TAMPA — By this time in his life, Cameron Brate figured to be a lawyer for some big firm on Wall Street. But at 26, the Harvard graduate has made a good closing argument for why he should be considered one of the best tight ends in the NFL.
Brate's 14 touchdowns in the past two seasons is the third-most of any player at his position in the league. So Monday, Brate agreed to a six-year, $40.8 million contract with $18 million in guarantees, avoiding testing the market as a restricted free agent.
"I've been cut by the Bucs three times in my career," Brate told Sirius XM NFL radio. "When I started I thought I would play one or two years, so I've come a long way. So grateful to the organization, the city and the fans."
Cornerback Brent Grimes will turn 35 in July and was contemplating retirement this offseason. But he signed a one-year deal worth $10 million to remain with the Bucs on Monday. His seven interceptions and 35 passes defensed over the past two seasons and rare athleticism belies his age.
So that's how the free agent negotiation period began for the Bucs. In with the old, still without anybody new.
It's addition by limiting subtraction and it was exactly what general manager Jason Licht set out to do.
The Bucs slapped a second-year tender on receiver Adam Humphries, guaranteeing him $2.914 million for 2018 as a restricted free agent, a healthy raise from the $615,000 in base salary he earned last season. They also signed linebacker Adarius Glanton to a one-year contract worth $1.04 million.
Overall, it was a good day for the franchise to send the signal that hard work and production pays off.
Brate was an undrafted free agent. He found a spot on the Bucs practice squad in 2014, was cut by them the next season, spent a couple weeks on the Saints practice squad until being re-signed to Tampa Bay's 53-man roster in 2015.
Two years ago, he became the starting tight end after the Bucs released troubled 2014 second round pick Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
Even though they used the No. 19 overall pick last year on tight end O.J. Howard, the Bucs saw the value in locking up Brate through the 2023 season. Howard is a better in-line blocker in the run game. But Brate has demonstrated some uncanny chemistry in the red zone with quarterback Jameis Winston.
Humphries was an undrafted free agent from Clemson who caught the Bucs' eye in a rookie tryout camp in 2015. Last season, he was second on the team in receptions with 61 for 631 yards and one touchdown.
He's established himself as an effective slot receiver, so much so that there were reports the Patriots may have an interest in him. By offering that tender Monday, the Bucs have right of first refusal to any offer sheet Humphries may sign as a restricted free agent. And should they decide not to match, they would receive a second-round pick in the 2018 draft as compensation.
This is just where the Bucs are in the natural evolution of their team. Of course, when you are coming off a 5-11 season, change is usually the first instinct. But Licht has held fast to his belief of developing and retaining the best players.
It may not be sexy, but it is the sensible thing to do.
Meanwhile, the Bucs are kicking the tires on free agents and will likely move on a few shortly after the signing period begins at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
Every few minutes Monday, news of another veteran player shaking free would pop. There are intriguing, albeit expensive, possibilities. The Dolphins plan to release Ndamukong Suh. Could you imagine him lining up next to Gerald McCoy at defensive tackle? The rest of the NFL doesn't want to imagine it, either.
On Monday, the Bucs rewarded their own players. There's still plenty of time to add some new ones.