With the recent re-signing of Leonard Fournette, the Bucs have ensured that their running back group will head into 2021 looking largely the same as it did last season, with the exception of veteran LeSean McCoy. But while Fournette and Ronald Jones combined for 1,345 of the Bucs’ total 1,519 rushing yards during the 2020 season, their return does little to solve Tampa Bay’s problem of finding a reliable pass-catching back.

Despite splitting time at the position, Fournette and Jones each had five drops last season, per Pro Football Focus, putting them both tied for the fourth-most drops by a running back. The Bucs tried to improve the position through the draft, selecting Ke’Shawn Vaughn out of Vanderbilt in the third round, and they tried again to improve it by signing McCoy shortly before the season began, but neither showed enough to warrant significant snaps throughout Tampa Bay’s season.

Heading out of 2021 free agency, the position remains a need. A popular name to potentially fill the role was James White, one of quarterback Tom Brady’s former teammates in New England. But ultimately White remained with the Patriots on a one-year deal worth just under $2.5 million. Now, however, a new name has emerged.

Veteran pass-catching back Giovani Bernard was released by the Bengals on Wednesday and could be a name to look out for later this month, or after the draft if the Bucs don’t add another weapon to their backfield in late April. Over his eight-year career in Cincinnati, Bernard has totaled 2,867 yards and 11 touchdowns on 342 receptions for an average of 8.4 yards per catch. In 2020 alone Bernard racked up 355 receiving yards and three receiving touchdowns with a catch percentage of 79.7 percent.

With his natural pass-catching ability and willingness to contribute in pass protection, Bernard could likely step in right away and play a crucial, although likely limited, role for the Bucs. PFF gave Bernard a pass block grade of 73.0 last season, with only three seasons in his career dropping below that mark while eclipsing an 80.0 pass blocking grade in another three.

Bernard’s addition to the Bucs’ roster would depend on a few variables though. If Tampa Bay thinks they’ll potentially attack the running back position through the draft, it’s unlikely that Bernard would be signed until May, which would require him not signing with another team until then. Even then, the Bucs could be looking at a very crowded backfield if they add a rookie to the trio of Fournette, Jones and Vaughn.

In addition, Bernard would have to come affordably. While the Bucs have shown that there are a number of creative ways to create additional cap space, Tampa Bay has just $2.285 million remaining in effective cap space and will still need to fill out the remaining gaps in their roster and sign a rookie class. After requesting his release from the Bengals and denying a pay cut on the $4.1 million that he was due for the 2021 season, will Bernard come cheap enough for the Bucs to make a realistic run at him?

All-in-all, Bernard could help the Bucs this upcoming season, but a lot of things have to fall just right for it to happen and I wouldn’t expect the move to be made any time soon.

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Captain Sly
3 months ago

Well he would be more of an upgrade than James White for several reasons however I don’t think the Bucs front office is as concerned about a “pass catching back” like PR has been all offseason. Leonard Fournette was their targeted FA and once he signed its on to the draft.

fredster
3 months ago

He’s pretty good but I think it’s unlikely they can afford this year. With Fournette and Jones rented for this year we need to draft a RB imo.

KhanRada
3 months ago

I would sign him he’s a great receiving back. Plus I’m sure he Bernard wants a ring

drdneast
3 months ago

There will be plenty of backs like Bernard getting cut before and after the draft and also before the regular season with credentials just like or better than his.
Fournette fell to us before the start of the season and we weren’t desperate for him at the time but it was a nice addition as it turned out.

fredster
Reply to  drdneast
3 months ago

While I agree there MIGHT be a better option before reg season I doubt there will be be PLENTY of pass catching backs available in feee agency worth signing.

There also won’t be another 4th rd pick overall like Fournette falling to us for cheap that was unique situation in Jacksonville.

Imo Bucs should draft a Rb early that can catch the ball and as replacement for our current two starters that will both likely be gone next year.

I’m far from sold Vaughn will be any good.

toofamiliar17
3 months ago

Add him to the already fairly long list of players of his profile currently available in FA. One thing that makes him unique is that because he was released from a team rather than hitting free agency after playing out his old contract, he would not count against us in the comp pick equation for next year. If the team likes him and what he would bring, it makes pure business sense to go on and sign him now. If he would be our preferred choice among veteran options for RB3, there’s no downside to doing so. The worst case… Read more »

The Freeman
Reply to  toofamiliar17
3 months ago

there is no compensatory pick for us next year, you need to lose some big $ FA to gain CP

The Freeman
3 months ago

Yeah he’s a good pass protector and probably better than 4net/rojo catching the ball but that’s it… he was cut for a reason, it’s not like the bengals don’t care about protecting their QB… he’s not a good 3rd down back, just not one of the worst.

unless it’s for vet minimum deal, wait the draft…if you miss on your target like last year with Gibson, then go after him and the other FA still available (Duke Johnson, Jerick McKinnon, Rex Burkhead…) or maybe a better one will be available in a trade.

toofamiliar17
Reply to  The Freeman
3 months ago

From what I understand, he’s always been very solid or better in pass pro. Nobody is perfect, but he seems to have been really consistent in getting the job done throughout his career.

Definitely agree about the abundance of options – in addition to Gio, Duke, McKinnon, and Burkhead, there’s also still TJ Yeldon, Dion Lewis, and Chris Thompson, too. Plenty of guys who can, at the VERY least, come in and reliably catch passes when they get opportunities to do so.

Dave
Reply to  The Freeman
3 months ago

No, he’s actually a very good 3rd down back. No idea where you heard he wasn’t. He’s everything you need in a 3rd down back. Great pass catcher, above average blocker, and can handle an every down role, and be effective with 15+ touches in a pinch, if an injury struck the backfield. In the few times in his Bengals career where he started, and saw 15+ touches, he was well above average. Like 1500 total yards, 60+ rec, and nearly a TD per game prorated to a 16 game season

Last edited 3 months ago by Dave
scubog
3 months ago

Folks seem to forget how many passes Fournette caught while with the Jags. It sure would be a relief if we’d stop trying to implement the Flying Elvis’ offense here by digging up anyone who once caught a swing pass from TB12. .

Dave
Reply to  scubog
3 months ago

He’s had one season out of 4, where he caught more than 36 passes. The one outlier season, he caught 76. And he did absolutely nothing with those 76 catches(6.9 YPR and 0 TD’s). It also did nothing to help the offense/team, seeing as they went 6-10, and ranked 26th in scoring offense. You can catch a ton of passes and still be a below average pass catcher. LF has proven that. If they took 50 of those 100 targets, and gave them to Chark, the Jags might have actually had a competent NFL offense

Last edited 3 months ago by Dave
plopes808
3 months ago

Nah, hard pass…I don’t see 3rd down back as a big enough need to justify the expense. Plus, I’m not ready to give up on Vaughn after 1 season with no OTAs or training camp. He will surely improve this offseason, hopefully enough to take over that role if needed.