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Bucs wanted Breshad Perriman back, but needed to prioritize elsewhere

After a strong finish to last season, Perriman all but priced himself out of a return to Tampa Bay.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Breshad Perriman (19) advances the ball during a November game against the Arizona Cardinals last season at home. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Tampa Bay Times]

TAMPA — The Bucs wanted to retain Breshad Perriman as the team’s No. 3 receiver, but he ultimately proved to be a luxury they simply couldn’t afford.

Perriman ended up getting No. 2 receiver money, signing a one-year, $8 million deal (with $6 million guaranteed) with the Jets after setting career highs in catches (36), receiving yards (645) and touchdown receptions (six) last season with the Bucs.

He wasn’t going to get that kind of deal in Tampa Bay, especially considering the big-picture wish list the Bucs currently have, which includes re-signing defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (which they did Wednesday), working to extend receiver Chris Godwin and potentially committing to a fifth-year option for tight end O.J. Howard.

Related: Bucs’ Tom Brady embraces new challenge of the competitive NFC South

Perriman struggled at the beginning of the season with the Bucs. Through his first five games, he had just three catches for 16 yards, owned one of the worst catch percentages at 18.8 percent and was dealing with a hamstring injury.

But by the end of the season, he turned that all around. With top receivers Mike Evans and Godwin sidelined, Perriman finished the season with three straight 100-yard receiving games — he previously never had one — and had five touchdowns in his final five games, including a career-high three-touchdown game in the Bucs’ Week 15 road win against Detroit.

At that point, the Bucs feared Perriman might have priced himself out of a return, and that’s exactly what happened. Once former Jets receiver Robby Anderson signed a two-year, $20 million deal with the Panthers, Perriman was the best free-agent receiver remaining and the Jets quickly finalized a deal with him.

The Bucs came into the offseason with plenty of cap space, but signing quarterback Tom Brady ($25 million cap hit) and retaining Suh ($8 million), as well as outside linebackers Shaquil Barrett ($15.8 million) and Jason Pierre-Paul ($12.5 million) put a dent in that supply.

Godwin becomes a free agent after this season, and the Bucs want to lock him up with a long-term deal. According to Spotrac, he is projected to earn an average annual salary of $13.1 million a year. Godwin made just $875,041 last season and is slated to make $2.331 million in 2020 as a result of a proven-performance escalator raise.

Related: What’s the latest on the Bucs and Ndamukong Suh?

The Bucs also have until May 3 to pick up Howard’s fifth-year option for 2021. If they do, they would commit just over $9 million to Howard for 2021. It would be guaranteed only for injury this season and become fully guaranteed at the beginning of the 2021 league year.

Currently, second-year wideout Scotty Miller and third-year receiver Justin Watson would slot into the No. 3 role, but the Bucs will have plenty of opportunities in next month’s draft.

The wide receiver position is one of the year’s deepest in the draft, with anywhere from eight to 13 wideouts being projected for the first two rounds. While the Bucs would likely focus on offense line or running back in the first round, they would have plenty of receiving options at No. 14, potentially even Alabama wideout Jerry Jeudy, but could also see an impact receiver in the second or third rounds as well.

And because of the receiver depth in the draft, it should also create another wave of free-agent wide receivers.

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Speaking of running backs, former Bucs starter Peyton Barber signed a two-year, $3 million deal with Washington. The contract only guarantees Barber $600,000, an indicator of how slow his market might have been, and he enters a crowded backfield in Washington that likely slots him third on the team’s running back depth chart.

He will likely have to fight for playing time, perhaps working his way up from special teams duty. But that role won’t be new for Barber. He went from an undrafted free agent to lead the Bucs in rushing for two seasons in 2017 and 2018, but lost his starting job to second-year back Ronald Jones midway through last season.

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.

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