Ezekiel Elliott possibly joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took a new turn after ESPN’s prediction this week.
ESPN’s Bill Barnwell projected Elliott, the former Dallas Cowboys running back, to sign with the Bucs for a one-year, $4 million deal. Elliott now has the free agency options “narrowed down” to the Cincinnati Bengals, Philadelphia Eagles, and New York Jets according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Thursday, March 23.
Schefter also reported that Elliott “would like to make his decision about where to sign by the end of next week”. ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported on Friday that the Bengals “could be looming large” for Elliott. That could take the Bucs out of the running for the former NFL rushing leader.
Tampa Bay appeared a fit for Elliott with the team’s hiring of former Cowboys running backs coach Skip Peete. Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times reported that the Bucs were “expected to be interested” upon Elliott’s release on March 15, but nothing developed afterward.
The Bucs then signed free agent running back Chase Edmonds on Monday to complement Rachaad White and Ke’Shawn Vaughn in the backfield. Tampa Bay could still add more running backs either in free agency or the draft, and the team needs to turn around the running game after a dismal 76.9 yards per game.
Elliott could aid any team’s running game, but he can’t carry the rushing load as he once did. He finished below 1,000 rushing yards for a second time in three years, and the one time he eclipsed 1,000 yards came in a 17-game 2021 season. His 3.8 yards per carry last season hardly eclipses former Bucs running back Leonard Fournette‘s average of 3.5 yards per carry.
Elliott was “not a likely match” with the Bucs because of the team’s “budget and plans” according to FOX Sports NFC South reporter Greg Auman. The Bucs sit at $5.25 million under the salary cap, and the team faces a host of other roster needs besides running back.
Two former Bucs defensive backs, Sean Murphy-Bunting and Mike Edwards, recently left in free agency. The Bucs also lost defensive lineman Rakeem Nunez-Roches, and the team still needs to fill voids left by released players such as offensive tackle Donovan Smith, tight end Cameron Brate, and kicker Ryan Succop.
Elliott Could Linger in Free Agency a While Longer
Given Elliott’s recent struggles and a slow running back market, Elliott might not have a new home late next week.
Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio pointed out that Schefter “never says the Bengals, Jets, or Eagles are actually interested” in signing Elliott. Florio added that “the Jets and Eagles aren’t currently interested” according to “multiple league sources”. As for the Bengals, head coach Zac Taylor didn’t say anything promising recently about Elliott joining his team, Florio noted.
“There’s a lot of great players that are available right now,” Taylor said WCPO TV’s Mike Dyer on Thursday. “We like our team as where it’s at right now. But it’s always funny when things get thrown around. Sometimes, it’s the first you hear of it. But that’s just the way life works.”
Bucs Don’t Have Elliott’s Number
If Elliott remains on the streets long enough for the Bucs to nab him with an affordable deal, Elliott can get the jersey number he vocally wants.
Elliott tweeted on Friday that he wants to wear No. 15 again as he did in college at Ohio State before the Cowboys made him the No. 4 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. The Bucs have the No. 15 available at this time.