Another Major Shakeup

February 8th, 2022

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“First and 10, Trask in the shotgun. Handoff to Vaughn. He dodges one tackler and gets four yards running behind Tristan Wirfs.”

Could that be the way Gene Deckerhoff kicks off the 2022 season on air for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?

Stranger things have happened — like a forlorn franchise landing Tom Brady as a free agent two years ago or the hapless Texans giving Lovie Smith a third bite of the head coaching apple.

That’s why Houston is rotten to the core.

Yes, Trask could be Tampa Bay’s starting quarterback this fall. That would likely be the franchise’s default position if Jason Licht can’t acquire a suitable veteran through a trade or free agency.

While the most critical offseason question concerns the man under center, this backfield is on the brink of a shakeup. Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones are both eligible for free agency and it’s doubtful they will both return.

Fournette is a keeper after averaging 4.5 per carry and rushing for eight TDs. He also caught 69 passes on 84 targets for an additional 454 yards and two scores. That’s a lot of production in 14 regular-season games, the kind of numbers that could make Fournette, who just turned 27, the most coveted back on the free-agent market.

He would fit in nicely with Smith in Houston or new coach Mike McDaniel in Miami. The Falcons could certainly use his versatility and Fournette could also draw interest from the Jets or Chiefs. If Fournette returns to Tampa, Jones is out the door. Book that.

Running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn

Even if Fournette departs, the Bucs could decide to make a full commitment to Ke’Shawn Vaughn, a third-round pick in 2020 who has the head coach’s full attention.

“I think he’s a lead back,” Arians says. “He has great running skills, excellent jump-cut ability and he’s worked on his hands. His hands are better. I think he’s a lead dog.”

Arians has consistently talked up his young back since Vaughn’s arrival. Some of that praise may be simple coach-speak designed to keep a young developing player motivated and confident. Something tells me that’s not the case here.

It would be a bold move to install Vaughn as the top back. He averaged 5.0 yards on his 36 carries last season, but that 55-yard burst at Carolina skewed his numbers. Without that TD run, Vaughn’s average per carry drops to 3.6 yards.

Still, it might be time to give him a full opportunity. The Bucs may not have much of a choice, either.

With $65 million in cap space, the Dolphins could make Fournette an offer difficult to match. And without Brady’s commanding presence steering him back toward Tampa, Fournette could decide it’s his time to cash in.

Jones won’t be nearly as coveted as Fournette, but who knows his state of mind at this point? He’s been in and out of the doghouse so many times, he ought to be wearing a collar around his helmet.

Tweaked Approach

It’s not a reach to suggest Vaughn will get 200 carries this fall.

Playcalling change is forthcoming, writes Ira Kaufman.

You’d think more balance is in store for this offense. Brady just threw 719 passes in the regular season — only eight off the all-time record set by Matt Stafford for Detroit in 2012. It’s difficult to imagine Brady’s replacement averaging 42 throws, especially if it’s Kyle Trask.

Yes, big changes are coming to an offense that ranked No. 2 in both points and total yards.

Brady’s not coming back and it probably won’t be long before we hear Rob Gronkowski has decided to end his Hall of Fame career. The Bucs could decide to get younger and less expensive at center, where potential free agent Ryan Jensen provides a physical tone that will be hard to replace. Chris Godwin, rehabbing from a torn ACL, will likely return unless a desperate team like Cleveland breaks the bank for him as a free agent.

And then we have the uncertain backfield situation, with Vaughn waiting for his turn.

That wait could soon be over.

18 Responses to “Another Major Shakeup”

  1. DoooshLaRue Says:

    And without Brady’s commanding presence………. Fournette’s bad attitude could resurface.
    I don’t think he’s the same back without TB to keep him in check.

  2. Tampabaybucfan Says:

    Licht has already restructured several contracts & has some voided years with some….
    This year will be more difficult because of that.

    It’s supply & demand……we simply don’t have the supply (cap space)…..something has to give…..

    Like to see a veteran QB brought in to compete with Trask.

    Love to keep Lenny….but….would also love to keep Godwin, Gronk, JPP, Gholston, Suh, Davis, Whitehead, Cappa

    See what I mean….

  3. Dusthty Rhothdes Says:

    I think Fournette has matured and whether anyone likes it or not is one of the top 5 back in the NFL and the way he has been used the past 3-4 years has not done a ton of wear on him like D Henry. Not sure if the bucs could afford Fournette but he will probably be a top FA this year. Seems the Saints might need an RB and then IMHO he would be perfect in Baltimore

  4. Vancouver Buc Says:

    Don’t be too sure of Brady not coming back. That Dude LOVES football and everything around it. And obviously Buc ownership and Management are aware of that. Sign Gronk, Godwin, and the priority FA’s and restructure some of these big contracts, Shaq B, and the Goat will pick up the phone.

  5. PanhandleBuc Says:

    Lenny has matured and is worth giving him a reasonable if not big payday! However if I were to prioritize our FAs…Godwin, Jensen, Lenny, Cappa, Whitehead, and Suh. The rest can test the market….

  6. zzbucs Says:

    Right in the spot Sage… usual

  7. unbelievable Says:

    @Doosh I disagree completely.

    Lenny seems like a changed man. We heard more than once this season that it was him, not Tom or Lavonte or Devin, who was rallying the troops when they were down at halftime.

  8. Bqen green Says:

    Most running backs are as disposable as toilet paper, LF is different. His ability to catch the ball and run like a bull, separate him. He caught 76 passes for the jags in 2019, so it isn’t a product of Brady. In the modern NFL, if you don’t have a back that can punish light boxes, you’re screwed. Even my master, who thinks of running backs like Kleenex has come around. Problem is the short shelf life. No matter how good LF is, it’d be stupid to sign him for more than two years. If the bucs don’t pay him, someone else certainly will

  9. Defense Rules Says:

    Sage … I sure do hope you’re wrong about Vaughn being our lead dog this season. That’d mean no Lenny & we’d be screwed IF we go with Trask or Gabbert. I consider Fournette to be in the Top-20 RBs in this league (Taylor, Henry, Elliott, Jones, Barkley & a number of others would have to rank higher than Fournette based on the yardage they’ve put up in the past couple years).

    Ke’Shawn is a total unknown. I mean 62 rushes in 2 years? And oh ya, 18 targets with 9 catches in 2 years? (Ya, like 50%). He’s averaged 100 offensive snaps per year in those 2 years. What can anyone glean from that? I mean if Bucs want to use him as a COMPLEMENT to a real lead dog (yes, like Lenny), then great, Vaughn would probably be fine.

    Fournette’s averaged 4.3 YPC in his 2 years here. He’s also averaged a tad over 80% catch rate & just a tad less than 5.0 Yds/Touch in his passing game. In 2 yrs he’s produced 16 TDs (14 rushing & 2 receiving). Plus he’s a very good blocker (we kinda NEED that). And at 27 he’s got plenty of tread left on those tires. Spotrac’s Market Value of $6 mil annually seems affordable IMO, and I’d like to see us lock him up for 3 yrs.

    Yes money is an issue; it always is. As of this moment though we’re paying Succop $4 mil, Pinion $2.9 mil, & Brate $7.3 mil this year (next year Brate goes up to $8 mil), All 3 are prime candidates for ‘adjustments’ (or release) IMO. And oh ya, we do have several prime candidates for ‘contract restructuring’ at this moment in time. IOW, even though right now we’ve only got $18 mil in salary CAP space available, we can free up a reasonable amount more without crucifying ourselves in subsequent years.

    Personally I’d like to see us re-sign Godwin, Fournette, Jensen, Stinnie (and Cappa IF we can afford him), Suh, Gholston, Whitehead, Gabbert, Minter, Gio. Just for those 11 we’re probably looking at $60-$65 mil. Add in the draft class & we’d need probably around $70-$75 mil, but not all would have to be applied to 2022. Plus we’d have several other positions to fill with FAs (like CB?). Bucs can probably scrape together enough to make it work, UNLESS we sign a high $$$ QB. THAT’S the wild-card IMO.

  10. teacherman777 Says:

    If we had used Leonard used better, we would have beaten the Rams!!

  11. steele Says:

    Vaughn improved greatly in his last few games, and showed serious flashes. I still think a true feature back (who is better than Lenny) is needed, but Vaughn deserves a shot at a co-starting role.

  12. Crickett Baker Says:

    Insightful article, Joe. I just listened to Tom on Let’s Go, and I really feel certain that he isn’t coming back to play QB on any team. He thought long and hard, it seems, and decided he needs a change. He got one by coming to the Bucs, and had a great time, but I think he is done with playing, from how he sounded, and is looking forward to other things. I am, too. I am very interested in how this year’s team will unfold! Go Bucs!

  13. JB Says:

    My guess for next year is Bridgewater on a short leash with Trask in the wings. BA loves Teddy and sees something and he won’t break the bank. Offensively we will keep Vaughan as lead back and draft another. Slight chance we keep RoJo also, I think they want Lenny but too pricey. We keep Godwin. Between Gronk OJ and Brate we likely will keep one and draft a new one or elevate McElvoy. Defense we draft a LB, keep Whitehead and Davis, and let JPP and Suh walk. Keeping Shaq and drafting interior. Nelson and Tryon will step up if we can’t keep Shaq. The team won’t be as stacked, but Cyril Grayson was a find and the line will be solid even if Jensen walks – slide Marpet and move Stinnie in. Not an issue. The team will have still an above average roster, coaching consistency, and most importantly TB12 gave them the recipe for the mental game so expect this team to continue to be good going forward for the 2022 season.

  14. Mike Says:

    Bucs have some tough decisions but need to keep focusing on getting better through the draft and only signing free agents who are good value and not top dollar guys. We need to get younger and faster on defense in the draft and we need to give our 2nd or 3rd year guys a chance to earn their place. That’s what I think.

  15. westernbuc Says:

    Pay Fournette and become a run-centric team. Bring back Jensen and Cappa, then power run our way to a division title.

  16. stpetebucsfan Says:

    Do the math…OK so Vaughn didn’t really average 5 yards per carry.

    3 downs…3X 3.6 yards is 10.8 yards…First down with almost a yard and another down to spare. Obviously that’s an average and it’s not like we could just line up and ram it down other team’s throats. And yes the stats are too light in numbers to totally sign off…but at least he HAS accomplished it.

    We have arguably one of the best possession receivers in the NFL who is headed to the HOF. ME13 made scatter armed Jameis look a LOT better than his throws.

    Brate is unimposing but somehow manages to be SMART and experienced enough to find open spots in the end zone when we hit the red zone.

    Keep the OL in tact and all is not lost. If not Trask…Gabbert has played to the level of his team in the past. Sadly for him he left Missouri a year early..selected 10th overall…by a really crappy team the Jags with high expectations and a shortened college career.

    By the time he got to SF he was improved and played to the level of again a crappy team.

    Did Trent Dilfer light it up for the Ravens leading them to the SB? Or did Ray Lewis and Ed Reed and the rest of that incredible D get them there.

    There’s more than one way to cook an egg.

  17. Joe Says:

    Did Trent Dilfer light it up for the Ravens leading them to the SB? Or did Ray Lewis and Ed Reed and the rest of that incredible D get them there.

    You really believe the Bucs defense is one of the greatest in the history of the game? That’s what it takes to win a Super Bowl without a quarterback.

  18. Mike Johnson Says:

    Playoff Lenny, Suh, and Ggronk are gone. Other teams will make them better offers. Bucs will struggle to meet 500 this upcoming season. But they will make it..barely