With depth to spare in key positions this year, the Buccaneers will have to make some tough decisions next season. There are some big-name free agents set to hit the market if the Buccaneers cannot retain their services. At the tight end position, there are a few decisions to make.
Returning On Contract
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers exercised their fifth-year option on O.J Howard ensuring his return next season. Unfortunately for the Buccaneers, Howard was injured this year. His presence next season will be a welcomed one, especially with his growth as a player. Lined up on the opposite side as Rob Gronkowski keeps this offense potent and capable. Fans should however anticipate trade rumors over Howard again this upcoming season.
Cameron Brate also returns next season, possibly. Brate has not been called upon too much this season outside of the postseason. With as many weapons as the Buccaneers have, there has been little need for his utility. But when he is in he still performs very well. Therein lies the issue. When a player has good value coupled with little need, the general manager starts to tinker with the idea of ones worth. Trading Brate may be an option, but it is unlikely it happens. Instead, Brate will be one of the first players many will speculate as being cut. Currently, he counts for $6.5 million against the cap. A cap the Buccaneers would like to increase for the 2021 season. None of that money is guaranteed.
Prediction: Cameron Brate is a cap casualty.
Free Agent: Rob Gronkowski
Easily one of the top tier players the Buccaneers will try to retain. “Gronk” is a favorite of Brady’s and a great asset to have on the team. Competition for Gronkowski’s services should not scare the Buccaneers or their fans. Gronkowski has already made his intentions known; he will not play with another quarterback.
The Buccaneers know how good the future Hall of Famer tight end is. The issue may be the price. Then again, it may not be. No longer really in line for huge contracts, Gronkowski should be affordable. He should command half of what he is making this season. The Buccaneers would be foolish not to bring him back.
Prediction: Re-signed to a one-year contract.
Free Agent: Anthony Auclair
The Canadian experiment may be over. During the regular season of 2020, Auclair was targeted only one time. Furthermore, he has only been on the field for 70 offensive snaps. The drastic reduction in playing time comes on the heels of Gronkowski being added to the team. Gronkowski has played in 80.4% of the offensive plays, restricting the need for Auclair. With limited playing time and Howard returning to health, the one-time undrafted free agent may find himself on the outside looking in.
Prediction: Allowed to walk but could return due to injury.
Free Agent: Tanner Hudson
Hudson is an exclusive rights free agent. This means he has accrued less than three seasons by the end of his contract expiring at season’s end. The Buccaneers have the option of offering Hudson a one-year contract at the league minimum. Then Hudson can not negotiate with other teams and can be retained. The Buccaneers would be smart to do so and likely will.
Hudson sits firmly as the third tight end this year (post-Howard injury). He has done so by being somewhat productive when targeted and an aide to the pass blocking scheme. Though the numbers are small, his contributions have been good enough to justify another year.
Prediction: Re-signed on a one-year contract.
The Way Forward
The tight end situation is fairly cut and dry for the next off-season. Gronkowski will be retained and the ability to keep him made easier with the likely release of Brate. Hudson is an inexpensive retainment and one that allows the team to bring someone back with the knowledge of the offense. If the Buccaneers have to use free agency to fill a tight end position, they will not be seeking to spend a large amount of money and still have a good return on their investment. This will cut the candidates down drastically.
Primary Free Agent Target: Gerald Everett
Gerald Everett looks to hit free agency in 2021 if the Rams do not decide to retain his talent. A sturdy and dependable tight end, Everett has all the skills necessary to fit in with Tampa Bay. He is a decent blocker and a good receiver. He presents as a mismatch with his size and speed against the middle of any defense. There will be many suitors for him to choose from.
Prediction: There will be no need to sign an outside free agent. The Buccaneers will re-sign Gronkowski and Hudson.
Having a healthy O.J. Howard and Gronkowski may be the best solution when the Buccaneers can not retain both Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown. Two tight end sets may see an increase in the playbook next season with those two players.