The Buccaneers have Antonio Brown back in the fold, thanks to a little bit of help from Cameron Brate. On Wednesday, the tight end agreed to revise his existing contract with a portion of his salary being converted to a signing bonus (Twitter link via ESPN.com’s Field Yates).
The Buccaneers wiped $4.69MM from the books by converting $2.425MM of Brate’s pay to a bonus. Meanwhile, his listed salary has been reduced down to a modest $1.075MM. The remainder of Brate’s contract remains untouched — he still has base salaries of $6.8MM and $7.5MM for 2022 and 2023, respectively. However, those seasons are completely non-guaranteed, so the Buccaneers can release him with zero dead money left over.
Brate, an eighth-year pro, inked a six-year, $41MM deal with the Bucs in March 2018. At the time, he was hot off of two solid seasons with an average of 52 catches for 625 yards and seven touchdowns. Unfortunately, the 2018-19 campaigns were not as kind to him — his average dipped to 33/300/5 in those two years as he struggled through a hip injury.
Now, Brate finds himself playing second fiddle to Rob Gronkowski. In 2020, he put up some of the lowest numbers of his career — 28 receptions for 282 yards and two TDs. However, the 29-year-old (30 in July) saw a more significant role in the playoffs, culminating in Brate’s first ever ring.
It sounds like Cameron Brate may be a bit banged up heading into the Super Bowl. NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reports (via Twitter) that the Buccaneers tight end was a limited participant at practice Thursday due to a back injury. Rapoport adds that the ailment was described as “back discomfort,” and Brate “was pulled out of an abundance of caution.”
Brate felt better on Friday and, despite being listed as questionable, is expected to play Sunday, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets.
Thanks in part to the addition of Rob Gronkowski, Brate put up some of the lowest numbers of his career in 2020, compiling 28 receptions for 282 yards and two scores. However, the 29-year-old has seen a more significant role in the playoffs. After collecting five or more targets in only two of his 16 regular season games, Brate has seen at least five targets in each of his three postseason contests, hauling in 11 receptions for 149 yards and one touchdown.
If Brate were to be sidelined for the Super Bowl, Gronk would likely soak up most of Brate’s snaps. With O.J. Howard sitting on IR, the Bucs could also hypothetically turn to Antony Auclair or Tanner Hudson.
There is some good news on the injury front for Tampa Bay. Rapoport adds that wideout Antonio Brown was a full participant at practice. The 32-year-old sat out the NFC Championship as he nursed a knee injury. Brown appeared in eight games for the Buccaneers this season, compiling 45 receptions for 483 yards and four touchdowns.
Tom Brady‘s transition to a new team in advance of his 21st NFL season has obviously been less than ideal, with the COVID-19 pandemic preventing the future Hall of Famer from working with teammates and coaches at the Buccaneers‘ facility. The first time the soon-to-be 43-year-old quarterback is expected to be permitted to enter his new team’s facilities will be training camp. But the Bucs do not plan to compensate for this by giving Brady more preseason work. Bruce Arians said Thursday he doubts Brady will need more preseason time to make up for the virtual offseason, per Greg Auman of The Athletic (on Twitter). Still, Brady’s preseason snaps figure to be more important than usual this year.
Here is the latest out of Tampa:
Arians has not gotten much out of the tight end position during his stay as head coach in Arizona and Tampa. That should soon change. The Bucs currently house an all-time tight end stable, with Rob Gronkowski joining the team’s O.J. Howard–Cameron Brate duo already regarded as one of the NFL’s best. Arians said the Bucs will use a two-tight end offense as their base this season (via Auman, on Twitter). Going with more “12 personnel” looks would give Howard and Brate more time on the field and potentially represent an effort to conserve Gronkowski, who retired partially because of injury issues last year. This also points to the Bucs giving stronger consideration to keeping all three tight ends rather than trading Howard or Brate. Arians even said he’s interested in three-tight end looks.
Tampa Bay is not expected to make a move to add interior offensive linemen to back up starters Ali Marpet, Alex Cappa and Ryan Jensen, Arians added (via Auman, on Twitter). The Bucs did not draft any guards or centers, but Arians likes what he has seen from backups Aaron Stinnie, Anthony Fabiano and Zack Bailey. A fifth-year blocker, Fabiano is now on his eighth team. Stinnie was a 2018 Titans UDFA; Bailey was a Bucs 2019 UDFA who spent much of last year on IR.
However, the Bucs are keeping multiple roster spots open for possible veteran additions. Arians said (via Scott Smith of Buccaneers.com, on Twitter) he and GM Jason Licht discussed saving room for veterans who would be more prepared to play than rookie UDFAs. With Brady on a two-year deal, Tampa Bay stockpiling vets would make sense.
To say that the Buccaneers are stacked at tight end would be a gross understatement. Even before the Bucs reunited Tom Brady with longtime teammate and bro Rob Gronkowski, they had the formidable 1-2 combo of O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate. Weeks after the draft, the Bucs still have that ludicrously talented TE trio in place. Logically, at least one of them probably has to go…and it obviously won’t be Gronk.
The Buccaneers listened on trade offers for Brate and Howard towards the end of last month, but they didn’t get any offers to their liking. Publicly, the Bucs said they were okay with having all three TEs on the roster. Then, before the early May deadline, they exercised Howard’s fifth-year option for 2021. This doesn’t automatically mean that Brate is the odd man out, or that they’ll commit a total of ~$20MM to the position. Howard’s option – guaranteed for injury only – doesn’t hamper the Bucs’ ability to trade him. Also, this surplus of TEs would be opulent, even by Brady’s standards.
Howard, ostensibly, holds more trade value than Brate. The Alabama product hasn’t lived up to his first-round billing, but he’s flashed serious ability and uncommon athleticism for a 6’6″ receiver. The Bills saw that first-hand last year, as Howard went off for six catches, 98 yards, and two scores in Buffalo. And, roughly one year earlier against the Eagles, he got nearly as many yards, just with better efficiency – three catches for 96 yards, mostly thanks to a 75-yard connection with Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Teams aren’t sleeping on Brate, either. It’s true that he’ll turn 29 in July (Howard won’t be 26 until November), but he’s a proven playmaker and blocker. Between 2016 and 2017, he averaged 52 catches for 625 yards and seven TDs. After that, the Bucs rewarded him with a six-year, $41MM deal, including $18MM guaranteed. He’s been slowed by a surgically-repaired hip, but he’s more than a year removed from the operating table. It also helps that the Bucs restructured his deal in January. The exact terms of the restructure aren’t clear, but he’s probably on the books for less than the $4.5MM in guaranteed dollars he was slated for.
Howard wouldn’t be especially pricey for other teams, either – his rookie deal calls for a 2020 cap hit of just $3.5MM. The Bucs, meanwhile, would carry a $1.5MM charge for trading him.
The Bucs didn’t find any worthwhile deals for them in April, but interest should pick up between now and September. Even after drafting Cincinnati’s Josiah Deguara in the third round, the Packers could use a high-end TE to pair with Marcedes Lewis. The Bengals may also want to give the Bucs a call as they look to surround Joe Burrow with extra artillery. The list goes on. Depending on the asking price, the Bucs could have a market of 20+ teams for either Howard or Brate.
The Buccaneers have about $20MM of salary cap space tied up at the tight end position between Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard, and Cameron Brate, and there was plenty of speculation that the club could look to deal either Howard or Brate now that Gronk is in the fold.
However, per Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com, no realistic trade options presented themselves to Tampa (Twitter link). We heard a few days ago that the team nearly dealt Howard to the Redskins in exchange for Trent Williamsback in February, so Fowler’s report may simply mean that no viable trade proposals surfaced after the Gronk acquisition on April 21 and throughout this weekend’s draft. In any event, it looks as if Tom Brady will have all three players at his disposal in 2020.
Fowler adds that the Bucs never felt the need to trade a tight end and that they are comfortable with their significant financial investment in the position. But it’s not as though they really have a choice. It’s much more likely that an opposing team would pursue Howard instead of Brate, and Howard carries a 2020 cap charge of just $3.5MM, $1.5MM of which would remain on the Bucs’ cap even if he were traded. One way or another, the overall TE cap hit is significant, so it makes sense to simply give Brady as many options as possible and to see if he can help Howard start to realize his potential. GM Jason Lichtacknowledged as much several hours before this year’s draft got underway.
It remains unclear if the Bucs will pick up Howard’s fifth-year option for 2021. Though the option would be guaranteed for injury only since Howard was a 2017 draft choice, the Alabama product has not lived up to his status as a first-round selection, so his future in Tampa remains up in the air.
The Saints expect Taysom Hill to take over for Drew Brees when Brees calls it a career, and to that end, they placed a first-round RFA tender on the BYU product earlier this month. Teddy Bridgewater had served as the backup to Brees over the past couple of seasons while Hill’s role as a gadget player grew, but head coach Sean Payton confirmed that Hill will be the QB2 in 2020. “He’s earned that opportunity,” Payton said (Twitter link via Jeff Duncan of The Athletic).
However, the team still expects to use Hill as a rusher and receiver next season, so Payton said New Orleans will add another QB that will be active on game days (Twitter link via Duncan). The Saints are expected to explore a long-term contract for Hill in the near future.
Now for more from the NFC South:
Cameron Brate‘s recent restructure with the Buccaneers is better classified as a pay cut. Per Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times, Brate accepted a decrease in his 2020 salary from $6MM to $4.25MM (Twitter link). The move will keep Brate, a quality red zone target, in the fold for Tom Brady while buying the team a little more cap space.
Several days ago, the Panthersbeat out several clubs for the services of XFL signal-caller P.J. Walker. Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle says Walker’s pact with Carolina is a two-year deal worth $1.565MM, a pretty nice haul for an XFLer who has yet to crack an active roster in the NFL (Twitter link).
CBBlidi Wreh-Wilson‘s new one-year deal with the Falcons includes a base salary of $1.05MM and a singing bonus of $137.5K, as Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com tweets.
Details of the restructure are not yet known, but it’s worth noting that $4MM of Brate’s $6MM 2020 salary was due to become guaranteed today. He will team with O.J. Howard to form a potentially formidable TE tandem for Brady, who will have a lot more weapons to work with in 2020 than he did in his last year with New England.
Brate, who will turn 29 in July, signed a six-year, $41MM deal ($18MM guaranteed) with the Bucs in March 2018. Over the prior two seasons, he averaged 52 catches for 625 yards and seven TDs, but the 2018-19 campaigns were not as kind to him. He underwent hip surgery last January, and his per-season averages dipped to 33/300/5.
But if nothing else, the former UDFA out of Harvard profiles as a reliable red zone threat, and he could become more with Brady under center.
In addition to the thumb injury that we heard about in early January, Buccaneers QB Jameis Winstonwas also playing through a torn meniscus for at least some of 2019, as Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reports (video link). Per Rapoport, Winston recently had surgery to trim the meniscus tear.
Though Winston’s boom-or-bust tendencies remain an obvious concern, the toughness that he displayed in battling the injuries may help him land a new contract with Tampa, which may have winnowed down its quarterback options to Winston and Philip Rivers.
Now for more from the Bucs:
Standout receiver Chris Godwin is now eligible for an extension since he has completed three years in the league, but that is not a front-burner item on the Bucs’ agenda just yet, per Greg Auman of The Athletic. Auman says the club will look to take care of its 2020 FAs first and then see if there is money left in the budget for a new contract for Godwin. Barring something unforeseen, it would be a huge surprise if Tampa lets Godwin hit the open market in 2021.
There were rumors that the Bucs were looking to trade much-maligned TE O.J. Howard at the 2019 deadline, and though that did not happen, the former first-rounder was still viewed as a trade candidate this offseason. But as Auman notes, the club still believes in Howard, and it sounds like he will be back in 2020. Fellow TE Cameron Brate, however, could be a trade or release candidate.
The Bucs are very young at CB, which has led many to believe that the club will draft a corner with an early pick or sign one in the first wave of free agency, but that’s not necessarily the case. As Auman writes, Tampa is very high on Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean, and Sean Murphy-Bunting, so a late-round pick or modest FA signing may be more likely.
Likewise, Tampa is bullish on its cadre of safeties, but 2017 second-rounder Justin Evans‘s stock is trending downward, per Auman. Evans has not been healthy enough to practice in a long time, and although the team hoped he would be fully recovered by April 1 and would participate in spring workouts at OTAs, it’s now unclear whether he will be back at all.
Unsurprisingly, it does not sound like the Bucs will look to re-sign free agent RB Peyton Barber, per Auman.