The Buccaneers announced the signing of free agent running back Giovani Bernard on Wednesday. Known for his route-running and pass-catching ability, the hope is that the former Cincinnati Bengal will complement the Bucs' already solid running back room and give quarterback Tom Brady another option coming out of the backfield.
But Bernard didn't make the decision to come to Tampa over every other team he was talking to because of the role he'd play, even if he admits the chance to play with Brady was 'too good to pass up.' He came to the Bucs because of the culture, which is one that isn't resting on its laurels of winning a championship this past season.
"The biggest pitch for me was the opportunity to be a part of something that I feel like they're continuing to build, even though they've already won the Super Bowl," said Bernard. "I still felt that there was something that they were trying to show or prove or whatever it may have been. Even just a little phone calls that I was able to have – it just felt like these guys are still trying to go do something great, and they've already won. So that to me was just a little bit of a difference from the other teams that I was talking with."
It also helped that it was Head Coach Bruce Arians and Brady himself that were recruiting Bernard. He received calls from each of them as he went through the free agency process. Bernard and Brady even have a good friend in common in Patriots' running back James White. Brady relied on White for years in New England and Bernard and White went to high school together right here in Florida at St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale. As a shock to no one, White had only glowing things to say about working with Brady and his work ethic. And here Brady was telling Bernard to come to Tampa. It made Bernard's choice pretty easy.
"Having those two individuals [Arians and Brady], give me a call and talk about not only my role, but just the atmosphere of the things that they have going on here in this organization now was obviously huge for me. Just to be able to be a part of something like this, it's really, really difficult to pass up on."
Bernard's decision was validated upon the very first time he stepped foot into AdventHealth Training Center. Walking through the halls and seeing "One Team, One Cause" written on the walls with graphics of the Lombardi Trophy or "Trust, Loyalty, Respect" lining the player hallways by the various meeting rooms reinforced the culture he had heard so much about.
"You can already feel the difference in just that atmosphere," said Bernard just minutes after signing his contract inside the facility. "As soon as I walked into the building, whether that's facility staff or the cooks or one of the guys in the training room – just everybody here. You can tell there's an excitement still buzzing. Obviously, you guys won the Super Bowl last year but you can kind of tell nobody's kind of let their guard down, everybody's excited for that next run, and I'm just excited to be a part of that."
Bernard marks the first of the Bucs' free agent signings to come from outside the organization. The team has placed an emphasis on retention this offseason and have kept all 22 of their Super Bowl starters together for 2021. Bernard will join the group after a 2020 season where he had 124 carries for 416 yards and three touchdowns while catching 47 passes for 355 yards and another three touchdowns, splitting work with running back Joe Mixon. Bernard has a career average of 8.4 yards per reception as he's utilized not only out of the backfield but in different alignments due to his ability to run receiver routes.
Being able to do it all has always been important to him, even since his college days at North Carolina.
"I just wanted to be as well rounded of a football player as I possibly could be," Bernard said. "I wanted to be able to run receiver routes as a running back. I wanted to be able to block like a lineman in the backfield. I wanted to be able to have those characteristics that an every-down back has."
Pass-blocking is one of the hardest adjustments for running backs at the NFL level. It's also an area that the Buccaneers felt they could improve upon going into 2021. With the addition of Bernard, the Bucs could have an excellent rotation that would keep opposing defenses on their toes, not knowing who to expect in which situation between Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones, Ke'Shawn Vaughn and now, Bernard. And a more robust running game could be in the cards for Tampa Bay after looking at last season, where they were 9-1 in games they amassed over 100 yards on the ground. The Bucs had well over 100 rushing yards in three of their four playoff games on their way to winning Super Bowl LV, too. But no matter how Bernard ends up being utilized within the Bucs' high-powered offense, he's excited about his arrival and ability to be part of a winning culture.
"It wasn't so much the role that I would take on that attracted me," he said. "It wasn't like, 'Hey, we're going to have you do this and do that, you know, or whatever.' For me, it was always about the culture that the coach was trying to build and the players in the locker room because at the end of the day, that's what's going to really ride you throughout the season […] I think the biggest factor for me was just that I saw what these guys are continuing [to try] to build here in Tampa."
View pictures from RB Giovani Bernard's NFL career thus far.