Bucs Could Land Five-Time Pro Bowl Tight End: Analysis

Tom Brady

Getty Tom Brady and the Buccaneers still have need of a veteran tight end amid Rob Gronkowski's absense.

As Rob Gronkowski’s future remains in doubt, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could pursue a former rival tight end.

Jimmy Graham, 35, made many plays against the Bucs as a member of the New Orleans Saints for five seasons in the 20210s. Graham remained a force with the Seattle Seahawks and had more productive years for the Green Bay Packers. The 6-foot-7 tight end’s career achievements include five Pro Bowls, one All-Pro first team appearance, and 85 touchdowns.

Graham remains a free agent after a lackluster 2021 season with the Chicago Bears, but that doesn’t mean he can’t still produce. Graham caught a game-winning touchdown last season at Seattle. He’s also a year removed from an eight-touchdown season in 2020.

Graham had an effective 2020 season overall. He caught 50 passes for 456 yards and eight touchdowns. That happened with Nick Foles and Mitch Trubisky splitting time at quarterback.

The Bears turned to Andy Dalton and rookie Justin Fields in 2021, and they combined for 15 touchdown passes. The Bucs notably demolished the Bears 38-3 last season.

Graham’s drop-off in production can’t be ignored, either. He mustered 14 receptions for 167 yards and three touchdowns in 2021. He still averaged 11.9 yards per catch, his career average, though.

It could take a significant amount of the Bucs’ remaining salary cap space of $10.4 million, per Spotrac, to sign Graham though. He just finished a two-year, $16 million contract in Chicago per Spotrac.

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Could Brady Make Graham a Touchdown Threat Again?

Bucs quarterback Tom Brady, who enters potentially his final year with the Bucs, has clicked with a veteran journeyman tight end before. Brady did that with Martellus Bennett in 2016 with the New England Patriots before winning Super Bowl LI.

Bennett stepped up in Gronkowski’s absence for half of the season, and Bennett caught 55 passes for 701 yards and seven touchdowns, and he averaged 12.7 yards per catch. All of those numbers were improvements for Bennett from his previous season in Chicago.

Bucs Face Void if No Gronk in 2022

If Gronkowski doesn’t return for 2022, the Bucs don’t have a tight end beyond Cameron Brate who has produced significant numbers on the field. Brate notably only had double the receptions of Graham and one more touchdown than him in 2021.

After Brate, the Bucs have tight end Codey McElroy, who has appeared in two NFL games. The Bucs also have a slew of rookies in Cade Otton, Ko Kieft, Ben Beise, and J.J. Howland.

Otton, a fourth-round draft pick from Washington, notably didn’t participate in offseason practice sessions due to injury. He didn’t put up dominating pass-catching stats at Washington as he never played an 11-game season more than once. His season highs consisted of 32 receptions for 344 yards in 2019 and his three-touchdown seasons in 2018 and 2020.

McElroy and Kieft are looked at more as blockers. Bucs head coach Todd Bowles said he liked what McElroy showed at minicamp but will need to see more at training camp. Kieft, a sixth-round draft pick, focused on blocking at Minnesota and hardly got targeted in the passing game.

Five weeks remain until the Bucs begin training camp with Gronkowski’s future up in the air. He said in April he would play for the Bucs if he returns, but no public headway has happened since. Brady and Bowles likewise didn’t suggest a decision on Gronkowski’s part one way or the other.

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