The Bucs could go the bargain route if Gronkowski agent Drew Rosenhaus‘ prognostication of the star tight end’s return comes true. Jesse James, a 6-foot-7 tight end nicknamed “The Outlaw” in reference to the historical figure by the same name, remains a free agent. James isn’t far removed from his best days in Pittsburgh where the Steelers used his height as a red zone threat.
James caught 120 passes for 1,189 yards and nine touchdowns for the Steelers from 2015 through 2018. His production dropped off in two seasons in Detroit from 2019 to 2020 and Chicago in 2021.
Despite the drop-off, James has significantly more experience than almost all of the Bucs tight ends. Only Cameron Brate has played significant snaps, and the rest are rookies other than Codey McElroy. James could add depth to an inexperienced tight end room.
He wouldn’t cost the Bucs too much. The Bears paid him $1.65 million in 2021 per Spotrac.
Tampa Bay has $12.5 million in salary cap space, per Spotrac, which leaves room to sign a veteran tight end and leave space for Gronkowski if he returns. Gronkowski retired on June 21 after 11 seasons in the NFL.
While Rosenhaus said Gronkowski could comeback, the agent mentioned “midseason” or “next season” as possibilities in a text to Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer. As Rosenhaus noted, a call from Bucs quarterback Tom Brady to Gronkowski could be waiting.
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Bucs’ Bruce Arians Confident in Brate
Former head coach, now senior football consultant, Bruce Arians believes Brate can alleviate the void left by Gronkowski.
“It’s a step back, that’s for sure,” Arians told Ira Kaufman of JoeBucsFan.com, “because he’s a Hall of Fame player. But I really like the room right now. I love the young kids we’ve got in there and Cam Brate’s a good veteran player that Tom really trusts. Now, he’s not Gronk. That size and what he brings as a blocker and receiver I think is unmatched. You don’t replace that guy, but we also have Codey McElroy … I think it’s time for him to break out as a receiver.”
Brate has 253 receptions for 2,683 yards and 33 touchdowns in his eight-year career with the Bucs. McElroy has only three games of experience in three seasons of time split between the active roster and practice squad.
Bucs Rookie a Sleeper?
If the Bucs can’t get more out of Brate and McElroy or pass on a veteran, a former Brady teammate believes rookie Cade Otten could get the job done.
Shane Vereen, who played running back for the New England Patriots during Brady’s time there, sees Otton as a good fit for Brady. Vereen observed Otton, as an analyst for the Pac-12 Network the past four years when the Bucs fourth-round draft pick played for Washington.
“He is going to be one of the top rookie pass catchers, in my opinion, this season. He is that good of a tight end,” Vereen said on SiriusXM NFL Radio via JoeBucsFan.com.
“He was a great college tight end. And I think he has the wherewithal and the smarts to get on the same page in a Tom Brady offense, and I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people,” Vereen added.