The Bucs need a backup plan if they’re unsuccessful in their pursuit to re-sign Chris Godwin.
The Bucs have won their fair share of offseasons over the years, though none were bigger than the one they had in 2020. They franchise tagged Shaquil Barrett and re-signed Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh, but the biggest moves came when they signed Tom Brady and traded for Rob Gronkowski. Of course, those moves and the later additions of Leonard Fournette and Antonio Brown paid off in the form of the franchise’s second-ever Lombardi Trophy.
Just two years later, Tampa Bay finds itself in an unenviable situation. Brady announced his retirement in early February, leaving a massive hole at the quarterback position. The Bucs also have several key free agents who they’d like to bring back. The team wants to keep its window to compete open in 2022, but there’s work to be done. So, how many of their free agents they can retain and the manner in which they find Brady’s successor will largely determine what else they can do when NFL free agency opens in March.
As we do every year at Bucs Nation, we’ll be bringing you daily spotlights on some available free agents that may or may not be fits in Tampa Bay. No potential free agent is too outlandish, and I can say that as the writer responsible for breaking down Tom Brady as a potential signing for the team two years ago.
Today, we get our Free Agent Spotlight series underway with a deeper look at veteran wide receiver Allen Robinson.
Allen Robinson’s Career Thus Far
After posting back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in his final two seasons at Penn State, Robinson was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft. The No. 61 overall pick quickly showed promise, posting 548 yards and two touchdowns in 10 games as a rookie before breaking out in 2015 with 80 catches for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns. He followed that season with a 2016 season in which he caught 73 passes for 883 yards and six touchdowns, but he then suffered a torn ACL in Week 1 of the 2017 season.
After recovering from the knee injury that cost him 15 games and the chance to play a part in Jacksonville’s run to the AFC Championship Game, Robinson hit free agency in the spring of 2018 and signed a three-year, $42 million contract with the Chicago Bears. He played 13 games for the Bears that year, catching 55 passes for 754 yards and four touchdowns. From there, he returned to his 2015 form by totaling 98 catches, 1,147 yards and seven touchdowns in 2019 before putting up 102 receptions, 1,250 yards and six touchdowns in 2020.
On the back of his back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, Robinson played the 2021 season under the franchise tag. As the Bears went through a quarterback carousel between Andy Dalton, Justin Fields and Nick Foles (for a game), the veteran wide receiver had the worst season of his career. Other factors, including a hamstring injury and a bout with COVID-19, also impacted his output. In 12 games, he caught just 38 passes for 410 yards and a touchdown. Now, before his age-29 season, he’s a free agent once again.
Why It Works
Tampa Bay’s receiving corps is in need of some attention this offseason, especially after the way the 2021 season ended. Chris Godwin went down with a torn ACL in December and not long after, Antonio Brown peace-signed his way out of town. As it stands now, Mike Evans is still the Bucs’ No. 1 receiver and the rest of the depth chart is, well, murky. Re-signing Godwin is sure to be a priority for the Bucs, as keeping him with Evans will be a plus for whoever steps in at quarterback. Truthfully, if it was a 100% slam-dunk certainty that the Bucs would be inking Godwin to a long-term extension, the free agent profile on Robinson would end here. Tampa Bay wouldn’t be able to bring back Godwin AND sign Robinson, so for the rest of this “why it works” section, we’ll operate under the (terrifying) idea that Godwin chooses to leave Tampa and sign elsewhere.
As a backup plan if Godwin gets away, Robinson would be a strong option. He’s one of the top five receivers available in free agency this spring, and he would make a good pairing with Evans. While an Evans-Robinson duo might not hit quite the same as the Evans-Godwin duo does, it’s not hard to imagine Tampa Bay still getting elite pass-catching production in the event that the former tandem becomes a reality. Robinson has great hands and can make contested catches
At the moment, we don’t know what the Bucs’ quarterback situation will look like in 2022. But Robinson has shown during his career that he can make it work with just about anyone throwing him the ball. He starred during the Blake Bortles era in Jacksonville and more recently produced a 1,000-yard season in 2020 with Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles rotating at the quarterback position. So, it stands to reason that Robinson can produce no matter who the Bucs bring in to replace Tom Brady. Simply put, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Robinson certainly wouldn’t be the worst consolation prize if the Bucs aren’t able to bring back his fellow Penn State alum.
Robinson wasn’t happy with his situation in Chicago heading into the 2021 season, as he recently told ESPN Radio that he didn’t speak with then-coach Matt Nagy for five months during last year’s offseason. Plus, there were reportedly “no substantive talks” between Robinson and the Bears on a long-term extension before he played last season under the franchise tag.
So, Robinson will surely be looking to move on from Chicago. And despite the fact that he’s coming off a down year, he’ll still want to be paid like a top receiver. That desire is likely even stronger considering he missed out on a massive pay day the last time he hit free agency, as his deal with the Bears came after he tore his ACL in 2017. Now, he still signed a three-year, $42 million deal and then earned north of $17 million under the tag in 2021. But he’ll be 29 when the 2022 season begins, which means this is likely his last chance to cash in at his peak—assuming he’s still capable of his 2019 and 2020 form, that is.
So, if Robinson still wants to be paid like a top receiver, he’ll quickly price himself out of the Bucs’ range. If the Bucs manage to bring back Godwin, Robinson certainly isn’t coming to town as a No. 3 receiver. And even if Godwin walks, it’s unclear whether Tampa Bay would be able to pay him what he wants. On that subject…
What’s The Cost?
It was reported last summer that Robinson was looking for a contract that would see him earn around $20 million per year. After a rough 2021 season and given his age, it would be something of a surprise to see him get anything near that on the market this spring. His projected market value on Spotrac is $16.3 million per year, while Pro Football Focus projects a three-year, $45 million contract (averaging out to $15 million per year with $27.5 million guaranteed) for the former Jaguars and Bears receiver.
Quite frankly, if the Bucs are spending that much money on a receiver to pair with Mike Evans, it better not be anyone other than Chris Godwin. Pro Football Focus even projects a four-year, $65 million deal ($16.25 million per year) for Godwin as he comes off of a torn ACL. So, if it’s down to $15 million or $16 million per year for Robinson or even somewhere in the range of $17 million to $18 million for Godwin, that’s a no-brainer of a decision for Jason Licht and his front office. Robinson is about to be 29 in August, while Godwin turns just 26 years old on Sunday. And that’s without even getting into the perfect scheme fit that Godwin has been for Bruce Arians and Byron Leftwich, as well as the fact that he is beloved in Tampa by those within the organization and especially among the Buccaneer fan base.
What We Don’t Know
For one, we don’t know how the free agency situation with Chris Godwin will play out. The Bucs want him back and you’d think he would like to return, but recent reports suggested that he’ll test the free agency waters. It’s still hard to picture the Bucs not finding a way to get him back under a long-term contract, unless he really wants to go elsewhere. So, until we know what the end result is with Godwin, it’s hard to even look much deeper into Robinson.
We also don’t know what Robinson is looking for in his next destination. Coming out of some sure-to-be frustrating situations in Jacksonville and Chicago, he’ll likely want to go somewhere he can get paid well and win. He might be turned off by the lack of clarity regarding Tampa Bay’s quarterback position, which would totally be fair at this stage.
And lastly, we don’t know how quickly the receiver market will move. It’s entirely possible that Robinson takes himself out of being a backup plan for the Bucs by signing somewhere before the team knows what will happen with Godwin one way or the other. So, yeah. It’s hard to see Robinson in red, white and pewter for a variety of reasons.
Make the Decision
If this was Madden and we could turn the salary cap off, signing both Godwin and Robinson would be the obvious answer. But this is the real world, and the Bucs have to be smart with their cap space.
It’s hard to imagine that there would be a single Buccaneer fan who might want Robinson over Godwin this offseason, but how would you feel about the veteran as a potential backup plan if Godwin does depart? Let us know by voting in our poll and discussing your thoughts on Tampa Bay’s receiving options in the comments down below.