With the NFL Draft looming and still some free agents out there, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could not be in a better position. The defending Super Bowl champions have mastered the offseason to this point, being able to return all 22 starters on a championship team, amongst others. Going into the Draft, they may need to cut bait with some supporting pieces to save roster space and money.
The tight end room is an interesting one for the Buccaneers. It is a room that includes arguably the greatest of all-time at the position, a former first-round pick for the Bucs, and Cameron Brate.
Cameron Brate is the most dependable Buccaneers tight end of the three.
Now for starters, in no way is this saying that Brate is a better tight end than Rob Gronkowski. Saying such a thing would be considered certified lunacy because, well, not many tight ends in history have an argument that they were better than Gronk. If we’re being honest, Brate probably isn’t as good of an athlete, better blocker, or receiver than OJ Howard either. This doesn’t mean that Brate isn’t the most reliable.
One of the hot sayings in the NFL streets, or sports in general at the moment is that “the best availability is availability” when it comes to analysis. Since joining the Buccaneers in 2014 as an undrafted free agent, out of Harvard of all places, Brate did things the hard way. He fought for a roster spot for about two years, and since joining the team full time, hasn’t missed a game since 2016, when he missed one. For reference the season before in 2015 he missed two.
Meanwhile, Howard, the 19th overall pick of the 2017 Draft, has played 42 games since entering the league and has never played a full season. In 2020, Howard played in only four games, by far the lowest of his career. Sure, Howard has gobs of potential, and if healthy can thrive with this team, but the problem is he’s never healthy. Brate has been.
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With Gronk, yes he played in all 16 games in 2020, but on a bit of a snap count. He wasn’t the sole tight end in the lineup, because after years of wear and tear, his body is in absolute shambles. Fortunately, the Buccaneers also have Howard and Brate on the roster to pick up some slack. Brate more so than Howard since he’s stayed healthy. Brate’s 2020 stats were nothing spectacular, 28 catches for 282 yards and two touchdowns, but there is more to this story.
The other part of the story is the playoffs.
Howard obviously missed the playoff run, so that’s all you need to know there, and Gronkowski got a lot of praise for his playoff performance of eight catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns, both of which coming in Super Bowl LV. As for Brate? His playoff numbers were 14 catches for 175 yards and a touchdown, which came in the third quarter of the NFC Championship Game, the last touchdown they’d score in the game. Not only are those playoff numbers comparable to Gronk, but they are also objectively better, except for the one fewer touchdown. He basically filled the Joe Jurevicius role of unexpectedly going off in the playoffs during a Super Bowl run. Brate has obviously built a rapport with Tom Brady, more than Howard, which is most important.
The fact of the matter is this. The Buccaneers can not cut bait with Brate in favor of Howard and Gronk with no replacement plan in mind. Sure, one may come in the draft but there are not sure things there, and Brate has proven himself as a dependable part of the team. In fact, he is the longest-tenured Buccaneers player on the roster behind Mike Evans and Lavonte David.
With Howard and Gronk’s health and age respectively always a concern, with Gronk it’s both, Brate needs to stick around. He is simply the most dependable tight end currently on the roster.