A number of teams are dealing with injuries at running back, and they’re looking toward the defending Super Bowl champs for reinforcement. NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reports (via Twitter) that teams are monitoring Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones.
It would make sense for teams to assume that Jones is available. Leonard Fournette has taken control of the lead back role, while offseason addition Giovani Bernard continues to dominate passing downs. As a result, Jones has averaged about 12 snaps per game over the past four contests.
However, Pelissero notes that there’s still a question of whether the Bucs would even let go of the former second-round pick. While Jones has seen limited snaps, he is still playing, collecting 23 touches in those aforementioned four games. Plus, he provides the Buccaneers was some insurance in case Fournette or Bernand suffer an injury.
Jones had a career year in 2020, finishing with 1,143 yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns. He added another 139 rushing yards in three postseason games. The 24-year-old is set to hit free agency following the 2021 season.
There are several high-profile Buccaneers that have undergone offseason surgery already. According to head coach Bruce Arians, five-time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady has gone under the knife to clean up the knee issue we heard about several weeks ago (Twitter link via Ben Volin of the Boston Globe). Though Brady will not be ready to participate in team drills until June, the fact that Tampa is willing to discuss an extension with him suggests the club is not particularly worried about his prognosis.
Meanwhile, OLB Jason Pierre-Paul underwent a knee surgery of his own today, as Jenna Laine of ESPN.com passes along. JPP had arthroscopic surgery on the same knee in July, and he landed on the injury report throughout the 2020 season as a result of the injury. Still, he didn’t miss a game and led the Bucs with 9.5 regular season sacks, so he will head into a contract year with plenty of momentum and, hopefully, a clean bill of health.
On a related note, Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times tweets that RB Ronald Jones recently had a pin removed from his broken left pinky finger, which required surgery in December. Jones played through the injury and finished off a successful third pro season. After a disappointing rookie year, Jones is living up to his status as a former second-rounder and, like JPP, has a good chance to set himself up for a big payday if he can replicate his 2020 performance in 2021.
Here are a few more notes on the defending champs:
As you know by now, the Bucs have a number of big-name free agents, which could make this offseason a difficult one for GM Jason Licht to navigate. The team has made it clear that it wants to bring back players like WR Chris Godwin and LB Lavonte David, and it sounds like Godwin might be willing to offer Tampa a hometown discount. Fellow wideout Mike Evans has also expressed a willingness to take a paycut, but Arians isn’t sure that outside FAs will be willing to take less than market value just for the opportunity to play with Brady and the Bucs. “Dollars still talk,” the 68-year-old HC said (Twitter link via Greg Auman of The Athletic). Because of how many in-house priorities Tampa has, Arians suggested his club might not be especially active in the free agent market anyway.
In addition to Evans’ willingness to make a personal sacrifice to keep the band together, there are a number of other players who are open to restructuring their own deals, per Arians (Twitter link via Stroud). Such restructures would not result in less money for those players, but it would open up more cap space for the Bucs to retain most, if not all, of their top FAs.
Another free agent the Bucs want to keep, Antonio Brown, obviously has off-field matters to tend to. Britney Taylor’s lawsuit against Brown is set for trial in December, and as Daniel Kaplan of The Athletic writes, Taylor wants to subpoena copies of all documentation the Bucs have related to Brown (she is subpoenaing Brown’s three former teams as well). Taylor is not seeking to depose any team executives, and she needs court approval to send the subpoenas.
Ronald Jones underwent surgery on a fractured pinkie finger this week, leaving his status for Week 15 in doubt. The Buccaneers running back now has another hurdle to clear before returning to action.
The Bucs placed their starting back on their reserve/COVID-19 list Tuesday. It is not yet known if Jones has contracted the coronavirus, but he will be out of practice this week while on the list. Jones being a high-risk close contact would shelve him for five days, but depending on when the contact with a COVID-positive person occurred, the third-year back could return in time for Sunday’s game.
This comes a day after the Bucs placed specialists Ryan Succop, Bradley Pinion and Zach Triner on their virus list. With Jones joining them, this is a situation to monitor going into Week 15. Jones did not practice Wednesday.
Jones suffered the fracture during Tampa Bay’s win against Minnesota last week. The former second-round pick leads the Bucs with a career-high 900 rushing yards.
September 9th, 2020 at 6:14pm CST by Dallas Robinson
Before Jadeveon Clowney signed with the Titans, the Saints attempted to orchestrate a sign-and-trade in order to land the star edge rusher — but the NFL put the kibosh on such a maneuver, as Tom Pelissero and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com write. In the proposed scenario, an unidentified team (widely believed to be the Browns) would have signed Clowney to a one-year deal with a $5MM signing bonus and a $10MM base salary.
Clowney then would have been dealt to the Saints in exchange for a second-round pick, per the NFL scribes. The mystery team would have absorbed the $5MM signing bonus on its salary cap, giving the cap-strapped Saints the breathing room they would have needed in order to acquire Clowney. But the league office gave word it wouldn’t approve a deal that amounted to trading cap space.
“We felt like we got close,” Saints head coach Sean Payton said, via Mike Triplett of ESPN.com (Twitter link). “We weren’t able to match the money, and that’s one of the challenges every year. Mickey (Loomis) and Khai (Harley) did a great job working with (Clowney’s agent).” The Ravens may have also attempted a sign-and-trade strategy to land Clowney, as Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk indicates Baltimore tried to arrange a similar strategy involving the Jaguars. Tennessee ultimately landed Clowney on a one-year, $13MM pact that includes $2MM in incentives.
Buccaneers wideout Mike Evans is dealing with a hamstring injury and could be a game-time decision for Sunday’s tilt against the Saints, as Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. Evans ended last season on injured reserve with a hamstring issue, but he hadn’t missed any time during camp, so the injury must have flared up recently. If Evans is forced to miss Week 1, Chris Godwin could see even more targets than usual, while Justin Watson and Scotty Miller would likely become more involved in Tampa Bay’s offense.
The Buccaneers‘ backfield split became extremely murky following the addition of Leonard Fournette, but head coach Bruce Arians says Ronald Jones is still the club’s starter, per Jenna Laine of ESPN.com. Of course, Arians has been anything but fully truthful when it comes to running back touches over the years, but Jones should at least get the first snap of 2020. Arians said Fournette will have a “situational role” in Week 1 (Twitter link via Pewter Report), while LeSean McCoy should still be a factor on passing downs. Tampa Bay also worked out a number of running backs, including veteran Kenjon Barner, earlier this week, tweets Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com.
Saints owner Gayle Benson has thankfully recovered after contracting COVID-19 in August, as Charean Williams of Pro Football Talk writes. The 73-year-old Benson was not forced to spend any time in the hospital while quarantined, and was still able to take part in team business.
Buccaneers GM Jason Licht has been heavily criticized over the years, but he managed to come away with the league’s biggest prize this offseason. So, how does it feel to land Tom Brady?
“It feels damn good,” Licht said on Thursday (Twitter link via ESPN.com’s Jenna Laine).
The GM also recognizes his shortcomings, saying “a lot of [the criticism] was deserved.” The Bucs have gone 34-62 in Licht’s six years at the helm, but that could all be quickly forgotten if Brady is able to lead them to a Super Bowl championship.
Here are some of the highlights from Licht’s virtual chat:
Licht expressed confidence in Ronald Jones, signaling that the running back position might not be high on their to-do list. “We do think Ronald hasn’t even scratched the surface of what he can be,” Licht said (via the team website). “He made a huge jump from year one to year two. He didn’t have to do much to do that because year two wasn’t very good for him. But year two, we felt very good about where he came, and we think he still has a tremendous amount of upside.” Jones, a former second-round pick, had a strong start to the 2019 season as a backup to Peyton Barber. Later, he was bumped up to the starting lineup, but his production took a nosedive. He also missed some key blocks on blitzes, an issue that he’ll have to correct if he wants to be a regular this year.
No matter what’s going on in the news cycle, tight end Rob Gronkowski seems to remain front and center. Brady’s arrival in Tampa has fueled speculation that Gronk could attempt a reunion with his longtime pal, but Licht didn’t take the bait. “Well he’s doing a pretty good job in Wrestlemania right now,” Licht said (Twitter link via Laine), referring to Gronk’s recent WWE appearance. “I have no idea if he’d want to play.” It’s worth noting that the Patriots still hold his rights, so a return with the Bucs or any other club would require cooperation from Bill Belichick & Co.
A second round pick by Tampa Bay in the 2018 NFL Draft, Jones spent all of his rookie season buried on the Bucs depth chart behind Barber-who started all 16 games last season. However, in a more prominent backup role this season, Jones clearly outperformed Barber and has been the team’s starter since Week 9. Jones has yet to translate his early season success, when he averaged 4.24 yards per carry, to the starting lineup, averaging just 3.29 yards per carry since. His struggles in pass protection though, seemed to be the final straw.
Barber and Jones have received a nearly identical number of carries this season (125 for Jones and 122 for Barber), but Tampa has remained committed to playing the hot hand regardless of who was in the team’s starting lineup. Still, at least for now, Jones remains the top running back on the Buccaneers depth chart.
There’s natural excitement for Josh Gordon‘s debut with the Seahawks, but Pete Carroll cautioned that the organization isn’t setting any expectations for the talented wideout.
“I’m telling you, I’m just waiting to see him,” Carroll said Monday (via Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com). “I’ve seen him on film. He looks pretty special. He’s got a good history of making plays and all that, but I want to see him when he mixes with our guys and really just take it one step at a time with no expectations of how much he would contribute or play or whatever. I’m just going to see what happens.”
Gordon was sidelined in mid-October by a knee injury, and he was placed on the injured reserve and later cut by the Patriots. Despite the ailment, Carroll said the receiver is ready to go.
“Yeah, he’s been cleared to go,” Carroll said. “He’s ready to go, so Thursday when we get rolling again, he’ll be going. He’s in the building, studying and all that, getting ready. We’ll see how it goes.”
Let’s check out some more notes out of the NFC…
During the Cowboys‘ bye week, quarterback DakPrescott had four wisdom teeth removed, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter (via Twitter). Through the first half of tonight’s contest against the Giants, Prescott has completed 11 of his 20 pass attempts for 137 yards, one touchdown, and a pick.
The Falcons made a number of coaching changes this afternoon, according to Will McFadden of the team’s website. Wide receivers coach Raheem Morris will be the Falcons new secondary coach, while running backs coach DaveBrock will move back to his old position of wide receivers coach. Offensive assistant/assistant special teams coach BernieParmalee will become the team’s new running backs coach. We learned this weekend that head coach DanQuinnwould keep his job through the bye week.
RonaldJones has secured the Buccaneers starting running back gig, coach Bruce Arians told ESPN’s Jenna Laine. The former second-rounder started the year in a timeshare with PeytonBarber, and he’s responded by rushing for 381 yards and averaging 4.1 yards per carry. “He’s been consistent (and) he’s been more explosive. It’s not that Peyton did anything wrong,” Arians said. The coach added that T.J. Logan and DareOgunbowale will also see reps at running back.
Running back Ronald Jones was a disappointment for the Buccaneers and dynasty fantasy football players alike last year, as the 2018 second-rounder turned in a very quiet rookie campaign. The USC product did not displace Peyton Barber as Tampa Bay’s lead back, as many expected, and in fact played only 90 offensive snaps all season. Meanwhile, Barber started all 16 games and led the club in rushing yards for the second straight year, though he only managed 3.7 yards per carry.
Given that the Bucs did not do much to upgrade their RB room in free agency or the draft this year, Jones has a good opportunity to break out in his second professional season. And, as Charean Williams of Pro Football Talk writes, Jones plans to do just that.
He said, “I just want to lead the team in rushing and be that player who can ignite the offense and things like that, because that’s who I am. I’m a playmaker. I just want that opportunity.”
To that end, Jones says he has put on 13 pounds of muscle. He added, “[l]ast year was a disappointment for me. I’m putting in the work to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Unsurprisingly, Greg Auman of The Athletic believes that Jones is a lock to make the club, as there is no way the Bucs will give up on a second-round running back so quickly. However, Auman also notes that Barber has garnered plenty of praise from Tampa Bay’s coaching staff this year, and since Barber is eligible for unrestricted free agency for the first time in his career in 2020, he will be plenty motivated (Twitter link). In fact, Auman believes that Barber will lead the team in rushing for the third consecutive season, though he also notes (via Twitter) that Jones emerging as a solid complementary option would still be a big help to the offense.
Auman believes one of the other available spots on the Bucs’ RB depth chart will be filled by 2019 UDFA Bruce Anderson, who excelled at North Dakota State and who offers solid pass-catching ability, which is not a strong suit of either Barber or Jones. Veteran Andre Ellington — who was out of football in 2018 but who played for new HC Bruce Arians in Arizona — would seem to have a decent chance of making the team, though Tampa Bay could also elect to carry just three RBs (unless a backup like Dare Ogunbowale wins a job as a return specialist).
The club will almost certainly remain on the lookout for veteran depth, and players like Jay Ajayi and old friend Jacquizz Rodgersremain available. An intriguing name or two may also shake loose from another club’s roster as the regular season gets closer.
However, the running back position produces annual mid- or late-round surprises — from Devonta Freeman to Jordan Howard to Kareem Hunt — that end up providing immense value to certain teams. The Giants obviously have an incredibly gifted ball-carrier set to take handoffs from Eli Manning, but which of Barkley’s peers is in the best position to challenge him (and the quarterback contingent) for the OROY honor?
The other two first-round RBs look to be less equipped for a strong challenge due to circumstances.
Sony Michel‘s prospects of being an immediate ground producer may have been better on a different team. While the Patriots boast one of the NFL’s best offensive lines, Bill Belichick notoriously finds myriad usages for his backs and involves nearly all of them. Although, Dion Lewis‘ departure after a 180-carry season opens the door for someone to take over as New England’s primary back. And Michel averaged 7.9 yards per carry on 156 totes at Georgia last season. Rashaad Penny looks to be behind Chris Carsonto start the season, and the surprise first-rounder may be given time to develop for a Seattle team that’s struggled on the ground for a few years now.
After Round 1, however, it becomes a bit more interesting. The Buccaneers did not possess a formidable depth chart at running back prior to investing their second-round pick in USC’s Ronald Jones. In 2017, Jones rushed for 1,550 yards and scored 20 total touchdowns. He could well be an early-season starter, with the likes of Jacquizz Rodgers and Peyton Barber in his path toward a first-string role. Chosen just before Jones, Nick Chubb will have to contend with Carlos Hyde in Cleveland this season for the revamped Browns. Chubb, though, notched three 1,000-yard seasons in the nation’s toughest conference.
Kerryon Johnson looks to be set to start in a committee in Detroit, but the Lions have been desperate for a surefire ground producer for years now. And they view Johnson as a three-down back. LeGarrette Blount and Ameer Abdullah reside in the Motor City carries picture, but neither would impede Johnson from a major role if he proves ready from the outset. Derrius Guice could have a quicker path to playing time in Washington. Considered by some the second-best back in this draft, the LSU product fell largely because of character concerns. However, Guice averaged 7.6 yards per carry in 2016 on nearly 200 attempts and is expected to push for the Redskins’ starting job from the start.
Also expected to challenge for an early role: the Broncos’ Royce Freeman. The Oregon-developed talent posted three 1,300-plus-yard seasons with the Ducks, amassing a staggering 947 college carries. With the Broncos having moved on from four-year starter C.J. Anderson, only Devontae Booker (299 rushing yards last season) resides in the third-rounder’s path. Is he a threat to be the 2018 version of Hunt?
As for Barkley, he has the most obvious route to a full-time gig. Despite Jonathan Stewart now being in the Big Apple, the Penn State dynamo will factor in from the start of the Giants’ season. And the three-down back totaled at least 2,300 yards from scrimmage in back-to-back years for the Nittany Lions. The Giants have questions up front, having lost Justin Pugh and Weston Richburg, but they added multiple UFAs — spearheaded by Nate Solder — and chose likely Day 1 starter Will Hernandez in Round 2.
So, will Barkley’s situation be too much for the rest of this class to overcome, a la Ezekiel Elliott? Or will one of the later-round picks emerge in Hunt fashion? Is there a Day 3 dark horse in this year’s class in the mold of Freeman or Howard? Take PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section!