The Buccaneers managed to bring back all 22 starters on offense and defense but could one of them be on their way out?
In 2020, Ronald Jones ran for almost 1,000 yards on a pass-first team, splitting carries with Leonard Fournette. He did so missing two games and part of another due to not only injury, but COVID-19, as well. Jones did provide a spark or “lightning”, to Fournette’s “thunder” during the season, even breaking off a franchise record 98-yard touchdown run. But with that being said, it doesn’t take a seasoned analyst to see the holes in his game that have still not improved. Receiving and pass protection are still issues with Jones, even after an offseason in which he made further developing those skills a focal point.
With the re-signing of Fournette and the addition of pass-catching specialist and terrific pass-protector in Giovani Bernard, it shows what little confidence the coaching staff has in Jones to become a true three-down back. Unlike last season with the addition of LeSean McCoy, Bernard still has a lot of football left in him. Fournette is likely to see early down snaps with Bernard coming in on obvious passing downs. How many snaps does that leave for Jones? In a contract year as well, could they gauge the market on what his potential value could be to another franchise?
While it’s unlikely the Buccaneers select a running back at 32, they truly have the luxury to take the best player available with their first-round pick since they have no real needs. This could end up being one of the top three running backs in Najee Harris, Travis Etienne or Javonte Williams. Combined with the fact that three of the four running backs on the roster are currently on one-year deals, it’s not out of the realm of possibility they take a player at that position early on in the draft. If that is a route the Buccaneers take, they could look to trade Jones.
The question then becomes what Jones value around the league is. Would a team like the Jets or Steelers be interested if they don’t select a running back in the earlier rounds? What would a team give up in draft compensation? For a running back such as Jones, who at this point hasn’t shown the qualities of a complete back, it seems likely the best they would be able to fetch in return would be a late round pick or potential future considerations. But as a running back on an expiring deal would it be best to gain an asset for a player they may not bring back, anyway? A compensatory pick may be in play but that wouldn’t go into effect until 2022.
My guess is if they do still decide to draft running back early on whether it is best player available or a position they address as a luxury pick, they could put out feelers on a trade scenario. After all, if Fournette plays like “Playoff/Lombardi Lenny” and Bernard sees a majority of the third down and passing work it may be hard for Jones to see the field, anyway. Add in Bruce Arians’ recent remarks on 2020 third-round pick Ke’Shawn Vaughn having a breakout year, it becomes murky as to what exactly Jones’ role in the offense would/will be. Addressing a future need at the position in the draft and gaining something for Jones may make the most sense for both parties involved.
What are your thoughts? Should the Buccaneers explore trade options for Jones? Tell us in the comments below.