The Tampa Bay Buccaneers could be a landing spot for one of the top running backs in the NFL.
According to CBS Sports’ Cody Benjamin, the Buccaneers make sense as a potential destination for former Pro Bowl running back Saquon Barkley. Barkley is currently under contract with the New York Giants, but he’s on the verge of entering the last year of his deal.
Benjamin explains that the Bucs are a potential landing spot due to the fact that three of their top running backs — Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones and Giovani Bernard — will enter free agency. Acquiring Barkley not only mitigates the possible departure of those backs, it also adds an extra playmaker in the post-Tom Brady era.
“They have lots of tough decisions to make financially, so adding Barkley rather than re-signing pending free agents Leonard Fournette and/or Ronald Jones doesn’t necessarily seem like a cost-effective bet,” says Benjamin. “Still, Bruce Arians might prefer the upside as he desperately tries to keep a post-Tom Brady offense afloat.”
New Giants general manager Joe Schoen did not rule out the possibility that Barkley could be traded.
“We’re still working through that, but I’m open to everything,” Schoen said, via ESPN. “Like whether it’s trading player for player; I’ll listen to anybody. If it’s trading a couple players — I’m not going to say the entire roster, [that] we’re open for business on the entire roster. But if anyone is going to call and they’re interested in any of our players. I’m certainly going to listen.
Barkley’s Up-and-Down Career Raises Question Marks
When healthy, Barkley is easily one of the top running backs in the league. In fact, he’s an “MVP-caliber” player, as Benjamin notes. The problem is, Barkley has been injured for major portions of the past three seasons.
The 25-year-old has missed 21 games over the past three seasons, missing almost the entire 2020 season due to a torn ACL. During the 2019 and 2021 campaigns, Barkley dealt with ankle injuries that caused him to miss time.
However, when he wasn’t sidelined — such as during his rookie season in 2018 when he rushed for 1,307 yards and 11 touchdowns on 5.0 yards per carry — Barkley proved he could be the league’s top runner. According to Pro Football Focus, Barkley ranked third among all running backs with an 85.2 offensive grade in that season.
The problem is, he’s come nowhere near close to that performance since then. Barkley’s performance dipped big-time in 2021, as he registered as one of the worst running backs in the NFL. According to PFF, Barkley posted a 59.1 offensive grade, ranking 58th among 62 qualifying running backs.
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How Bucs Can Maximize Barkley’s Production
Acquiring Barkley comes with risk, especially considering he will be a free agent following the 2022 season. When one factors in injuries and his recent subpar production, the idea of a trade for Barkley may actually scare away some teams. But there is no doubting his ceiling when healthy.
If the Buccaneers can acquire Barkley for a reasonable price — a mid-tier draft pick and/or a player such as tight end Cameron Brate — Tampa Bay would be wise to take a chance on the ex-Pro Bowl running back.
Assuming Tampa Bay can re-sign Fournette or Jones, using Barkley in a two-back platoon system could work wonders for both the Buccaneers and Barkley.