The Tampa Bay Buccaneers face a big hole at quarterback but could take a big swing at running back instead in free agency.
That’s how the JoeBucsFan.com writers see the idea of signing New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley in free agency. The Bucs fielded the worst running game in 2022, and head coach Todd Bowles arguably has his job on the line in year two. Plus, the Bucs appear set to start third-year quarterback Kyle Trask, according to ESPN’s Jeff Darlington, despite just 10 snaps of regular season experience.
“So if you are Bowles, would you prefer an established veteran back like Barkley come to your team and bolster the offense behind Kyle Trask, or would you rather lean on two guys who carried the load for the league’s worst rushing offense in 2022?” JoeBucsFan.com wrote.
Barkley looks poised to become a free agent after Pro Football Talk’s report about Giants quarterback Daniel Jones as a likely franchise tag candidate. Jones recently changed agents according to ESPN’s Jordan Raanan.
If the Bucs can land Barkley, the team will field a top-five rusher, who has three 1,000-yard seasons in four healthy seasons. Barkley tallied 1,312 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground plus 338 yards receiving in 2022. As a Comeback Player of the Year finalist, Barkley helped the Giants turn things around for a 9-7-1 season and a Wild Card playoff win over the Minnesota Vikings.
Barkley Worth the Risk for Bucs?
Affording Barkley will challenge the Bucs, which face $55.5 million over the salary cap. Barkley could command up to $12.3 million annually, according to Spotrac, after his four-year, $31.19 million deal with the Giants.
“It’s unclear what the market for Barkley would be,” Florio wrote. “He has five years of NFL wear and tear, and he plays a position that results in plenty of impacts that can result in plenty of injuries. A long-term investment would come with enhanced risk for the team that provides it.”
Barkley tore his ACL in 2020 and missed 14 games. He also sustained a low-ankle sprain in 2021 and he missed four games. In 2019, he had a high ankle sprain and missed three games.
While running backs carry injury risk, the Bucs couldn’t get the job done on the ground with Leonard Fournette and Rachaad White last season. Fournette, 28, managed 3.5 yards per carry and three touchdowns plus 523 yards receiving for three touchdowns. White showed promise as a rookie with 4817 yards and a touchdown on the ground plus 290 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
How the Bucs Can Afford Barkley
Tampa Bay could clear enough salary cap space to land Barkley, but it will take significant cuts and restructuring contracts.
Pewter Report salary cap specialist Joshua Quiepo explained that the Bucs could free up $22 million in cuts alone. Quiepo suggested cutting tight end Cameron Brate, offensive tackle Donovan Smith, Fournette, kicker Ryan Succop, and wide receiver Russell Gage.
The Bucs could clear another $29.5 million, according to Quiepo, if the team restructures contracts for cornerback Carlton Davis III, wide receiver Chris Godwin, and nose tackle Vita Vea.