The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed a number of veteran players to one-year deals in 2020, and most of them worked out quite well. That's a good thing, because those players contributions helped the Buccaneers win Super Bowl LV last month. On the other hand, that means the Buccaneers have a championship-caliber roster that is going to need some work to keep it together.
Each of the last four players in our Free Agent Focus series essentially fall into that group. Rob Gronkowski arrived in a trade with just one year left on his last deal in New England, while Shaquil Barrett played on the one-year tender offer that came with his franchise tag. Ndamukong Suh returned on a second-straight single-year contract. And then we have today's subject, who didn't even join the team until October.
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 a midseason addition who made a big impact on an offense that steadily got better and better in 2020:
Player: Antonio Brown
Position: Wide Receiver
Experience: Entering 11th NFL season
How Acquired: Signed as a free agent to a prorated one-year deal on October 27.
Previous Contract(s): A sixth-round draft pick in 2010, Brown originally started his career on a three-year rookie deal, one year before a new CBA made four-year contracts standard for draftees. However, he signed a renegotiated deal in 2012, the first of a string of such renegotiations, the last of which came in 2018. Brown was traded to the Raiders in 2019 and, after being released before the season, signed a new one-year deal with New England.
Rank in Pro Football Focus Top 200 NFL Free Agents for 2021: 30th. PFF Comment: "With Mike Evans and Scotty Miller taking more of the deep targets, Brown produced in a different way than he's accustomed to but still quite efficiently. He forced eight missed tackles on 45 receptions, with that 17.8% rate the highest since his rookie season in 2010. Brown is still one of the NFL's best wide receivers."
2020 Performance: After officially signing with the Bucs in Week Eight, Brown was first eligible to play against the Saints in Week Nine. He would end up seeing action in the last eight regular-season games, finishing fourth on the team with 45 receptions for 483 yards and four touchdowns. His production grew as he rounded back into form after a 14-month absence from the game, and he had 20 catches for 266 yards and four scores in the last three games of the regular season. Signed in part to provide insurance in case the Bucs' injury issues at receiver from the season's first half resurfaced, he instead became the primary running mate to Mike Evans and Chris Godwin in the team's three-receiver sets.
In the playoffs, Brown missed the NFC Championship Game in Green Bay with a knee injury suffered the week before at New Orleans, but still caught two more touchdown passes. He finished the postseason with eight catches for 81 yards, including a one-yard touchdown catch just before halftime in Super Bowl LV.
Career Accomplishments: During his nine seasons in Pittsburgh after he was drafted in 2010, Brown was the most prolific pass-catcher in the NFL. In that span, he led all NFL players in receptions (837) and receiving yards (11,207) and his 74 touchdown catches were second only to the 79 of his 2020 teammate, Rob Gronkowski. Brown led the NFL in receptions in 2014 (129) and 2015 (136), in receiving yards in 2014 (1,698) and 2017 (1,533) and in touchdown catches in 2018 (15). He has been voted into seven Pro Bowls, including six straight from 2013-18 and was a first-team All-Pro every season from 2014-17.
After playing sparingly as a rookie, topping 1,000 yards as a second-year player and being limited by injuries in 2012, Brown produced one of the most prolific stretches in NFL history from 2013-18. During that six-year span he topped 100 catches every season, never finished with fewer than 1,284 yards and averaged 11 touchdown catches a year. He also has five career touchdowns as a return man, four on punts and one on kickoffs.
Other Potential Free Agent Wide Receivers: Nelson Agholor (Las Vegas), Danny Amendola (Detroit), Antonio Brown (Tampa Bay), Keelan Cole (Jacksonville), Corey Davis (Tennessee), Will Fuller (Houston), Kenny Golladay (Detroit), WR A.J. Green (Cincinnati), T.Y. Hilton (Indianapolis), Marvin Jones (Detroit), Allen Robinson (Chicago), Curtis Samuel (Carolina), JuJu Smith-Schuster (Pittsburgh), Sammy Watkins (Kansas City)
Top Wide Receiver Prospects in 2021 NFL Draft: Rashod Bateman (Minnesota), Ja'Marr Chase (LSU), Terrance Marshall (LSU), Rondale Moore (Purdue), Chris Olave (Ohio State), DeVonta Smith (Alabama), Amon-Ra St. Brown (USC), Kadarius Toney (Florida), Jaylen Waddle (Alabama), Tylan Wallace (Oklahoma State)