Dynamic new Bucs TE Kellen Winslow had back-to-back 80-catch seasons in 2006 and 2007
On the first day of the NFL's 2009 free agency period, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers acquired one of the league's rising offensive stars…without actually dipping into the free agent pool.
The Buccaneers acquired former Cleveland tight end Kellen Winslow II on Friday, completing a late-morning trade by sending undisclosed draft picks to the Browns. The sixth overall pick in the 2004 draft, Winslow has had two 80-catch seasons in the last three years and is considered one of the most talented players at his position in the NFL.
Injuries limited Winslow to 10 games and 43 receptions in 2008, but he played in all 32 games during the 2006-07 seasons and produced a total of 171 catches for 1981 yards and eight touchdowns. In 2006, he led all NFL tight ends and finished ninth in the league overall with 89 receptions, turning them into 875 yards and three scores. He was even more of a threat in 2007, with seven fewer receptions but 1,106 yards, an average of 13.5 yards per catch and five TDs.
The bold trade for a player who instantly upgrades the offense by a significant degree is the team's first major new-player acquisition since the promotion of Mark Dominik to general manager and Raheem Morris to head coach.
"Today's trade with Cleveland fits in with the new direction we are establishing for the Buccaneers franchise," said Dominik, who a month ago hired Jeff Jagodzinski as the team's new offensive coordinator. "We are very excited to add an explosive, dynamic playmaker to our team. We believe Coach Morris and his staff will be able to get the most out of Kellen's talents."
Winslow was one of the most coveted players in the 2004 draft, but he lost most of his first two seasons to leg injuries. He appeared in just two games in 2004, catching five passes for 50 yards, and missed the 2005 season entirely. However, upon returning to full health in 2006 he made an instant and enormous impact on the Browns, leading the team in receiving in each of the next two years. His 89 receptions in 2006 tied a team record for tight ends set by Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome.
Overall, in 44 career games (40 starts), Winslow has racked up 219 receptions for 2,459 yards and 11 touchdowns. As a reference, those averages of 5.0 receptions and 55.9 yards per game compare favorably to the averages put up by five-time Pro Bowler Antonio Gates and 10-time Pro Bowler Tony Gonzalez. Gates has career averages of 4.3 receptions and 54.5 yards per game, while Gonzalez has career marks of 4.8 and 57.6. Obviously Gates and Gonzalez, considered the gold standards at their position in the modern era, have accrued much larger overall numbers over a longer period of sustained success, but Winslow's recent accomplishments and young age – he won't turn 26 until just before training camp – hold significant promise.
In the immediate future, Winslow has an opportunity to bring a more explosive element to the Buccaneers' offense than any tight end has in team history. Tampa Bay's single-season records for tight ends are 62 receptions (Jackie Harris, 1995) and 786 yards (Jimmie Giles, 1981). The Buccaneers' last Pro Bowl tight end was Giles, who was selected to four all-star games in the early 1980's, is the team's third all-time leading receiver and is considered the top player at his position in franchise history. Harris is the last Buccaneer tight end to reach the 40-catch plateau in a season.
That's not to say that the Buccaneers' tight end position hasn't been a valuable position in recent years. Alex Smith has developed into a steady and productive two-way force since he was drafted in the third round in 2005, averaging 30 catches a season and providing strong blocking. Former Chicago Bear John Gilmore, also acquired on the opening day of free agency a year ago, is regarded as one of the league's top blocking tight ends and gave the Bucs bonus pass-catching returns with a career high 15 receptions for 147 yards and a touchdown in 2008. Tampa Bay's leading receiver among tight ends last year, Jerramy Stevens (36-397-2) became an unrestricted free agent on Friday.
Even under new leadership, the Buccaneers continue to use the trade option perhaps more than any other team in the NFL. In just the last six years they have acquired via trade such players as running backs Thomas Jones and Michael Bennett; wide receiver Joey Galloway, quarterbacks Luke McCown, Tim Rattay and Brian Griese; and defensive tackle Ryan Sims. They have also acquired additional draft picks or other assets by trading wide receivers Marquise Walker, Keyshawn Johnson and Keenan McCardell; tackle Roman Oben; guard Jason Whittle; and defensive tackle Anthony McFarland.