Tampa Bay Buccaneers Taking a position by position look at the Buccaneers heading into the 2021 season, continuing with tight ends. Carmen Vitali
Position Group: Tight Ends
Players: Rob Gronkowski, Cam Brate, Antony Auclair, Tanner Hudson, O.J. Howard (IR)
2020 Evaluation: Add tight ends to the list of positions that had an embarrassment of riches this year - even with the loss of O.J. Howard, who went on injured reserve after suffering a ruptured Achilles in Week Four against the Chargers. If you remember back that far, you also remember Gronkowski dubbing himself the Bucs' blocking tight end and well, he kind of was in the beginning as he got used to his new team.
But that didn't last as Gronk and Brady rekindled their connection as the season went on, culminating in not one but two touchdowns in Super Bowl LV. Gronkowski finished the regular season with 45 catches for 623 yards and seven touchdowns. In the postseason, he added another 110 yards and those aforementioned Super Bowl touchdowns. He did all this while also being an extremely reliable asset in the blocking game, after all. He was crucial to Tampa Bay's run-blocking scheme and even sat in on pass protection now and again.
Brate was the Bucs' next most productive tight end, though he was limited in his role with 282 yards in the regular season on 28 catches with two touchdowns. He was one of the Bucs' most reliable targets period come playoff time, though. In four postseason games, Brate had 14 catches for 175 yards and a touchdown. More than what yards he got, was when Brate got them. He converted crucial third downs, especially in the first two playoff games. He converted 10 of 14 targets on third down all season including both the regular season and playoffs. But what was really impressive about Brate was that over 60% of his catches in general during the season resulted in first downs. Those are some excellent numbers for a role player on offense.
Antony Auclair and Tanner Hudson were in the mix as well, though Auclair battled through a calf injury and was used primarily as the Bucs' blocking tight end. In all, the Bucs got 1,092 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns from their tight ends this season.
2021 Outlook: That being said, the Bucs will have some decisions to make based on Howard's health. Gronkowski was only on a one-year deal and therefore is set to be a free agent, along with both Auclair and Hudson. The Bucs will likely want to retain Brady's pal considering what the pair did in the postseason and their rapport with each other. But retaining the others plus Howard coming back goes beyond that embarrassment of riches we talked about before. You would potentially have four viable pass-catching tight ends on the roster plus a blocking tight end. No team carries five tight ends like that and with the way the Bucs utilize them, they have no business becoming the first.
What's interesting is while Brate is still under contract with the Bucs, he carries a significant cap hit going into 2021. Howard had his fifth-year option picked up, so he's in for one more year off of his rookie deal so he isn't a significant burden as the Bucs try to finagle their cap space. Once the NFL finalizes what exactly the cap is this season, we'll know more. Either way, it's likely that this room changes going into next season one way or the other.