NFL insider links Bucs to Austin Ekeler trade, and explains how it could work
By Josh Hill
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are being linked to a potential Austin Ekeler trade, and an NFL insider explains how it could work.
It’s been an interesting offseason for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in more than a few ways.
The Bucs entered the offseason with a $55 million salary cap knot to untangle, and also needed to figure out a way to navigate a Tom Brady-less future. Brady’s retirement also created $35 million in dead cap space, further hindering flexibility in rebuilding the team as it presses into a new era.
Despite these potholes, Jason Licht and the front office found a way to re-sign Jamel Dean — the top cornerback on the market — and bring back Lavonte David. While there was little money to spend, the Bucs also managed to sign Baker Mayfield to both compete with Kyle Trask for the starting quarterback job and also put the team in a position to at least attempt to be competitive in a year where national experts are expecting them to tank.
Competitiveness is still the name of the game for the Bucs, and there might be more moves to be made this offseason that continue to reinforce that notion.
Could Tampa Bay Buccaneers trade for Austin Ekeler?
NFL insider Matt Lombardo, writing for Heavy.com, mentioned the Buccaneers while talking about potential destinations for Austin Ekeler. To be clear, Lombardo didn’t say that a trade was in the works or that the Bucs are actively pursuing the Chargers running back, but he did go into great detail about why a trade makes sense on paper and how it could work on the books.
Of course, the biggest thing holding back any move this offseason, let alone a trade for Ekeler, is the prickly salary cap situation the Bucs are in.
Lombardo nevertheless laid out how the Bucs could make his hypothetical idea of Tampa Bay trading for Austin Ekeler work.
"Sure, the Buccaneers are in salary cap purgatory, currently $2.4 million overthe cap, according to OverTheCap.com, and Ekeler is set to be paid $6.2 million in the final year of his deal in 2023. But, Licht and the Buccaneers could extend Ekeler, dropping his cap number in 2023, while dropping a versatile weapon into quarterback Baker Mayfield’s supporting cast."
According to Lombardo, Ekeler’s trade price wouldn’t be out of reach for the Bucs, and locking in one of the best running backs in the league makes sense for the team’s future. We’ve seen what the Seattle Seahawks have done with a bevy of backs, and that’s the system Dave Canales seems to be carrying over with him as offensive coordinator.
Adding Ekeler truly would create a Too Many Cooks situation in the Bucs backfield, but it’d be a good problem to have. Tampa Bay has already committed to Rachaad White as the team’s RB1, and signed Chase Edmonds with what little money was available to spend in free agency. Ke’Shawn Vaughn is also still on the roster, and there’s intense early buzz for undrafted free agent running back Sean Tucker.
Ekeler is a top running back in the league, though, and instantly upgrades the Bucs offense. His versatility in the passing game would add an extra layer to Tampa Bay’s attack and would very much make the team competitive in a winnable NFC South.
One thing the front office has been careful about, though, is mortgaging too much of the future for the slim chance of competing now. We saw the resistance to trade up for a top quarterback this year — or taking one at all — in the draft and it feels like the team is taking its medicine rather than trying to continue chasing a title the way it has the last three seasons.
Acquiring Ekeler would suggest the team is taking a big swing to win now, but if it can be done without mortgaging too much of the future it might be a gamble worth taking.