The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are considering signing free-agent running back Ezekiel Elliott, according to a report from ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht should be in the market for a veteran ball-carrier and Tampa Bay would be an excellent landing spot for Elliott.
The Buccaneers averaged a league-low 76.9 rushing yards per contest in 2022. Improvement is necessary for a Buccaneers squad that finds themselves in a transitional period. The type of improvement required is what Elliott could provide.
Tampa Bay’s leading rusher in 2022 was Leonard Fournette. Licht entered the offseason with the least amount of financial flexibility in the league. The Buccaneers were roughly $55 million above the cap—sacrifices had to be made. Fournette was released from his contract, which saved the Buccaneers approximately $3.4 million against the 2023 cap, via Spotrac. Fournette’s departure leaves a void behind.
Sophomore running back Rachaad White is currently expected to serve as Tampa Bay’s starter. A dual-threat playmaker, White flashed a ton of promise in 2022 despite playing behind an injury-riddled offensive line. White recorded 50 receptions as a pass-catcher and also averaged a team-high 3.7 yards per carry (a pedestrian number, but expectations were low).
White is best utilized in a tandem like he was alongside Fournette last season. The Buccaneers currently lack the depth necessary at the position. Chase Edmonds and Ke’Shawn Vaughn aren’t appropriate running mates. The Buccaneers didn’t select a running back in the 2023 NFL Draft either.
Buccaneers head coach Todd Bowles must heavily rely on the running game moving forward in the wake of Tom Brady’s retirement. Whether it’s Baker Mayfield or Kyle Trask under center for the Buccaneers in 2023, Bowles’ team can’t be as pass-happy as they were last season. Bowles embraced the impending changes by firing offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich and replacing him with former Seahawks quarterbacks coach Dave Canales, who comes from a run-friendly environment.
The Buccaneers are also going through sweeping changes on their offensive line. Tristan Wirfs is moving from right tackle to left tackle. Sophomore blocker Luke Goedeke is kicking back outside to right tackle after playing left guard for the majority of the 2022 campaign. Rookie second-round pick Cody Mauch is expected to start on the interior.
Changes up front typically lead to early-season communication and chemistry breakdowns. An ascending, inexperienced talent like White isn’t the best candidate to help the Buccaneers sort through their camaraderie. A shrewd veteran like Elliott could be an asset for a changing Buccaneers offense.
Elliott wasn’t his most productive self in 2022. The three-time Pro Bowler rushed for career-lows in yards (876) and yards per carry (3.6). Elliott is no longer the workhorse he was between 2016-2019, but he still found the end zone on 12 occasions. Elliott could help complement White to form a fearsome duo in Tampa Bay’s backfield.
The Buccaneers are experiencing a soft rebuild, but there’s enough talent on their roster to compete for the NFC South division title. The Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, and Atlanta Falcons have also gone through unpredictable changes this offseason. There’s no clear-cut favorite. Adding Elliott would improve the Buccaneers’ postseason aspirations.
Tampa Bay’s veteran roster has been gutted this offseason. Improving their rushing attack will be critical to the success of the 2023 Buccaneers. Signing Elliott would help move the needle in the necessary direction.
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