As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2020 championship season gives way to a new league year, the team is hoping to apply some of the lessons of that Super Bowl run to a successful title defense in 2021. One of those lessons, as voiced recently by General Manager Jason Licht, is that depth at certain positions can prove critical.
The additions of Rob Gronkowski, Leonard Fournette and Antonio Brown – all of which came well after the main free agency rush – helped the 2020 Buccaneers at various times weather injuries to O.J. Howard, Ronald Jones and a number of receivers. Fortunately for the Buccaneers, there were some other positions where they had trusted depth but didn't have to dig into it. For instance, safety Andrew Adams, who started 15 games for the team over the previous two seasons, only saw 23 snaps on defense during the regular season.
The Buccaneers currently have 24 players who could become unrestricted free agents at 4:00 p.m. on March 17. Some of them are sure to be higher priorities than others but the Bucs will in some way or another be looking to fill out an entire 53-man depth chart, including some reserves they will be confident calling upon for key roles if necessary. As free agency approaches, we're looking at 10 of those 24 potential free agents, all of whom played significant roles in 2020 or fill roles that might be difficult to duplicate:
February 16: ILB Lavonte David
February 19: WR Chris Godwin
February 23: RB Leonard Fournette
February 26: K Ryan Succop
March 2: DL Rakeem Nunez-Roches
March 5: QB Blaine Gabbert
March 9: WR Antonio Brown
March 12: TE Rob Gronkowski
March 15: OLB Shaquil Barrett
March 16: DL Ndamukong Suh
This list is subject to change based on potential roster moves in the coming weeks. Today we examine one of those trusted players the Bucs didn't end up calling upon in 2020:
Player: Blaine Gabbert
Experience: Entering 11th NFL season
How Acquired: Signed as a free agent on March 27, 2019 after he was released by Tennessee 11 days earlier
Previous Contract(s): Gabbert played the 2020 season on his second consecutive one-year deal with the Buccaneers, having re-signed on April 3 of last spring, a few weeks into free agency. Originally the 10th overall pick in the 2011 draft by Jacksonville, he signed the four-year contract with a team option for a fifth season that had just become standard for first-round draft picks with a new CBA that year. After three seasons with the Jaguars, Gabbert was traded in March of 2014 to the San Francisco 49ers, who inherited the remainder of that rookie deal. San Francisco did not exercise that fifth-year option but did re-sign him to a new two-year deal a few days into free agency in 2015. After completing that deal and becoming an unrestricted free agent, Gabbert signed with Bruce Arians' Cardinals in 2017. The following spring, he was an unrestricted free agent once again and he inked a two-year deal with Tennessee, of which he played one season.
Rank in Pro Football Focus Top 200 NFL Free Agents for 2021: Not ranked.
2020 Performance: After missing all of his first season with the Buccaneers due to a preseason shoulder injury, Gabbert returned to easily reclaim the top backup spot to new starter Tom Brady in 2020. Fortunately for the Buccaneers, though they had confidence in Gabbert they never had to turn to him as Brady started all 20 games, capped by an MVP performance in Super Bowl LV.
Gabbert did get into four games that had lopsided finishes (three wins and one loss) but had only thrown one pass through the first 14 games of the season. In the Bucs' 15th contest, Brady led the team to a 34-0 halftime lead at Detroit against a depleted Lions rosters and was given the second half off. Gabbert took over and completed nine of 15 passes for 143 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. His first pass of the game was a 25-yard touchdown pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Career Accomplishments: Gabbert stepped into a starting role in Jacksonville almost immediately as a rookie, replacing Luke McCown, and would open 14 contests in 2011. He stared another 10 games in 2012 and three more in 2013 before giving way to Chad Henne.
Gabbert backed up Colin Kaepernick in his first season with the 49ers but then started eight times in 2015 and opened another five games in 2016. He was a part-time starter for both Arizona and Tennessee over the next two seasons. Overall, he has logged 48 regular-season starts, including five in Arians' offense in 2017, with a win-loss record of 13-35. He was 2-3 with the Cardinals.
In his career, Gabbert has completed 851 of his 1,514 passes for 9,206 yards, 50 touchdowns and 47 interceptions. He has also run 186 times for 647 yards and three scores.
Other Potential Backups for Tom Brady in free agency: Jacoby Brissett (Indianapolis), Tyrod Taylor (L.A. Chargers), A.J. McCarron (Houston), Andy Dalton (Dallas), Nick Mullens (San Francisco), Joe Flacco (N.Y. Jets)
Top Quarterback Prospects in 2021 NFL Draft: Trevor Lawrence (Clemson), Zach Wilson (BYU), Justin Fields (Ohio State), Trey Lance (North Dakota State), Mac Jones (Alabama), Kyle Trask (Florida), Jamie Newman (Georgia), Kellen Mond (Texas A&M)