Why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Need a Bell Cow Running Back: Free Agency

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NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 6: T.J. Yeldon #24 of the Jacksonville Jaguars runs the ball during a game against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium on December 6, 2018 in Nashville,Tennessee. The Titans defeated the Jaguars 30-9. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

I’ll start by saying the following: I believe Peyton Barber is a good running back for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Actually, He is better than “good”. I am in support of him pounding the rock and pushing piles of defenders on a weekly basis. One game watching him shows the amount of effort he puts into his craft.

With that said, Barber has not been exactly a pro bowl running back. While much of this can be attributed to the “Tampa Bay Turnstile” Caleb Benenoch and company, Barber is not without his deficiencies

One look at his 40-yard dash tells us plenty. He ran a 4.64 second 40-yard dash, slow by NFL running back standards.

Last year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Ronald Jones who was actually worse off than Barber. Jones recorded a 4.65 second 40-yard dash.

While we know what we get with Barber is 200% effort, Jones is an unknown. He played less than 10% of all offensive snaps last year and was a healthy scratch on numerous occasions. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers could use some help in the running back room.

The run game helps quite a bit in the playoff hunt. Anything other than a run towards the wild card, at minimum, will be considered a failure by Bruce Arians.

I will discuss three possible options for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and my opinion of a fair deal for each player.

Free Agent Options

Le’Veon Bell: Pittsburgh Steelers

Bell would be a dream come true in Tampa Bay. He sat out the past year in Pittsburgh after being franchise tagged, so he is fresh. He felt Pittsburgh was running out the tread on his wheels without fair compensation, so he refused to play.

If money were not a factor, Bell would have no problem in Pittsburgh. However, with the recent news of unrest of Antonio Brown in Pittsburgh, the locker room might have been toxic… apart from Bell.

Bell has had a few substance abuse issues as well. He was suspended four games on the grounds of a DUI and marijuana possession charge with former Buccaneer Legarrate Blount in 2015. In 2016, he was suspended three games for missing a randomly administered drug test.

Apart from his own personal issues, Bell has been nothing short of fantastic. He was named as a first team all-pro twice and a second team once.

He has a career average of 4.3 yards per carry and 1,037 yards per season on the ground.

However, Bell’s most favorable trait is likely his pass catching ability.

Bell has averaged 532 yards THROUGH THE AIR catching balls in his career. That is nearly an average of 1,600 yards per season in total from a running back.

That would put Bell in the same realm as Todd Gurley and Alvin Kamara in total yards. He feels he should be paid like it, which led to his aforementioned holdout.

Estimated Fair Deal for Bell:

Gurley set the market value for running backs this past offseason, netting 48.5 million over the next five years. Bell wants that kind of money. However, he is two years older than Gurley so it would make sense for a shorter deal. Something like four years and 38-42 million with the first three years guaranteed would make more sense for Bell.

If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can pony up the cash to sign Bell, it should be seriously considered by Jason Licht and co.

Tevin Coleman: Atlanta Falcons

Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans will know all too much about this possible acquisition. Coleman has played second fiddle to Atlanta Falcons running back DeVonta Freeman since coming into the league in 2015.

Last season, in his only extended run of games as a starter, Coleman was one of the few bright spots on a bad Atlanta team. In his two games against Tampa this season, Coleman rushed for 80 yards on 18 attempts. He got into the end zone two times on the ground and once more in the air.

Overall he rushed for 800 yards and caught 276 more yards through the air. His longest rush was 65 yards on the season.

Coleman certainly fits the criteria for an explosive back as well. Coming into the league, NFL.com said Coleman “is a race car in the red on every snap and refuses to give in.” This sounds a lot like Buccaneers back Peyton Barber.

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However, what does not sound like Peyton Barber is the fact that half of his 28 rushing touchdowns were from 43 yards or more. He has the home run ability Barber lacks.

Another thing he lacks is the off the field drama that Bell brought to Pittsburgh. He should be significantly cheaper than Bell as well, as his production does not quite match that of an all-pro.

In the right system though, Coleman could be dominant. He could be the next Buccaneer running back in the mold of Warrick Dunn or a *healthy* Cadillac Williams.

Estimated Fair Deal for Coleman:

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers should pay whatever it takes to get Coleman if they take the free agency route. He will be a cheaper deal, and will provide enough production to take some pressure off of Jameis Winston and open up the play action game.

Hopefully the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can sign him to something along the lines of 4 years and 30 million dollars. I believe that would be a fair offer for a talented, albeit unproven workhorse back.

TJ Yeldon: Jacksonville Jaguars

A third possible option for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could be just across the state. Yeldon started for the Jacksonville Jaguars his rookie year, but has been mostly a third down back since then.

Last season, Yeldon was the primary back for the Jacksonville Jaguars when Leonard Fournette was out with an injury for nearly half of the season.

He put up good numbers this year considering his role for about half of the season. In Jacksonville, Yeldon only played third downs when Leonard Fournette was healthy.

He finished with 414 yards on 104 carries for an average of four yards per carry. He also added a touchdown. Those aren’t terrible rushing numbers for someone who catches passes more often in the Jacksonville offense than they do running the ball.

Through the air, Yeldon had 55 receptions for 487 yards and four touchdowns. This was almost a total 1,000 yard season, which is great considering his playing time.

Yeldon’s rookie year, he was the feature back in the Jaguars offense. He rushed 182 times for 740 yards. This means with increased volume, he was able to still maintain efficiency to the tune of 4.1 yards per carry. He also was able to corral in 36 receptions for 279 yards. This put him over 1,000 yards from scrimmage for the season. He missed four weeks due to injury, so the numbers could have been much higher over 16 games.

His 4.61 second 40-yard dash isn’t eye popping, but he is a shifty back.

A knock on Yeldon is his tendency to juke and shift too much at the second level of defense rather than lowering his shoulder. At 6’1″ and 226 pounds, he should lower his shoulder more often.

One upside to signing Yeldon would be his similarity to the playing style of David Johnson for Bruce Arians though. While he certainly is not nearly at the level of David Johnson, he could be at a closer level to James White of the New England Patriots in his two-pronged role if he can perform well under Arians.

Estimated Fair Deal for Yeldon:

Yeldon would almost certainly be the cheapest of the three backs and allow for growth in Ronald Jones and continuity with Peyton Barber (if he is re-signed). A running back committee in Tampa Bay with these three wouldn’t be eye popping, but it certainly would be at minimum a mild upgrade over the current running back room. Essentially, Yeldon is a better Jacquizz Rodgers with the ability to run between the tackles more.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers would be smart to offer Yeldon a three year deal, with only the first fully guaranteed. The team should front load year one of the offered contract if they go this route.

This would allow the team to back out after the first year of Yeldon’s deal if he was not able to perform in Bruce Arians’ and Byron Leftwich’s offense.

A fair deal for Yeldon would look like three years for 16 million dollars. The first year should be eight million most likely, fully guaranteed. The second and third should be incentive driven and non guaranteed.

Dustin Fletcher is a writer/contributor at Full Press Coverage. You can receive updates from him on Twitter @DFSports1007.

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