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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.

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 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

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

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

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

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

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.

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

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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Pete Wood
Pete Wood
3 months ago

I think Jason is playing the waiting game right now with free agency. The big money deals are done and we’re left with a lot of players who have overvalued the market. Eventually their demands will become more reasonable and the Bucs will be waiting. Jason did this last year with Antonio Brown and Lenny Fournette. I don’t think there is a lot of demand for an aging RB right now, no matter what his stats were last year. Lenny is getting close to thirty and there are a lot of younger players out there with more upside. I predict… Read more »

drdneast
drdneast
Reply to  Pete Wood
3 months ago

PR went over all the players on the FA board and I must have missed where there were so many younger players with more talent who will coe cheaper. The fact is there aren’t any. Most available are much like Lenny. The RB position just doesn’t pay like it used to anymore and Fournette is going to have to get used to that fact as well. The Bucs had their shot of drafting one high with the No.2 pick with Jones but Licht forgot to ask him how he felt about catching the ball. Actually, I for one wouldn’t be… Read more »

toofamiliar17
toofamiliar17
Reply to  drdneast
3 months ago

I’d be fine with Lenny back at the right price. It sounds like he has an agent who’s been filling his head with unrealistic expectations, as he reportedly went into FA thinking someone was going to throw $12M or so at him. At around the price we paid him last year, maybe slightly more, I’d be fine resigning him. I do think it’s suboptimal. Even in a career year, he just lacks the physical traits to be an exceptional weapon as a receiver. And his vision as a ballcarrier is still alarmingly poor with regularity. I have zero doubt that… Read more »

surferdudes
surferdudes
3 months ago

Just because it isn’t a deep class for DT’s doesn’t mean we can’t come away with a good one in the 1st, or 2nd round. It almost seems like we have to. The Bucs went out of their way in free agency giving Tom what he needs on offense. It only makes sense they fill the holes on the D line through the draft. Suh, and Golston have been solid, and are still playing at a high level. I’d bring them back if possible. JPP I was against resigning last season saying he’s shot. I know, he was injured, but… Read more »

Horse
Horse
Reply to  surferdudes
3 months ago

surfwedudes, yhis makes sense to me too.

drdneast
drdneast
Reply to  surferdudes
3 months ago

I wouldn’t mind if they brought JPP back but it would have to be on a performance laden contract. They can’t waste over $12 million on a player who only got two sacks last year. I know he was really hampered by the shoulder injury and he tried to play hurt but it really had a detrimental effect on the defense.

Horse
Horse
3 months ago

At 27 spot we have lots of options to consider. Trading down several spots and picking up a couple other good draft picks, might help in replacing some of the older players in 2023 and 2024. This would help towards our near future salary cap hell.

GIJoeWasThere
GIJoeWasThere
3 months ago

2 RB and 2 OL questions? But no questions about potential edge/LBers in the draft?

Spitfire
Spitfire
3 months ago

What about Patterson at RB? Why no mention of him? You guys couldn’t stop talking about him a couple months ago. Running/Catching/Returning, he’s not cheap but could put us over the top with those 3 abilities.

Spitfire
Spitfire
Reply to  Spitfire
3 months ago

I see, Falcons resigned him for $5mik a year. We could have beat that easy and would have been worth it. Dang.

NC Greenbeard
NC Greenbeard
3 months ago

I’ve been playing with the Mock Draft Simulator on PFF way too much lately…. And yes, I realize that’s not the end-all of all draft possibilities and probably no more accurate than anyone else. But it is fun to see how the possibilities play out (especially when you’ve done around 100 of them). Typically those sims aren’t showing great value at CB or DL at pick 60. DL Travis Jones is always there at 27 but him and Logan Hall gone by 60. I’ve been able to pick up Jones as late as 44 and Hall as late as 52.… Read more »

toofamiliar17
toofamiliar17
Reply to  NC Greenbeard
3 months ago

Personally, I don’t think it makes any sense to take a WR in the first round when we have 3 veteran receivers who are all here and under contract for at least the next two seasons. Just can’t afford a luxury pick like that with where we are right now, which is that we have multiple significant needs, whether for starter upgrades or crucial depth that supersedes the need for a great WR4 for me. After paying Gage $10M, I think there’s almost no chance Licht drafts someone who could easily win the starting job over him. Just a poor… Read more »

Dude
Dude
3 months ago

The main reason why Mack “has never been the same” is mostly due to Taylor, and him being about the best RB in the league. As a RB, if you have to backup this guy, you’ll never be the same either. My issue with even considering bringing in Mack is that he’s not known to be much of a receiver out of the backfield. We need a legitimate dual threat at RB. Unfortunately, I don’t think Mack is that guy.

Buc 1976
Buc 1976
3 months ago

Try to trade up and get a young DT. After round 4 it’s a crap shoot anyway just my opinion. Go Bucs

toofamiliar17
toofamiliar17
Reply to  Buc 1976
3 months ago

I’m virtually always opposed to trading up in the draft, particularly in the first round – it’s almost always foolish and a poor value proposition. That said, Wyatt is probably the one player in this draft that I’d be relatively alright with us moving up in the first round to go get. Of course, this is hypothetical, without talking about what it actually COSTS, so that’s maybe easier to say in theory than in practice. Outside of Wyatt, trading up sounds pretty foolish to me.

toofamiliar17
toofamiliar17
3 months ago

Question, Scott, in regards to your answer about free agent options – is that your understanding of potential free agent RB targets, i.e. information you’re hearing from the team? Or more your view of some backs the team could target if we go to sign any new additions? If it’s the latter, I’d like to add Jerick McKinnon to the list. Licht was reported to be interested in signing him when he left Minnesota a few years ago, and he 100% has the passing game skillset we treasure – he’s a steady hand both as a receiver and a pass… Read more »