The Tight End isn’t the sexiest skill position, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are blessed with two productive studs. OJ Howard and recent contract extension recipient, Cameron Brate. With OJ’s status all but certain for the foreseeable future let’s dive in to the Cameron Brate pool and dissect what his future may hold for the Bucs.
Entering 2014 as an undrafted Rookie, Cameron Brate probably had a more quality academic portfolio than football credit. Brate left Harvard with an Economics degree under his belt, which is a feat in and of itself. Usually, the next step for a Harvard grad is behind the CEO desk on the 35th floor and a Country Club membership. Instead, Brate chose to hash it out against the rest of the practice squad fodder with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The following three years were a pleasant surprise for his coaches and for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan base.
NFL career at a glance
As you would expect from an un-drafted Free Agent, buried on the depth chart, Brate was a non-factor his rookie season with literally one catch. Though he did not remain invisible for long (especially to Jameis Winston). His 2015 season began to show mild promise, but it wasn’t until 2016 when the whole league started to take notice. Brate posted top 12 numbers for TE’s in every single category while being number one in Touchdowns. NUMBER ONE! Needless to say, his involvement in the offense moving forward was not only expected, it was required. Over the following two seasons, he combined for 78 receptions, 880 yards and 12 TD’s, despite the addition of the absolute freak of nature Tight End, OJ Howard.
The Arians Effect
Whether we choose to agree with this or not, Coach Arians did not implement his Tight Ends very often in his pass game. That being said, his best asset statistically in Arizona was also “only” Jermaine Gresham. Nothing against Gresham, who had his share of productive seasons, but he is not an OJ Howard. But is Cam Brate better than say, Troy Niklas who was the other Tight End for Arians in Arizona? According to the stat sheets the answer to that is a resounding YES.
This is where it gets tricky. The Bucs can absolutely utilize both Tight Ends, we’ve seen it with our own eyes. Will they though? That is the correct question to ask. Based on what we know about Arians and his tendencies, the likely outcome is one Tight End will get the pass reps. The other will get some play action on short to gain but mostly be asked to block. This isn’t where Cam Brate excels. With that being known, his fit in Tampa Bay starts to get murky.
The Business Side
After the 2016 season ended, Tampa Bay offered Brate an exclusive rights tender for $690,000, which he signed just before the 217 NFL Draft. Unbeknownst to him and the Buccaneers front office, Alabama phenom Tight End had just fallen in to their laps. This ended up as a blessing for the team to have two talented Tight Ends at their disposal, but it left Brate’s future in doubt. Well, momentarily at least. Despite just drafting OJ Howard, the Bucs extended Brate to a $18M, 6 year extension with $7M in guarantees in 2018. Clearly, Koetter and Licht wanted to keep one of Winston’s preferred targets around for awhile. Fast forward to 2019 where Brate has no more guaranteed money counting as dead cap and this isn’t Koetter’s offense anymore.
Ultimately, the Bucs have a few business decisions to make prior to addressing Brate who is signed through 2024. Tampa is currently 6th worst in total cap space with a projected $12M available before having to sign incoming rookies. The question brought up previously of whether the team would keep Brate is unknown. There are too many factors in play here to make that call with any level of confidence. We can only speculate as to whether they should at this point.
As far as the Arians effect goes, history doesn’t always repeat itself. Financially speaking, the Bucs can definitely use the $7M in cap space right now. Especially if they plan to re-sign key assets like in Donovan Smith and Kwon Alexander. Not to mention the questions looming around expensive players in Desean Jackson and Gerald McCoy. Both players are believed to be expendable at this time in their career.
The Bottom Line
With keeping the intent for realistic expectations in mind, let’s assume that Brate isn’t going to be traded. According to OvertheCap.com, Cameron Brate is currently the 12th highest paid Tight End in the league. Not something buyers find too enticing when pursuing a trade. Releasing Brate would be the smart move if the intent is moving forward with a more run blocking Tight End. Such an asset can be found on the cheap in Free Agency, or very late in the draft.
I think we are going to see a few coach preference moves prior to anything done with Brate. If anything at all. If Jameis Winston is truly the future of this team then removing one of his favorite targets is not an ideal way to start things off. I fully expect Brate to be on the team in 2019, but that’s only if names like Desean or McCoy are left in the rear view. The Bucs simply can’t afford all of them.