TAMPA — Even though Vincent Jackson's receiving numbers were in decline, you can measure the man's worth by the number of people it will take to do his job.
It's going to take a village to replace Jackson, in part because the Bucs don't have anyone with his toolbox.
Want someone who can stretch the field on occasion? The Bucs may have to utilize Donteea Dye, a second-year pro who was waived injured in August but re-signed this week. He has 11 career receptions for 132 yards and a touchdown.
Need a good route runner? Adam Humphries could move from the slot, but at 5 feet 11, 195 pounds, he may be re-routed by more physical defensive backs.
Need someone experienced who has been in the end zone a few times? Cecil Shorts, with 219 career catches for 2,839 yards and 14 touchdowns, could be your guy. How about someone physical enough to set the edge on running plays? You're in, Russell Shepard.
"You're talking about a pro's pro, a guy who even when he wasn't catching the football, the coaching staff and the team trusted him to do a lot of the dirty work, a lot of things that people don't see," Shepard said. "And for a guy to do that in his 12th year was huge. So we're going to do a receiver by committee. We're going to make up for not having him. But at the same time, you can't really even do what VJacks brought. The guy is just an amazing football player on top of being a pro."
It's not like the Bucs haven't had some practice playing without Jackson. The big fear when you are counting on a 33-year-old receiver, who is among your highest-paid players at $9.77 million, is that he's not going to become more durable.
Jackson missed six games last season with a pair of knee injuries that the Bucs attributed to bad luck more than aging joints. But without the 6-foot-5, three-time Pro Bowl receiver, the Bucs went 2-4.
Life didn't get much easier for Mike Evans, who already sees enough double teams but is likely to draw even more attention.
"I think last year when this happened we were a younger group and we didn't have experience," Humphries said. "D.D. (Dye) and I were scrambling and fighting. It was our first year in the NFL and we were just trying to make a name for ourselves. Now I feel like we've kind of settled in, and now with this injury it hurts us. But we've been in this position before so we've just got to go out there and make plays."
Humphries already was second on the club in receiving behind Evans with 20 catches for 216 yards. Moving him out of the slot could potentially weaken two positions.
"This being my second year in the offense, I feel like I'm pretty comfortable going to the outside position," Humphries said. "Obviously, I've been working all slot this year, but if they need to go outside and run some outside stuff, I can do that, too."
Stay updated on the Buccaneers
Subscribe to our free Bucs RedZone newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Something else to consider. Because Jackson and Evans have been the fixtures at receiver the past few years, some of the other players haven't gotten many repetitions with quarterback Jameis Winston.
"A lot of us haven't had as many snaps as VJacks and Mike Evans, so anytime we can get on the field and contribute and build some chemistry with our quarterback, it's huge," Shepard said. "It's good for the team."
Ultimately, the playmaking void may be filled by players such as tight end Cameron Brate, who is capable of an expanded role and is third on the club with 197 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
"Everybody has to pick up that slack," coach Dirk Koetter said. "Running backs, tight ends, other wideouts. It's going to be a work in progress. We're just going to have to see how it settles in. Mainly, the hardest thing on that is because the other wideouts coming haven't been playing very much, with the exception of Adam (Humphries) and Shepard."