The Tampa Bay Buccaneers could move on from one of their key offensive starters after the 2022 season.
With the Buccaneers facing potential salary cap issues entering the offseason, Tampa Bay will likely have to move off of at least a couple of their key veteran players. As noted by Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox, one of those potential cap casualties is none other than running back Leonard Fournette.
Fournette signed a three-year, $21 million contract to remain with the Buccaneers last offseason. His cap hit for the 2023 season is $8.5 million, which makes him a top 10 running back as far as cap hit. Knox argues that releasing Fournette with a post-June 1 designation would not only save the Buccaneers a chunk of money, it makes sense considering Tampa Bay can now turn to rookie Rachaad White as the feature back.
“In a new-look offense sans Brady, Fournette’s receiving prowess may not be as valuable,” said Knox. “Tampa can also turn to rookie third-round pick Rachaad White, who caught 50 passes and averaged 3.7 yards per carry in the regular season. Releasing Fournette with a post-June 1 designation would save $5 million in cap space.”
Fournette’s Bucs Future Likely Depends on Tom Brady’s Decision
If the Buccaneers release Fournette during the upcoming offseason, they would absorb a dead cap hit of $5 million. With that being said, the idea of bringing Fournette back may have little value if Tom Brady decides to depart — whether through free agency or retirement. A big reason for Fournette’s return was due to the urging of Brady.
In fact, Fournette had visited with the New England Patriots and considered signing with Brady’s former team. That’s when the veteran quarterback sprang into action, as noted by Greg Auman of Fox Sports.
The Buccaneers have an estimated cap of $43 million in the negatives — the second-worst mark in the league entering 2023. If Brady does indeed decide to move on, Tampa Bay’s expectations of contending would be drastically lowered. That would mean a potential purging of the roster would likely be on the horizon.
Presence of Rachaad White May Lead to Fournette’s Release
Fournette has remained productive as a pass-catching back during his third season in Tampa Bay. The 27-year-old running back posted 73 receptions on a career-high 523 receiving yards to go along with three touchdowns.
However, his rushing efficiency declined from the previous season when he averaged 4.5 yards per carry. Fournette averaged just 3.5 yards per carry on the season, which aided in Tampa Bay ranking dead last across the board in rushing yards, touchdowns and yards per attempt.
In Fournette’s defense, White didn’t fare much better, averaging just 3.7 yards per carry. However, there’s a reason the Buccaneers started playing both backs in rotation roles midway through the season, with Fournette playing one series and White playing the next during games.
If Brady returns to the Buccaneers next season, it’s probably safe to assume Tampa Bay will bring Fournette back. However, if Tampa Bay has to start anew with a new franchise quarterback, Fournette is likely looking at his last days as a member of the Buccaneers.