It’s now nearly official: The Bucs successfully have kept the 2020 Super Bowl team together.
The team on Friday agreed to terms with free-agent tailback Leonard Fournette on a one-year, $3.25 million deal that could reach $4 million if incentives are met.
Once the one-year deals with Fournette and veteran defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh are formally announced by the team, all 22 Bucs starters from Super Bowl 55 — as well as kicker Ryan Succop, punter Bradley Pinion and long snapper Zach Triner — will be under contract for 2021. Additionally, nearly the entire coaching staff, including Bruce Arians and all three of his coordinators, are set to return.
The last team to return all of its Super Bowl starters (according to the Elias Sports Bureau): the 1977 Raiders, who reached the AFC title game the following year.
The team’s only prominent free agent who still hasn’t reached an agreement for next season is receiver Antonio Brown, who conceivably also could return on a short-term deal.
“Beyond excited,” general manager Jason Licht said on SiriusXM’s NFL Radio earlier Friday, prior to the news of Fournette’s agreement.
“You know what you’ve got, you know what your players are, you know what they’re capable of, and there’s no trial and error with them. You’re jumping in right where you left off, so that’s huge.”
One of the Bucs’ more uplifting stories during their Super Bowl run, Fournette evolved from disillusioned to dominant in his inaugural season in Tampa Bay, embracing the moniker “Playoff Lenny.”
Waived by the Jaguars last summer, he signed a one-year deal with the Bucs on Sept. 6 and ran for 103 yards in Game Two against Carolina but eventually grew disillusioned with his role as a backup to Ronald Jones. By Week 14, he had been deactivated for a home game against the Vikings though he was healthy at the time.
A late-season heart-to-heart with Arians seemed to alter his perspective. When Jones was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list late in the season, Fournette ran for three touchdowns over the final three regular-season games.
He then exploded in the postseason, running for 300 yards and three TDs on 64 carries, while catching 18 of the 21 passes targeted toward him for 148 yards and another score.
“I’m really, really proud of Leonard and the way he’s handled it,” Arians said prior to the Super Bowl.
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