Running back Bobby Rainey will be back to compete for playing time in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' backfield in 2015. That news, while expected, was formalized on Friday afternoon when Rainey signed the one-year qualifying offer the Buccaneers had extended to him prior to the start of free agency.
The qualifying offer made Rainey a restricted free agent when the market opened on March 10, and since then he has had the opportunity to attract contract offers from other teams. Had Rainey signed a deal with another team, the Buccaneers would have had the opportunity to match it, though they would not have been in line to receive draft pick compensation by declining to match. Team-to-team movement by restricted free agents is relatively rare.
Friday was also the final day of the period in which restricted free agents could negotiate with other teams; moving forward, the Buccaneers would have had exclusive negotiating rights with Rainey. Thus, there was no reason for the fourth-year back to wait any longer to sign the tender offer. Rainey had already been participating in the first week of the Bucs' offseason training program, which began on Monday, on a waiver.
Photos from Bobby Rainey's 2014 season with the Buccaneers.
Rainey (5-8, 212) has been with the Buccaneers since they picked him up as a waiver claim in October of 2013. Since then he has played in 24 games with 11 starts and ran 231 times for 938 yards and six touchdowns. He has also caught 44 passes for 342 yards and two more scores as a Buccaneer, and late last season he took over as the team's primary kick returner. In that role, he averaged 26.3 yards on six kickoff returns and 7.9 yards on seven punt returns.
Rainey began his NFL career in 2012 as an undrafted free agent with the Baltimore Ravens. He progressed from the practice squad to the active roster to injured reserve as a rookie but did not see any regular-season game action. The Ravens cut Rainey at the end of the 2013 preseason and he was picked up on waivers by the Cleveland Browns. He played in six games for Cleveland carried 13 times for 34 yards before being waived and claimed by the Buccaneers.
Rainey finished the 2013 season as the Buccaneers' starting tailback after season-ending injuries to Doug Martin and Mike James. In just his second game as a Buccaneer he ran for 163 yards and scored three total touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving) in a blowout win over the Atlanta Falcons. He added a 127-yard outing against Buffalo in December that included an 80-yard touchdown run on the second play from scrimmage.
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Rainey ran for 406 yards and one touchdown on 94 carries last fall but he saw his time in the backfield lessen after the return from injury of rookie running back Charles Sims at midseason. Still, Rainey's 2014 exploits included a third 100-yard game – 144 on 202 carries against St. Louis in Week Two – and a 19-carry, 87-yard effort at Cleveland.
Martin, James and Sims also return in 2015, meaning the Buccaneers will once again have a strong competition in the backfield when training camp begins. Still, Head Coach Lovie Smith has professed his belief in utilizing a rotation of running backs over the course of a season, so there should be plenty of opportunity for any of the four to carve out a significant role.