Since the end of the 2019 season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have added the most decorated quarterback in NFL history, the most dominant tight end of the last decade and the league leader in yards from scrimmage over the last dozen years. Now that loaded offense will also feature the fourth-overall pick of the 2017 draft and one of the NFL's premier power runners.
On Sunday, the Buccaneers announced the signing of running back Leonard Fournette, who had been waived by the Jacksonville Jaguars on Tuesday. In three seasons with the Jaguars, Fournette ran for 2,631 yards and added 134 receptions for 1,009 yards, scoring 19 total touchdowns in that span.
Tampa Bay also re-signed veteran center A.Q. Shipley, the only vested veteran the team released during Saturday's round of roster cuts. Shipley had originally joined the team on August 27 to provide the interior offensive line with some much-needed experienced depth. The Bucs created the two spots on the 53-man roster to add Fournette and Shipley by placing wide receiver John Hurst and guard John Molchon on injured reserve. Hurst and Molchon were two of the four undrafted rookies who initially made the 53-man roster on Saturday.
Fournette joins a Tampa Bay backfield that includes incumbent starter, Ronald Jones II, who topped 1,000 yards from scrimmage in his second NFL season in 2019. That crew also includes veteran LeSean McCoy, the aforementioned NFL leader in yards from scrimmage since 2009, who averaged 4.6 yards per carry with the Kansas City Chiefs last year. Tampa Bay also used third and seventh-round draft picks this year on, respectively, running backs Ke'Shawn Vaughn and Raymond Calais, and return last year's primary third-down back in Dare Ogunbowale.
"That's one position [where] I don't think you can have enough good guys," said Head Coach Bruce Arians. "That's the one area where nicks and bruises really add up and when you can get a player of that caliber – I've gotten great reviews from people that know him and have coached him. He'll fit right in and then we'll see what role happens and how fast it can happen. RoJo is our guy, Shady is ready for his role, so it's just going to be building roles as we go along and having enough quality players to finish this thing."
View photos of running back Leonard Fournette from his career so far.
In a larger sense, Fournette adds his considerable talents to an offense that has star quality across the board. The receiving corps is lead by 2019 Pro Bowlers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and also includes the rising duo of Scotty Miller and Justin Watson. The Bucs may boast the league's deepest tight end corps after adding Rob Gronkowski – the player noted above as dominant in the 2010s – to a group that already included O.J. Howard and Cam Brate. And all of it, of course, will be directed by that legendary quarterback, former Patriot Tom Brady.
"He's a very bright player and everything I've heard from the guys coaching him – he'll pick it up really quick," said Arians. "We're not going to force him; we don't have to force him. We'll just let him get in his pace and if I know him he'll be pretty fast-paced. We'll try to get him up to speed as fast as we can and see if he can have a role for next week."
Fournette is a serious offensive weapon in his own right. Last year, he finished sixth in the NFL with 1,674 yards from scrimmage, combining 1,152 rushing yards with a career-best 76 receptions for 522 yards. He averaged 4.3 yards per carry and finished fifth among all NFL running backs in passes caught.
The 6-0, 228-pound Fournette was selected fourth overall in the 2017 draft after a dominant career at LSU in which his impressive combination of size and power led to 4,356 yards from scrimmage in three years and a career average of 6.2 yards per carry. In 36 NFL games since he was drafted, Fournette has averaged just over 100 yards from scrimmage per game.
The Buccaneers are determined to produce a stronger ground attack in 2020 after their high-scoring but imbalanced offense in 2019 ranked first in passing yards and 24th in rushing yards, along with a 28th-place ranking in yards per carry. The addition of Fournette should help with that effort and is yet another aggressive move for a team that appears to be "all-in" in 2020.
"Like I said, it's great ownership," said Arians. "They give us as a coaching staff every single thing we need. It's now our job to get it done. It's fantastic to have people that want to win that's running the organization. From day one when I met with them when I took this job, they were committed to winning and I was sold that they were committed to winning."
Shipley brings 105 games and 70 starts worth of regular-season experience to the Buccaneers line, where he joins Aaron Stinnie as the two interior backups. Shipley started 48 games at center over the past four seasons in Arizona, spending 2018 on injured reserve, and 32 of those starts came under Arians in 2016 and 2017.
The Buccaneers kept Hurst and Molchon on the active roster through Saturday's cuts specifically so they would be eligible for short-term injured reserve. To give teams greater roster flexibility as they try to operate amid a pandemic, the NFL will allow unlimited players to return from injured reserve in 2020. Previously, only two players could return from IR, though the new CBA ratified in March had intended to increase that to three before the rules were further changed just prior to training camp. Players who are placed on injured reserve can return after as few as three weeks.
View photos of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 53-man roster.