While the Bucs are focused on keeping their Super Bowl LV champion team together by re-signing their own free agents, Tampa Bay will be looking to upgrade a number of positions. PewterReport.com takes a look at each unit over the next week, showcasing which players Tampa Bay could lose, and which players might replace them, including our Bucs’ Best Bets.
Table of Contents
2021 Bucs Free Agent RBs
RB Leonard Fournette RB LeSean McCoy RB Kenjon Barner RB T.J. Logan
Fournette rehabilitated his image this year in Tampa Bay and really came on in the postseason after splitting time with Ronald Jones II during the season. Fournette became known as “Playoff Lenny” and scored a touchdown in each of the team’s three playoff games and the Super Bowl. The Bucs wouldn’t mind having the 26-year old Fournette back, but only at the right price. He probably wants a starting job all for himself and the big money that comes with it after signing a one-year, $2.5 million deal last year.
If Fournette leaves, the Bucs will need to sign or draft a running back capable of helping shoulder the load. Bruce Arians’ system calls for two backs, and the Bucs will need more than just a third-down back because Fournette was actually a three-down back in Tampa Bay. Ke’Shawn Vaughn, last year’s third-round pick, wasn’t spectacular during his rookie season and the Bucs don’t know if he’s a player that can truly help carry the load or just a role player destined for a small part in Tampa Bay’s offense.
The 33-year old McCoy is likely done after a very good NFL career and winning back-to-back Super Bowls with Kansas City and Tampa Bay. He was used earlier in the season on third downs. Logan, who was slated to be the Bucs’ kick and punt returner, was lost for the season in training camp with a knee injury. Barner was signed to replace Logan on kick returns and missed time due to injury. McCoy, Barner and Logan are all replaceable, and the team did sign veteran C.J. Prosise, who has kick return ability, in the offseason.
Top NFL Free Agent Running Backs Available
1. Aaron Jones – Packers 2. Chris Carson – Seahawks 3. Kenyan Drake – Cardinals 4. James Conner – Steelers 5. Mike Davis – Panthers
Others: Leonard Fournette (Bucs), Duke Johnson (Texans), James White (Patriots), Le’Veon Bell (Chiefs), Jamaal Williams (Packers), Matt Breida (49ers), Todd Gurley (Falcons), Tevin Coleman (49ers), Jerick McKinnon (49ers), Dion Lewis (Giants)
Bucs’ RB Outlook
The Bucs won’t break the bank for any running back, especially with a good crop of backs in this year’s NFL Draft. With more than half of its running back stable poised to depart in free agency, Tampa Bay needs to find a back capable of playing on first and second downs along with Jones, who is entering the final year of his contract, and another running back that can handle the third-down role, as that’s not Jones’ strength. The Bucs won’t pay big money, so that eliminates Jones, Carson, Drake and Conner right off the bat – and maybe Fournette, too.
If Davis doesn’t cash in during free agency, Tampa Bay could wait after the initial rush of free agency to see if the former Panthers back has a reasonable price tag. Davis is a solid runner and receiver – but he’s 28 and made $3 million last year. The Bucs wouldn’t sign him for any more, and would probably like him a lot more if his asking price was cheaper.
Whoever the Bucs sign in free agency needs to have great hands, as catching the ball out of the backfield was a challenge at times for Tampa Bay’s running backs last year, as there were too many dropped passes. There are actually three pass-catching backs that have played with Tom Brady before in New England – White, Lewis and Rex Burkhead – available in free agency this year. Lewis and Burkhead, who is coming off a torn ACL in Week 11, are both 31, while James is 29 and might have more gas left in the tank.
Bucs’ Best Bet: James White
White played with Brady for six years and the two have tremendous chemistry. White has rushed for 1,240 yards and 10 touchdowns, while averaging 4.0 yards per carry in his seven-year career as the Patriots’ third-down back. More importantly, White has 369 career catches for 3,184 yards and 25 touchdowns. He had his best year in 2018 when he ran for 425 yards and a TD along with a career-high 87 catches for 751 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. White’s production dipped in 2020 without Brady, as he recorded only 49 receptions for 375 yards and one score with just 121 yards rushing and two touchdowns. White made $4 million last year but would have to want come to Tampa Bay for less for a chance to reunite with Brady.
Don’t rule out a return by Logan on a cheap, one-year deal if he gets a clean bill of health after his knee injury last August. The Bucs like his speed, his receiving ability and his punt and kick return skills.