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Pewter Report’s Scott Reynolds answers your questions from the @PewterReport Twitter account each week in the Bucs Monday Mailbag Submit your question to the Bucs Monday Mailbag each week via Twitter using the hashtag #PRMailbag. Here are the questions we chose to answer for this week’s edition.
QUESTION: Thank you for all the great contributions. What is the plan at running back? Seems like an afterthought almost. Value at the position seems to be as important as fit and versatility.
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ANSWER: Bringing back Leonard Fournette is not out of the question. Tom Brady wants Fournette back, and there is no doubt that his experience in the Bucs offense is a plus. Fournette had a solid year in 2021. He rushed for 812 yards and eight touchdowns while averaging 4.5 yards per carry. Fournette also caught 69 passes for 454 yards and a career-high two touchdowns. He missed four games due to a hamstring injury, including the first-round playoff game.
There are some within the organization that feel the need to upgrade the running back position and find a cheaper alternative. Fournette signed a reasonable, one-year deal worth $3.25 million in 2021 and wants a significant pay increase in 2022. The sides are far apart. The Bucs are playing the waiting game, as there doesn’t seem to be much of a market for the 27-year old back. Although Fournette is visiting New England on Monday per The Athletic.
The Patriots are hosting CB Malcolm Butler and RB Leonard Fournette on free-agent visits today in Foxboro, per source. @TheAthletic
The team will draft at least one running back this year, as was reported in last Friday’s SR’s Fab 5. That much seems certain. Being a factor in the passing game is paramount for running backs in Tampa Bay. The Bucs put a premium on catching the ball and pass protection.
Arizona State RB Rachaad White – Photo by: USA Today
Denver’s Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles’ Sony Michel and Kansas City’ Darrel Williams are available fits in free agency that teams hope can do both. Gordon and Michel will likely cost significantly more – likely north of $4.5 million per season. Williams, who turns 27 in April, was Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s backup last season and would be cheaper. He ran for a career-high 558 yards and six touchdowns while averaging 3.9 yards per carry. Williams also had a personal best 47 catches for 452 yards and two touchdowns. At 5-foot-11, 219 pounds, Williams resembles Peyton Barber in terms of size and running style.
Gordon and Michel have better pedigree, but both are unimpressive in the passing game. In fact, PFF ranks Gordon in the 0th percentile in receiving grade among running backs. Michel is a great pass protector, but has failed to make an impact as a receiver in his career. Williams, who handled third down opportunities in Kansas City, is by far the best passing downs option of the three.
There is a chance that the Bucs could re-sign veteran Giovani Bernard, who turns 31 later this year. Veteran Latavius Murray is 32, but he’s a better runner and still a good receiver. Both Bernard and Murray could be had for league-minimum deals.
The Bucs will add three more running backs this offseason as they only have Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Kenjon Barner currently under contract. At least one of those new additions will be a rookie.
QUESTION: If Leonard Fournette is too expensive, who are realistic free agent targets at running back?
ANSWER: If the Bucs want to look for some bargains at running back in free agency, a few could be had. But there is a big reason why those backs will be available for a cheap price: injuries.
Kansas City’s Jerick McKinnon is a player Tampa Bay liked in free agency in 2018. He opted for the 49ers rather than the Bucs and then saw his career derailed by two knee injuries, including a torn ACL. Those injuries caused him to miss two seasons.
He was a reserve in San Francisco in 2020 and also in Kansas City last year. After not doing much in the regular season with the Chiefs, McKinnon ran for 150 yards in three playoff games. He averaged a healthy 4.7 yards per carry. McKinnon also caught 14 passes for 165 yards (11.8 avg.) and a touchdown in the postseason. He turns 30 in May and could likely be had for the league minimum on a one-year deal.
Colts RB Marlon Mack – Photo by: USA Today
A lot of Bucs fans in the Tampa Bay area are thinking about former USF rusher Marlon Mack, who is only 26 years old. But after rushing for 1,091 yards and eight touchdowns in 2019 with the Colts, Mack has totaled 127 yards rushing over the past two seasons. And only five catches for 38 yards.
Mack suffered an Achilles tendon injury in the 2020 season opener and has never been the same. Perhaps he’s worth taking a flier on for the league minimum and bringing him to camp to compete. The problem is that there just isn’t much good tape to review over the past two seasons.
Former Bears Tarik Cohen will turn 27 later this year, but he’s still recovering from a torn ACL in 2020 and has yet to pass a physical. Cohen doesn’t bring much as a runner, but he is a good receiver out of the backfield in addition to bringing value as a return specialist. He was a Pro Bowler as an all-around weapon in 2018.
Ball security has been an issue for Cohen, who expects to be ready by training camp. Like Mack, Cohen may have to sign a cheap one-year, prove-it deal somewhere in 2022.
QUESTION: I expect to see the Bucs add another O-lineman. How likely are they to trade for another one? What positions are they most likely to address through a trade?
ANSWER: Adding another offensive lineman through the draft is possible. If Boston College guard Zion Johnson or Texas A&M’s Kenyon Green is available with the No. 27 pick, consider the Bucs interested. I wouldn’t rule out the Bucs selecting a guard somewhere in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Bucs G Aaron Stinnie and Giants DT Leonard Hamilton – Photo by: USA Today
Yet at the same time, the Bucs traded for Patriots right guard Shaq Mason to replace Alex Cappa. Tampa Bay has some in-house developmental candidates to replace Ali Marpet at left guard. Aaron Stinnie signed a one-year deal and has the most experience. The Bucs are also high on Nick Leverett, who played sparingly in 2021. John Molchon has been on the practice squad for years and will also compete, as will Sadarius Hutcherson, who is coming off a knee injury.
As for other trades, Bucs general manager Jason Licht doesn’t make trades for players often. But when he does those trades have been impactful, as noted in Friday’s SR’s Fab 5 column. Licht has traded for the likes of outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul, tight end Rob Gronkowski and reserve defensive tackle Steve McLendon in recent years. All three helped the Bucs win Super Bowl LV in 2020.
It’s hard to determine when Licht will pull the trigger on his next trade and at what position. The trade for Mason was out of the blue and it was spectacular. It cost Tampa Bay just a fifth-round pick.
QUESTION: With Ryan Jensen back, and for possibly three years, and Shaq Mason here at least two seasons, is there any chance Robert Hainsey is in the competition for the left guard spot? Or do Bucs just keep him as depth at center and right guard? The Bucs should try and get something out of their third-rounder from last year.
ANSWER: Bucs center Ryan Jensen spoke highly of Robert Hainsey’s development behind the scenes last year. But he stated the obvious in that Hainsey needs to get bigger and stronger. He’s a very quick, explosive athlete, but will need to add some mass and strength to his lower body to be able to anchor better against NFL defensive tackles.
Bucs OL Robert Hainsey – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
There is a good chance that Hainsey will be cross-trained at guard this year to increase his versatility. He spent his rookie season primarily learning center. It would not be out of the question to see Tampa Bay give him a shot at the open left guard position. Veteran Aaron Stinnie is considered to be the favorite with Nick Leverett a close second. But putting Hainsey in the mix would only aid in his development and increase the competition at the left guard spot.
Even though Jensen is back he turns 31 this year and was dinged up on a few occasions last season. Jensen is a warrior, but there is value in having a talented and capable backup center with Hainsey.
QUESTION: With the Bucs saying they want to get quicker on the interior D-line, who are some free agents or potential trade targets to fill that role?
ANSWER: That’s a good question, and one that doesn’t have a great answer. There really aren’t any quality defensive tackles that fit that profile left in free agency. Cincinnati’s Larry Ogunjobi is quick and athletic, but is a liability against the run, which wouldn’t make him a great fit in Tampa Bay. Plus, Ogunjobi was set to sign with Chicago, but failed his physical due to a foot injury that occurred in the playoffs.
UConn DT Travis Jones – Photo by: USA Today
I think the Bucs will make a run at re-signing Ndamukong Suh because he knows Todd Bowles’ scheme and is a great fit. Suh has had back-to-back years with six sacks during the regular season. Not bad for a 35-year old defensive tackle.
The Bucs may turn to defensive tackle in the 2022 NFL Draft, but it’s very thin at the position. UCONN’s Travis Jones could actually be an option at No. 27. Jones is a big defensive tackle at 6-foot-4, 326 pounds. But he did run an impressive 4.92 at the NFL Scouting Combine. Another candidate could be Oklahoma’s Perrion Winfrey, who ran a 4.89 at 6-foot-4, 291 pounds. He is a Day 2 option.
Georgia’s Devonte Wyatt is the quickest three-technique tackle in this year’s draft class. But he blew up at the Combine with an electric 4.77 time in the 40-yard dash at 6-foot-3, 304 pounds. Wyatt will be a Top 20 pick along with fellow Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis, who wowed with 4.78 time at 6-foot-4, 341 pounds.
Scott Reynolds is in his 27th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive coordinator/defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
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