England opened its vaults wider than any other team on Monday, something unusual for a club that normally avoids chasing the most expensive free agents. Of course, the Patriots went 7-9 without Brady in 2020.

Joining them are linebacker/edge rusher Matthew Judon from Baltimore; tight end Jonnu Smith from Tennessee; nose tackle Davon Godchaux from Miami; and defensive back Jalen Mills from Philadelphia.

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Judon, 28, will get a four-year, $56 million pact with $32 million guaranteed, a person with knowledge of the contract told The Associated Press. Smith, 25, will be paid $50 million over four years to try to fill the void created when Gronkowski retired after the 2018 season — only to return last year to reunite with Brady in Tampa Bay.

The 26-year-old Godchaux gets $16 million for two years, with $9 million guaranteed. Mills, soon to turn 27, comes in at four years for $29 million, also guaranteed $9 million.

Clearly, the salary cap that decreased by about $16 million this year due to lost revenues because of the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t prevented New England from diving headfirst into the free agency waters.

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But they let perhaps the best offensive lineman in this crop get away, as 28-year-old guard Joe Thuney agreed to a five-year, $80 million contract with Kansas City. It might seem a stretch to think the Chiefs have problems on offense, but anyone who saw their line fall apart in the Super Bowl recognizes the value of adding Thuney.

The other three AFC West teams were busy as well.

The Raiders, who have suffered defensively since trading Khalil Mack in 2018, agreed to a two-year contract with edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue. They are last in the NFL with 66 sacks and 357 pressures, according to SportRadar, since the trade.

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Ngakoue has the 12th-most sacks (45 1/2), third-most strip sacks (15), sixth-most quarterback pressures (190) and second-most forced fumbles (18) in his five pro seasons, though he has slumped the last two years.

The Chargers went with an offensive line upgrade, center Corey Linsley, an All-Pro with Green Bay last season. Linsley allowed a league-low four pressures last season among centers who played 13 or more games, while LA’s Dan Feeney was tied for the most at 33. Linsley, 29, spent seven seasons with the Packers.

Los Angeles has also agreed to re-sign cornerback Michael Davis for three years.

Denver defensive end Shelby Harris agreed to a three-year, $27 million deal. The 29-year-old Harris played on a one-year deal last year after finding no suitors in free agency despite setting personal highs with 49 tackles, six sacks and nine passes defensed in 2019.

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