The Tampa Bay Buccaneers may have found their solution to improving the team’s dismal rushing attack by giving more touches to rookie Rachaad White. If the young playmaker continues to play well, it could call into question Leonard Fournette’s future in Tampa.
White posted 22 carries for 105 yards against the Seahawks in Week 10, averaging an impressive 4.8 yards per carry. Tampa Bay is averaging the second fewest rushing yards of any NFL team at 70.7 per contest. Even before White’s most recent breakout performance, The Athletic’s Greg Auman wrote that the Bucs could explore releasing Fournette this offseason.
“Fournette might end up as the team’s leading rusher, but the momentum will likely be with White at the end of the season,” Auman detailed on November 8.
“Could the Bucs move on from Fournette after this season? He has only $2 million guaranteed in his 2023 base salary, but cutting him would result in $5 million in dead cap money, as opposed to an $8.5 million cap hit if they kept him. The Bucs will have major decisions to make with a ton of free agents and limited salary-cap space, but if you’re going to have the worst rushing attack in the NFL, you might as well do it inexpensively. Fournette has eight games to prove he’s worth keeping around next season.”
Fournette Signed a 3-Year, $21 Million Contract in 2022
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Fournette is not expected to miss any time with a hip pointer injury he sustained against Seattle. Yet, the veteran may have already lost his starting gig given the way White has played in recent weeks.
Fournette signed a three-year, $21 million contract with the Bucs in March but just has a $2 million base salary this season. This number jumps up to $6.5 million in each of the next two years.
For context, Fournette is slated to make more in 2023 than the entirety of White’s four-year, $5.1 million deal. White has a $705,000 salary and is under contract with Tampa Bay through at least the 2025 season.
Arians: ‘White’s Going to Take This Thing Over’
Tampa Bay may find it hard to justify continuing to spend a premium at a position where most teams are bargain shopping, especially given Fournette is averaging just 3.4 yards per carry in 2022. It is unfair to blame the entirety of Fournette’s lack of production on the running back given the offensive line’s struggles. Yet, White appears to represent a much more dynamic rusher than Fournette and might be better equipped to overcome the blocking deficiencies.
The Bucs would have to take a $5 million dead cap hit if the team releases Fournette this offseason, per Spotrac. This number drops to $1.5 million if the front office waits until 2024 to release the veteran rusher. Former Bucs head coach Bruce Arians seems to think that White will be the team’s future RB1.
“I told you way back when that White’s going to take this thing over,” Arians told Joe Bucs Fan’s Ira Kaufman for a November 15 feature. “He’s just too freaking good. He sees it, he’s got power, he’s got speed. He can run routes like a wide receiver. I think he’s very much like an Edgerrin James. He can run, he can catch and he’s a little bowlegged, just like Edgerrin.”