Tampa Bay Buccaneers Free Agent Spotlight: Kareem Hunt

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OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 19: Kareem Hunt #27 of the Kansas City Chiefs carries the ball against the Oakland Raiders during their NFL football game at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on October 19, 2017 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers ranked 29th in the league last year in rushing. That stat contributed to the offense having to pass the ball 625 times, which was the fourth most in the NFL. Hunt has been a true game changer at the running back position since entering the league in 2017. With rumors of reinstatement, he looks to get a second chance with a team somewhere. Should the Bucs take a chance on the talented back who will be just 24 at the start of the preseason in 2019? Or will the threat of backlash from fans scare them off?

The Suspension

One of the questions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers need to ask is: When will Kareem Hunt play? The league hasn’t announced the length of suspension Hunt will receive for his publicized altercation with a 19 year old woman. Any team looking to sign him will have to factor that into the decision to sign him over other talented backs. I think his suspension will be around six to eight games as the league will, and should, look to make an example of Hunt. Half a season away isn’t exactly an attractive prospect when signing any player, but Hunt provides upside that is worth the risk. 

The Bucs can place a tender on Restricted Free Agent Peyton Barber that would help keep him on the team. He was a serviceable back for the Bucs this season considering the poor play of the offensive line. He rushed for 677 yards and had 5 total touchdowns for the Bucs in 2018. 

Hunt had 824 rushing yards and 14 total touchdowns in 11 games for Kansas City. 

X-Factor

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers play in a division with three teams that contain big time players at running back. Carolina has Christian McCaffery, New Orleans has Alvin Kamara and Atlanta has Devonta Freeman. All three teams have true game breaking players in their backfield. The Bucs haven’t had much success with the running back position in recent years besides the two best years of Doug Martin’s career. Kareem Hunt led the league in rushing in 2017, as a rookie. He also can receive out of the backfield with a career 79 receptions, 833 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. He has broken open games with his speed out of the backfield in either running or passing plays. Bruce Arians would love to have a capable back like that. After all, he has coached one of the best in Arizona, David Johnson. 

Once In a Lifetime Opportunity

Players of Kareem Hunt’s caliber don’t see free agency often and if they do it comes at a steep price. Leveon Bell is one of those players and people think he will demand upwards of $15 million per season. Kareem is going to be an interesting signing though as his talent would normally dictate a huge contract. The suspension and threat of further punishment that could come down from the league is the risk teams will not take with Hunt. Any contract he signs will have to include an out for the franchise in case of any more negative actions. That alone gives me reason to think General Manager Jason Licht might just bring Hunt in for a visit. 

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No Risk-it No Biscuit

Does he deserve a second chance? Many would say no. I say yes. He has reportedly been in anger management and alcohol classes since the beginning of December. He has made a public apology and I think he wants to change the perception around him. With a head coach like Bruce Arians, I doubt he goes rogue and messes up once again. Smart people would keep their nose clean when big money is involved. Someone will sign Kareem. One team will take a chance on him because he is a top five free agent just based on talent. It is time for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to take a risk to get back into the playoffs. Dynamic players help teams get to the playoffs. Three of the final four teams all have a dynamic player at the running back position on their roster, the team that didn’t was Kansas City. 

2019 Offensive Powerhouse

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a top three offense last year, but missed many opportunities especially in the Red Zone. They ranked 14th in the RZ as a team. I believe a back like Hunt would do wonders for this offense. A true threat behind Winston would keep defenses guessing on 3rd and short opportunities and goal to go plays. Hunt had 27 rushing opportunities in the red zone last year and produced 11 first downs and 7 touchdowns rushing. Not to pick on Peyton Barber, but he only had five total touchdowns. Hunt would take this offense to a level that the Bucs have never seen.

Stick With Our Guys?

Many argue that Barber was held back from the line and that is true, but it isn’t likely All-Pros are coming to the offensive line next year. Tampa has limited options in free agency and the draft. I would argue the best course of action is to stock up on the known blue chippers available. Try to draft a top lineman with the 1st rounder they have. Jason Licht has already spent a prime pick on a running back and it is yet to be seen if Ronald Jones can be half the player Hunt already is. With a 66 year old head coach and a quarterback in Winston who has this season to win some games, players like Hunt give Tampa its best chance of success. Licht has already tried signing lineman in free agency with failures like Anthony Collins and J.R. Sweezy. Licht needs to build the trenches with the draft. 

Lets Go For It All

If the Bucs can sign Hunt to a year to year contract, like they did for Darrelle Revis, they should pull the trigger. The Rams have shown that being aggressive with signings and trades can get you to the big game. Arians has said “this isn’t a rebuild” and the team doesn’t have time to wait for Ronald Jones to turn into a play maker on the fly. Barber would be a great rotational back for Hunt just like C.J. Anderson is for the Rams behind Todd Gurley. The Patriots, Rams, Saints and the Chiefs all used multiple backs this season and postseason and Tampa could use Barbers power behind Hunts explosiveness just like the Saints do with Kamara/Ingram.

Signing Hunt is risky, but its time for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to show the fans and the league that they truly want to win something.


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