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The Pewter Report Roundtable features the opinions of the PR staff as it tackles a topic each week that involves the Bucs. As of Sunday, March 21, the Bucs have not signed a single free agent outside of their own roster. Today, the Pewter Report staff sounds off on which available outside free agent the team should target in free agency.

This week’s topic: Who Is One Outside Free Agent The Bucs Should Sign?

Scott Reynolds: Bucs Could Use A Pass-Catching RB Like White

If I had to pick one outside free agent for the Bucs to sign in free agency this year, the obvious answer for me would be New England running back James White. I had Tampa Bay signing White in my Bucs Battle Plan a few weeks ago and I think the move makes sense for obvious reasons – Leonard Fournette remains unsigned and the Bucs likely won’t bring back LeSean McCoy at age 33. With only Ronald Jones II, who is entering a contract year, the unproven Ke’Shawn Vaughn and C.J. Prosise on the roster, the running back position could use some bolstering. While I have no doubt that the Bucs will draft a running back this year – likely early – signing a veteran like the 29-year old White, would bring experience and pass-catching ability to Tampa Bay’s RB room.

Patriots RB James White

Patriots RB James White – Photo by: USA Today

White played with quarterback Tom Brady for six years in New England and the two have a great 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. White had peak production in 2018 when he rushed for 425 yards and a TD along with 87 catches for 751 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. His production dipped without Brady on the roster last year, as he totaled 49 receptions for 375 yards and one score with 121 yards on the ground and two TDs. White made $4 million last year and could come to Tampa Bay for less for a chance to reunite with Brady.

A consistent pass-catching running back on third downs was missing from the Bucs offense last year, as Fournette, Jones, McCoy and Vaughn combined to drop over a dozen passes out of the backfield. White had two drops by comparison, and is an easy choice for me when it comes to signing an outside free agent to improve the offense in this area – although I was also considering bringing back wide receiver Breshad Perriman to replace Antonio Brown.

Mark Cook: Bucs Need The Experience And Talent RB White Would Bring

While pretty anti-climatic since we’ve even talking about adding him for over a month now, Patriots running back James White would be my free agent addition of choice. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is still the highest on my wish list in terms of Bucs players, but if we must pick someone from outside last year’s team then it has to be White.

Patriots RB James White and QB Tom Brady

Patriots RB James White and QB Tom Brady – Photo by: USA Today

Bringing in White would add a veteran presence to a room that is still extremely young with Ronald Jones II just in his fourth season and Ke’Shawn Vaughn entering his second year in the NFL. Vaughn is at a crossroads in terms of development, and the question is, can he make the jump and prove he is capable of handling the pressure of NFL football or not. While the organization raves about Vaughn behind the scenes, what he showed in actual game action was a stark contrast to what we hear about him in practice. White, who will be entering his eight season in the NFL, would be a great mentor to Vaughn and even Jones.

We all know if there is one glaring weakness on this football team it is the lack of having a pass-catching running back, who is also solid in pass protection, on the roster. White has totaled 369 receptions and added 25 touchdowns as a receiver in his career. And you can’t say enough about the instant chemistry he and quarterback Tom Brady would have from day one. The Bucs should still draft a running back, and I’m not opposed to them even doing it in the first round, but they need to bring White in, as he would solidify an offense that was already one of the best in the league last season.

Jon Ledyard: Bring Me Geno Atkins

The Bucs appear to be bringing back most of their interior defensive line, with the re-signing of Rakeem Nunez-Roches and the expected re-signing of Ndamukong Suh in the coming days. But neither of those players solve the Bucs need for a classic, penetrating defensive tackle with pass rush ability, someone the team can rotate onto the field on long and late downs. If he’s interested in pursuing a ring before he retires, Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins is the perfect fit.

Bengals DT Geno Atkins

Bengals DT Geno Atkins – Photo by: USA Today

Atkins played just 119 total snaps last season and didn’t record a sack, and will be 33 in a week. Figuring out his health is the concern, but the Bucs aren’t committing long term to him. Yet when healthy, Atkins is a force and is three years removed from a 10-sack season. For this to work, Atkins would have to be looking for a one-year deal to finish out his career with a chance to win a ring. After never winning a playoff game in his entire career, I would imagine the proposition would be an attractive one for the 11-year veteran, especially when you consider his perfect pairing with Suh and Vita Vea.

What Atkins, an eight-time Pro Bowler, provides the Bucs as a pass rusher is something they don’t currently have. Nunez-Roches offers very little as a rusher, and Suh and Will Gholston are more slow-burn, power rushers than quick slashers. Vita Vea is an absolute load for anyone to handle one-on-one, but even he doesn’t offer Atkins’ quickness or ability to cross the face of opposing offensive linemen. Atkins, who has 75.5 career sacks, is also one of the best defensive tackles I’ve ever seen at running games up front, something defensive coordinator Todd Bowles does often. I might need to write a standalone article on this one. Atkins is the outside free agent the Bucs need to target this week.

Matt Matera: Bucs Address Return Game, Improve It With Westbrook

The clear cut answer is a pass catching running back, but for the sake of shaking things up, I’m addressing the Bucs’ return game. With the news of Jaydon Mickens’ legal issues, his future on the team is in doubt. Mickens was the primary guy in the return game, so this opens the door for Jaguars receiver-returner Dede Westbrook. While he suffered a gruesome knee injury last season that limited him to just two games, he is on the road to recovery and should be ready to go by training camp. That’ll make him an inexpensive option in free agency that addresses a need while saving the big money for other players.

Jaguars WR Dede Westbrook

Jaguars WR Dede Westbrook – Photo by: USA Today

Westbrook is well versed at punt and kick returns, with a career average of 9.8 yards per punt return. He’s averaged as high as 19 yards per return in a season and has a touchdown on his resume as well. Mickens, who came into the league at the same time in 2017, has a career return average of 8.1, and his best year was an average of 10.6. Westbrook performed better in essentially every category.

The Bucs’ punt return game wasn’t up to par last season, averaging 5.9 yards, which ranked 25th in the league. However, there was an uptick in the postseason particularly on kick return, where Mickens averaged 24.5 yards between the NFC Championship and Super Bowl LV. I’d like to see that sustainability next season with Westbrook. Tampa Bay does have in house options in the return game with Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson, and many would love to see Miller get a chance with his speed. But if we haven’t seen it yet in two seasons, we may never get to. Westbrook could come in as a kick returner and allow Miller and Johnson the opportunity to step up on the receiver depth chart.

Taylor Jenkins: Bucs May Have To Replace A Beloved Tight End

As much as Bucs fans love tight end Cam Brate, his time with Tampa Bay may very well be coming to an end if he isn’t willing to take a significant pay cut. He was willing to restructure his contract in 2020, but I’m just not sure that he’ll be willing to give up as much as the Bucs need him to going forward. Brate has spent his entire seven-year career with the Bucs and I think genuinely likes being in Tampa but he may find soon that it just makes more sense financially to play elsewhere, somewhere that could possibly afford to pay him the $6.5 million, the $6.8 million and the $7.5 million that his contract will owe him over the next three seasons. He certainly deserves that money from someone after 29 touchdowns and over 2,400 receiving yards in his career, but it’s just far too steep for Tampa Bay’s situation right now.

Texans TE Darren Fells

Texans TE Darren Fells – Photo by: USA Today

In comes free agent tight end Darren Fells. Fells was just released by Houston after one year of a two-year, $6.3 million contract. Fells spent three seasons with Bruce Arians in Arizona from 2014 to 2016 where he racked up 536 receiving yards and four touchdowns. Over his past two seasons with the Texans, Fells has continued to prove that he is still a productive target, especially in the red zone 653 yards and 11 total touchdowns.

In addition to his abilities as a pass-catcher Fells can block, something that would be highly-valued in the Bucs’ third tight end spot behind Rob Gronkowski and O.J. Howard. Per Pro Football Focus, Fells received a pass blocking grade of 68.8 and a run blocking grade of 65.3 in the 2020 season, both above average marks for the position. And arguably most importantly will be his price tag. At nearly 35 years old and coming off of a contract that was due to pay him around $3 million per year, Fells could likely come to Tampa Bay far cheaper than the nearly $7 million annual average value that the Bucs owe Brate over the next three seasons.

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JSW
JSW
5 months ago

Love the idea of Geno Atkins in the DL rotation! I still think bringing Adam Humphries back as a returner and WR5 is a good idea – sure hands, consistent, and capable of taking one to the house from time to time… Don’t touch Cam Brate! Yeah, I’m a homer – ain’t nothin’ wrong with it!

toofamiliar17
Reply to  JSW
5 months ago

Don’t see how Humphries fits here. He’s never been a kick returner, and we can find someone to catch punts anywhere. Assuming we resign AB (which I still think is likely), I’d rather have Scotty and Tyler Johnson getting snaps and providing depth for this team than Hump. Adam won’t be SUPER pricey, but he’ll cost a few mill, and that’s just not a good use of this team’s resources right now. Especially not when Godwin and Tyler Johnson are already so strong out of the slot, and that’s all Hump can really be as a WR.

fredster
Reply to  toofamiliar17
5 months ago

Agree I don’t understand all the talk about Hump returning to Tampa, even though personally love the guy, we don’t need WR’s and he wasn’t a good returner.

Atkins or any affordable DT that can rush passer would really help this d line be even more dominant imo.

Also like idea of adding veteran pass catching 3rd down back.

Last edited 5 months ago by fredster
toofamiliar17
Reply to  fredster
5 months ago

Yea, if Hump projected as someone we could sign for the vet minimum or close to it, that would maybe make sense. He was a decent punt returner at least. But you don’t sign a WR5 or WR6/decent punt returner for $3-5M, which is what he’d cost us. I also don’t think it would make any sense for him. I’m sure he’d like to rebuild his value, which he’s not going to do as a guy stuck low on the depth chart. He’s too good to want that kind of role.

FLBoy84
5 months ago

Big fan of the White, Atkins, and Westbrook additions (nice job on the under-the-radar idea Matt, like a Carlos Dunlap add too). Understand the Brate thought process, but have a hard time seeing it happening at this point. Brate has been a loyal Buc and fan favorite his 7 yrs here and would have to believe the team would’ve already made their move if a release was in the cards, as we’re basically already a week into free agency. Understand it’s a business, but Licht & Co don’t have a history of screwing guys over the way others out there… Read more »

Last edited 5 months ago by FLBoy84
toofamiliar17
Reply to  FLBoy84
5 months ago

Thus far, we’ve only done things with restructures and the like as needed to remain under the salary cap right before signing someone else. What we know for sure is that we essentially HAVE TO make more moves in order to sign our draft class and fill out the rest of the roster with veteran resignings/new additions. I’d bet anything that at least one of Suh and AB are coming back, and there is talk that Fournette may actually be back, too. Plus, there are depth guys I think we’re likely to resign, too – Blaine Gabbert feels like almost… Read more »

FLBoy84
Reply to  toofamiliar17
5 months ago

All very good points @tf17. I’ve actually been in the “release Brate” camp as well, believe it or not. I’m definitely not the nostalgic “let the guy leave on his own terms” type by any means. My point was that the current cap limitations can’t come as a surprise to the FO, they’ve likely spent as much time on the different scenarios of “this guys signs/this one doesn’t” as they do on mapping out the draft. Simply believe if part of the plan was to release Cam, it would’ve happened already. No question the move frees up plenty of $$,… Read more »

toofamiliar17
Reply to  FLBoy84
5 months ago

I see your point on Brate. It would be pretty damaging to his value to wait until most of the free agency money out there was spent to release him. Doesn’t seem like Licht would do that to him. If he’s not released by the end of this week, I think you’re right, and it’s unlikely he will be. It could even already be that way.

drdneast
5 months ago

Let Brady decide who he wants to toss the rock to. No doubt it will probably be AB but until he goes off the market I wouldn’t try to shove another WR down his throat. Let the GOAT throw the ball to who he wants to. Atkins would be great for the reasons you mentioned if he is healthy but one wonders why he played so few snaps last year and was then let go. There’s another WR out there who used to handle punt returns for the Bucs and who is a far better receiver and that is Adam… Read more »

toofamiliar17
Reply to  drdneast
5 months ago

See the talent in Vaughn? The guy carried the ball in 6 different games last year. In 4 of those games, he combined for 6 carries for 5 total yards, a fumble, 4 receptions for 27 yards, and a mind-boggling 3 drops on 7 targets. He was statistically stronger in those other 2 games (against DET and GB), but he entered both games well into garbage time – we were up 38-10 against GB when he first touched the ball there, and up 27-0 against a dead on their feet Lions team in week 16. If you want to only… Read more »

drdneast
Reply to  toofamiliar17
5 months ago

Did PR hire you or are you showing your ignorance off for free.
If you want to focus on a limited number of carries in a couple of games be my guest but I prefer to look at his entire body of work over the season where he averaged a little over 4 yards a carry.
Guys like you were probably calling RoJo a bust after his first season when his average carry was like 1.9
Did he drop a couple of passes? Yes just like all the RB’s did.
Go play Mel Kiper somewhere else..

scubog
Reply to  drdneast
5 months ago

I saw it too Dr.D. I really enjoy going to Training Camp practices and was really bummed not getting to share my annual observations with Pinkstob this past year. I’ll be watching Vaughn closely if we get the chance in July.

Horse
5 months ago

At this point might as well keep all our guys and draft for the future.
Like you all are all saying, it’s only money.

aredsoxfan1
5 months ago

I like the Atkins idea and I agree with Brate even though some don’t like it for sentimental reasons. Don’t have to dump Brate, just leave it up to him. You can stay for half as much $$$ or we can make you a free agent. He’s worth about $3mil on the open market, maybe even less this year with money tight. It would be odd if we kept him at $6.5mil, especially with money tight. I would rather use the money on AB who could also return punts if we need him to.

toofamiliar17
Reply to  aredsoxfan1
5 months ago

I actually think he could make a decent bit more than that if he was to hit free agency. Which is just another reason I think we should release him – he’s worth more to some other team than he is to us at this point. For us, I wouldn’t pay him more than $2-3M, and the high end of that spectrum feels excessive for our needs. He’s still talented and very effective for what he is, which is a move TE who can be a great red zone target, move the chains and stretch the field down the middle… Read more »

FLBoy84
Reply to  toofamiliar17
5 months ago

Though it’s easy to dismiss/overlook, still need to keep 2022 in mind as well. Chances are, especially if we repeat, that Gronk is gonna hang them up after this season. Brate definitely improved his chemistry with TB12 as the season progressed, and the jury’s still out on if OJ can put his injury situation behind him as he finishes out his 1st contract. VERY curious if Licht has broached contract talks with OJ, and whether or not he was receptive. Can definitely see OJ betting on himself staying healthy and looking for a big $$ deal next season. The recent… Read more »

Last edited 5 months ago by FLBoy84
toofamiliar17
Reply to  FLBoy84
5 months ago

You actually beat me to this lol. This reality hit me after I logged off last night that. We know Brady trusts Brate. The only way paying Brate makes sense is if it’s for the reason you said – he’s the only one of our 3 TEs who is under contract for 2022. Keeping him this year could be with an eye towards next season, in case OJ and Gronk both walk. Given his career injury and consistency issues, I think it’s unlikely that the team has approached Howard to talk about an extension. Both he and they are better… Read more »

FLBoy84
Reply to  toofamiliar17
5 months ago

Great minds… lol. The thought process on approaching OJ was with the idea of a short team-friendly 2-3yr deal at reasonable TE money, with a decent portion guaranteed. Gives him security in the case of another injury, and gives the team a little $$ break and another TE for 2022 in case Gronk moves on. If Brady comes back for 2022, just have a hard time seeing the team giving him a completely new trio of TE’s to work with. Would think they’d want to have a least one familiar face in the group with Brate, or two with OJ… Read more »

Last edited 5 months ago by FLBoy84
FLBoy84
Reply to  toofamiliar17
5 months ago

Wouldn’t be surprised if the TE situation could also lead to us grabbing one in the draft too.

toofamiliar17
Reply to  FLBoy84
5 months ago

Yea, drafting a guy is an interesting idea. I haven’t looked at any TEs this offseason, but the word is that the draft is pretty strong there in the second and third rounds. If we love one of those guys (looks like a lot of move tight ends with tantalizing receiving chops), it could make sense to take one depending on how the rest of the board breaks. I think we almost have to take an edge rusher with one of our first two picks. Depending on who falls to our pick, I’m hoping for us to address what is… Read more »

toofamiliar17
5 months ago

All of these are defensible and make at least some sense…with the exception of Taylor’s choice, lol. We’re either going to cut Brate and sign a TE (my preference) or just sign a 4th one. In either scenario, Fells doesn’t make any sense. We don’t need whatever receiving chops he has left even if we release Brate. And although he appears to be a passable blocker, it’s not even nearly a specialty of his. If we’re bringing in a TE from the outside, he needs to be a great blocker, period. Nothing else makes all that much sense to add… Read more »

toofamiliar17
5 months ago

My ranking of these ideas: (1) James White (or plug in any of the other half dozen similar options here – Duke Johnson, Mike Davis, Tevin Coleman, Dion Lewis, Chris Thompson, Jerick McKinnon, whoever it is, we need a veteran 3rd down RB for cheap. (2) Geno Atkins – love this idea, but I doubt his price will be where we’d need it to be. (3) Westbrook – I see the appeal, but…eh. He’d need to be signed at the minimum for me, which I doubt happens. He’s only ever been a punt returner, not a kick returner. ….. …..… Read more »

FLBoy84
Reply to  toofamiliar17
5 months ago

The plethora of RB’s on the market that seem to fit the Bucs needs is def a benefit to finding one for the right price, any of the above mentioned would be great adds imo. White seems to be in highest demand, once he signs the others likely follow.

toofamiliar17
Reply to  FLBoy84
5 months ago

For sure. My idea to this point has been that we should be open to all of these guys being our solution and that we should rank the many options by preference, set a price we’re willing to pay for the position, and work our way down the list until we find our guy. My guess is that White is too expensive for us, but with the state of the RB market, maybe not. But if he is, no big deal. There are so many similar players out there right now.

FLBoy84
Reply to  toofamiliar17
5 months ago

Agreed, was thinking the same re: setting the price and going down the list. Think White may take a little less to chase another ring with Brady, but not a lot less. Plenty of options out there for certain.

Dman
5 months ago

Really like the bringing in James White and Gino Adkins. Both fill needs and are established performers. Please stop pitching we get rid of Brate – also an established performer – as apposed to the every year gonna see the great potential of OJ Howard finally make it.

The Wall
5 months ago

White and Atkins in that order. I would definitely keep Brate. He was a favorite target of Brady when he was needed the most. I wouldn’t depend on Howard. He has all the talent in the world but hasn’t shown much on the field.

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