TAMPA — The Bucs looked to a division rival to find their No. 3 receiver, signing Falcons free agent Russell Gage on Tuesday.
Offsetting that surprise development: free-agent safety Jordan Whitehead, arguably one of the NFL’s most unheralded players at the position, agreed to terms with the Jets. Whitehead’s agent, Sunny Shah, confirmed his client agreed to a two-year deal.
About a half-hour later, the Bucs reportedly acquired Patriots guard Shaq Mason — who spent his first five NFL seasons blocking for Tom Brady — in exchange for a fifth-round draft pick. Mason, 28, replenishes the Tampa Bay interior following left guard Ali Marpet’s retirement and the departure (to Cincinnati) of free-agent left guard Alex Cappa.
Gage, 26, agreed to terms on a three-year, $30 million deal. The former LSU jet-sweep extraordinaire was very productive with Atlanta, catching 193 passes for 2,065 yards and nine touchdowns in four seasons.
But it was the way Gage finished the 2021 season that likely jumped off the film for the Bucs. He had 50 catches for 611 yards and three scores in the second half of the year.
Similarly, Whitehead’s film routinely floored the Bucs, who drafted him in the fourth round out of Pittsburgh in 2018.
Noted for his toughness and tenacity, the 24-year-old Whitehead — who played at a tick under 200 pounds — averaged 55 solo tackles during his four seasons in Tampa Bay, totaling five interceptions and 25 passes defensed. He suffered a torn labrum in the NFC title game at Green Bay two seasons ago, but played in Super Bowl 55 and had a pair of tackles.
While his projected market value (three years, $23.6 million, according to Spotrac) seemed to hamper the Bucs’ chances of re-signing him, the Jets are getting him for a perceived bargain. CBS Sports’ Josina Anderson reported Whitehead’s two-year deal is for $14.5 million.
Essentially, Tampa Bay chose to use that money to assume the two years and $16 million remaining on Mason’s deal. A favorite of Brady in New England, Mason has a 90.0 overall grade since 2016 (according to Pro Football Focus), which is tied for second among guards with at least 1,000 snaps during that span. He also has two Super Bowl rings.
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Gage, meantime, gives the Bucs a receiver who can pay immediate dividends playing opposite Mike Evans while Chris Godwin recovers from a torn ACL/MCL. He also provides an upgrade over Tyler Johnson and Scotty Miller, who saw their production fall off last season.
Jaelon Darden played mostly as a kick returner as a rookie, catching only six passes for 43 yards. Cyril Grayson made some big plays for the Bucs after being promoted from the practice squad, but has only 11 career catches for 215 yards and two touchdowns.
In eight career games against Tampa Bay, the 6-foot, 184-pound Gage has 48 catches for 484 yards and two scores.
Following the Bucs’ 30-17 win at Atlanta in December, a game in which Godwin had 15 catches for 143 yards to set the club’s single-game record, Gage told Godwin he was inspired by his play.
“I was just telling Mike (Evans), you and Mike inspire me, bro,” Gage said. “Been watching y’all.”
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