TAMPA — Garbage time is when you might have expected to see Russell Gage in an NFL game after he came out as a sixth-round pick by the Falcons with only 26 receptions to show for his career at LSU.
But the 26-year-old developed into one of the league’s best slot receivers and confirmation came, awkwardly enough, when he was taking out the trash Monday night.
That’s when he got a call from Bucs quarterback Tom Brady, or so he was told; he remained skeptical.
“I had just seen some fake news on social media so my mind was kind of on fake news,” Gage explained Friday, shortly after passing a physical and signing a three-year, $30 million contract with $20 million guaranteed. “So when I got the call, I was in a state of shock and I’m stuck between this is unreal and this is not funny. Just trying to navigate my way through that. Then after we got going, I kind of realized this is something serious.”
Gage expects to have a lot more connections on the field with Brady.
Having played all four seasons for the division rival Falcons, he is very familiar with the play of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. He also has had some of his best games against the Bucs.
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 him and Evans how inspired he was by their play.
Now he will share the field with them.
“Just kind of watching them as players, (their) technique, as a receiver you kind of watch guys, you try to mimic things and learn things from different guys,” Gage said. “I’ve always admired the way they jell together as teammates, as players. You know, they grow. I play them twice a year and I get to see those guys in action and they do so well. So I just wanted to express that to them after the game, not knowing that I would end up on the same team as them.”
The Bucs struggled last season to secure that third receiver role. Antonio Brown started fast before an ankle injury and three-game suspension derailed his season. Breshad Perriman and Cyril Grayson each had a game-winning TD reception, but the production from that position was inconsistent.
Gage provides that quick-twitch ability to get in and out of breaks as a disciplined route runner. He also possesses the speed and toughness to play outside.
“Versatility. I can go inside and out,” he said. “I’m really dominant inside. I’m realty dominant against man coverage. Quickness. In and out of breaks. I get open against man coverage very well. That’s going to be lot of things that people notice about me, skillset wise. And outside of ball, you know I love my teammates, my quarterback. I’m sure things would be easy with (Brady).”
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A year ago, Gage was asked to take on a bigger role in the Falcons offense. Julio Jones left as a free agent to the Titans. Calvin Ridley took a leave of absence.
Gage took advantage of his opportunity. In the last eight games, he produced 50 catches for 611 yards and three scores.
“For me, that was big,” Gage said. “I came into every week prepared and I worked hard to kind of be in those roles. It’s definitely a big deal for me to step up.”
Now that Gage has had his introductory Brady moment, he has to get used to catching footballs from him.
“I was 3 years old when Tom Brady got into the NFL,” Gage said. “For me to hear from somebody like that. Just seeing the other day he unretired, now he’s reaching out to me. It was unreal.”
Bucs formally add Shaq Mason
Shortly after Gage addressed reporters, the Bucs officially announced the acquisition of veteran Patriots right guard Shaq Mason — pending a physical — in exchange for a fifth-round pick this year.
A durable cog on New England’s 2016 and 2018 Super Bowl title teams and a favorite of Tom Brady, Mason started 111 of the 116 games in which he appeared (including playoffs) during his seven seasons with the Patriots.
Tampa Bay must fill vacancies at both guard spots after Ali Marpet retired at age 28 and free agent Alex Cappa agreed to a four-year deal with the Bengals.
“I think our offensive line was a major key to our success — winning a Super Bowl and having a really good record this year,” Bucs general manager Jason Licht said in a statement released by the team.
“We want to continue to build that offensive line or retain the players that we have on that offensive line to continue that position group being strong, and we’ll just have to see how it goes. Sometimes what you want to do and what happens are two different things. But we definitely, ideally, want to keep it moving forward.”
Times staff writer Joey Knight contributed to this report.
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