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SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.
FAB 1. The Bold Risk Arians Should Take
There will be only three occasions when new Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians is more popular than he is right now.
After he takes the team to the playoffs, after he wins a playoff game with the Bucs, and after winning a Super Bowl in Tampa Bay.
Everybody is happy with the hiring of Arians as the franchise’s 12th coach. His popularity and political capital with the fan base is astronomically high right now, so why not put it to good use?
The man whose mantra is “no risk-it, no biscuit” should start off his Bucs career by taking a pretty big risk – asking general manager Jason Licht to consider signing former Kansas City running back Kareem Hunt to bolster the Bucs’ ground game.
Hunt, an Ohio native, was released by the Chiefs on December 1 after a video surfaced on TMZ showing Hunt shoving and kicking a 19-year old woman that he met one night in February 2018 in Cleveland. Hunt, who was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and a Pro Bowler in 2017, lied to the Chiefs about the incident and was cut after meeting with team officials.
Hunt cleared waivers, and there is another allegation of him punching a man at an Ohio resort in June that the league is investigating and is giving NFL teams pause from signing him right now.
The Big Takeaway
Let me make two things perfectly clear.
The first is that Hunt’s assault on the woman in Cleveland – which is not domestic violence, as that is defined as violence or other abuse by one person against another in a domestic setting, such as in marriage or cohabitation – is not okay.
Domestic violence or assault against women is wrong, and there is no excuse for it – even if the victim hurled racists statements at him, which Hunt’s friend told cops she did. Because this happened around 2:00 a.m., it’s a safe guess that alcohol was involved and that judgment by all parties was likely impaired, which only compounded the situation and made it worse.
Although Hunt has yet to be charged with any crime by Cleveland police, he has already begun to pay the consequences for his actions. He lost his job with the Chiefs, any endorsement deals he had or might have had in the future, and he is currently unemployed. A civil case could happen against him, too.
I find it a bit ironic that the Chiefs cut Hunt, yet laud Pro Bowl wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who punched and choked his pregnant girlfriend while he was at Oklahoma State, in 2016. The Chiefs spent a fifth-round pick on Hill, whose saving grace apparently was the fact that his incident, which was domestic violence, happened in college – and not in a Chiefs uniform. Hill pled guilty to that incident in college and it was essentially swept under the rug to a degree. Hill’s big consequence was that he was drafted in the fifth round instead of the first or second. Now he’s one of the league’s stars.
The Chiefs can tout that Hill and his girlfriend now live together with their three-year old child and are engaged. Obviously, his fiancée has shown Hill forgiveness, as did the Chiefs organization by drafting him in the first place.
I am a big believer in forgiveness, and I think we are losing the mindset to forgive in our society.
The Chiefs didn’t want to forgive Hunt, who will have to find forgiveness elsewhere. That brings me to my second fact.
Hunt’s forgiveness will happen elsewhere.
Hunt will be on another NFL team in 2019.
Why not Tampa Bay?
Sure, there will be an NFL suspension – likely six games – but at age 23 and coming off a rookie year in which he was the league’s leading rusher and a second year which was shaping up to be another Pro Bowl season, what is the harm with the Bucs signing him to a one-year, low-risk, low-salary prove-it contract? If he acts up again, he’s gone.
Stats That Count
While in Arizona, Arians drafted a multi-purpose, play-making running back in David Johnson, who made it to the Pro Bowl in his second year with 1,239 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns on 293 carries (4.2 avg.), in addition to 80 receptions for 879 yards (11 avg.) and four touchdowns. He combined to produce 2,118 total yards from scrimmage with 20 touchdowns in one of the best seasons for a running back in NFL history.
Johnson suffered a serious wrist injury in 2017, Arians’ last year in Arizona, in the season opener and missed the remaining 15 games. His loss played a huge role in the Cardinals’ 8-8 record that season.
In Kansas City, Hunt rushed for an NFL-high 1,327 yards and eight touchdowns on 272 carries (4.9 avg.) as a rookie with 54 catches for 455 yards (8.6 avg.) and three TDs. That’s 1,782 total yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns, which is similar production to that of Johnson in Arizona.
In the 11 games Hunt played in during the 2018 season, he had 824 yards rushing, 378 receiving, and 14 touchdowns (seven rushing and seven receiving), which is incredible production. Maintaining his averages over a full 16 games, Hunt would have produced 1,198 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns along with 549 receiving yards and 10 receiving touchdowns.
Arians called the Chiefs vs. Cardinals game on November 11 for CBS and saw Hunt in person when he rushed for 71 yards and caught two passes for 25 yards in a 26-14 win by Kansas City over his former team.
You don’t think the Bucs could use that type of production in 2019?
Do you think Ronald Jones II will bounce back from an awful rookie season and magically become a sure-handed receiver?
Arians needs a Johnson-type back in Tampa Bay, and that’s what Hunt is.
Quotes That Matter
In Bruce Arians: A Football Life, Arians discusses the risk he took on drafting LSU defensive back Tyrann Mathieu in the third round in his first draft with Arizona in 2013. Mathieu was one of the best playmakers in college football, but was dismissed from the team after multiple failed drug tests.
“I’m the true believer in second chances,” Arians said. “I needed it when I was young. But everything here we start with a clean slate – from here on out.”
Mathieu has fought through injuries in the NFL to make the Pro Bowl in 2015 while recording 397 tackles, 49 pass breakups, 13 interceptions, seven sacks and four forced fumbles. Do you know who did all the investigative work on Mathieu in Arizona? Licht, who was the Cardinals’ vice president of player personnel that year before leaving to become the Bucs’ general manager in 2014.
“I got to know Tyrann when the draft was coming around,” Arians said. “He never blamed anything that happened to him on anybody else but himself. So I knew he had a chance. He’s one of my favorite guys I’ve ever coached.”
It helps that Hunt has taken full responsibility for his actions, as he said while expressing regret and remorse in an ESPN video interview after being released by Kansas City. Click the link to watch the video.
“Because of his history and his experiences, he believes in second chances,” Licht said of Arians. “He believes that inside everybody there is good.”
Not only is Arians a true believer in second chances, so are the Buccaneers and they have created a culture of forgiveness in Tampa Bay that would possibly allow Hunt to redeem himself and be given a second chance in red and pewter.
Look no further than the Bucs’ decision to stick by Jameis Winston through his two civil trials – one emanating from college and another from an incident over two years ago in Arizona involving an Uber driver – where he faced sexual assault allegations. Winston, a Pro Bowl quarterback as a rookie that was drafted first overall in 2015, has lost a good deal of money from settling those two civil suits, not to mention the money he lost from a three-game NFL suspension.
Winston also lost a lucrative Nike endorsement deal and lost his starting job this year as a result of his suspension. Then when he returned to the team this October and got a chance to start again, his poor play cost him the starting job once again until he most recently earned it back.
Winston lost his captainship in the locker room this year, and his brand appeal, as the Bucs didn’t really use his likeness in any marketing efforts in 2018. All of this collective punishment seems worthy of Winston’s self-inflicted poor judgment.
Hunt’s punishment is just beginning, and the fact that his actions were caught on videotape and made it to an outlet like TMZ won’t make it easy for some to forgive him and give him a second chance.
Winston’s alleged actions have caused his reputation to take a hit nationwide and here locally, as there will always be a segment of the population that simply won’t ever forgive him for what he allegedly did. Yet the Bucs – led from the top by the Glazers, Licht and former head coach Dirk Koetter – have shown a high degree of forgiveness for Winston, and even for former running back Doug Martin, who battled substance abuse and was suspended for it during the 2017 campaign.
That’s because the Bucs locker room is a family atmosphere packed with some righteous players like Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David, Cameron Brate, Adam Humphries, Ali Marpet, Jason Pierre-Paul and others that have created the culture of forgiveness for players that have stumbled like Winston and Martin.
The FABulous Ending
Let’s not dance around the obvious. The Bucs had one of the league’s worst-ranked running games last year and Hunt, a tackle-breaker with speed, could eventually help turn that around when his pending suspension is over. To suggest otherwise would simply mean that you haven’t seen Hunt’s ability to run and catch the football.
Signing Hunt to a low-risk, prove-it contract would help Licht use his draft picks for other need positions, such as offensive line and cornerback, rather than spending one on another running back because Jones hasn’t panned out yet – and might never. The league has forgiven players that have been suspended before for bad conduct, such as Ben Roethlisberger, Ezekiel Elliott and Michael Vick. There will be a team that takes a chance on Hunt and signs him this offseason.
Through their experiences with Winston and Martin, and with Arians’ arrival, the Bucs have the structure in place take on a player like Hunt and help him turn his life and career around – if they so choose. If any coach can do that I would bet it would be Arians.