TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have agreed to terms with running back Giovani Bernard on a one-year deal, a source told ESPN on Monday, giving the Bucs an eight-year veteran's presence and solid pair of hands in a running back room that already has Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette, along with second-year back Ke'Shawn Vaughn.
Bernard got a late start to free agency, as the Cincinnati Bengals did not release him until last week in a salary-cap-saving move. A source told ESPN he spent the weekend weighing multiple offers, but after he was personally contacted by both head coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Tom Brady, Bernard opted to sign with Tampa Bay, where he could be a viable contributor in the short passing game.
Jones is not known as a pass-catcher, while Fournette, who took on a backup role before a big postseason, did have some drops. Both Jones and Fournette had five drops in the 2020 regular season -- tied for second most among running backs in the league.
Bernard, 29, produced 355 receiving yards last season -- 12th most in the league among running backs. Since his rookie season in 2013, Bernard is third among NFL running backs in receptions (342), targets (445) and receiving yards (2,867).
Brady targeted running backs on 121 pass attempts during the 2020 regular season -- seventh most in the NFL. But his completion percentage when targeting that position was 69.4% -- 26th in the league.
Bernard's change of direction, cutting prowess and ability to dodge tacklers gives the Bucs something different, as Jones and Fournette are more north and south runners.
Bernard was recruited by the 49ers and Seahawks, per a source close to the situation. Not only did Brady and Arians call him, he heard from Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson, as well.
When asked two weeks ago, Arians did not commit to a starter at running back for the 2021 season, meaning all jobs are up for grabs -- a contrast to when Fournette arrived just before the start of the regular season last year and Arians said Jones would remain the starter.
"That will all be defined through practice and OTAs and training camp and preseason," Arians said two weeks ago. "There are no starters. This is a new football team. I made that message clear when they left, that that team won the Super Bowl. This team hasn't done s---. All those things will be defined in practice."