Having officially signed with the Buccaneers on Wednesday, Julio Jones is stopping off in Tampa on his way to Canton.
Jones provides a great many attributes for Tampa Bay from helping to replace Rob Gronkowski’s production, to depth and experience in the wide receiver room.
He’s also blessing the Bucs with the proverbial embarrassment of riches, as quarterback Tom Brady now has at his disposal wide receivers Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Russell Gage and Jones.
“If we can get him on the same page, you don’t have to spell anybody,” Bowles said Wednesday, via team transcript. “If Mike and Chris come out and Russ and Julio go in, or if we run three-wides or four-wides or whatever we do over there, it’s an added luxury. And we still have young guys that can still play that have got to compete, too, so we have a lot of competition this camp, probably more than we’ve had since I’ve been here. When you become a good team, you’re going to have a lot of competition so there’s going to be some tough decisions to be made.”
The 33-year-old Jones signed a one-year pact with the Bucs right as Godwin, who’s coming back from ACL surgery, avoided the physically unable to perform list. Thus, the timing for a big-name signing such as Jones, a seven-time Pro Bowler, was perhaps a little surprising considering the Bucs had already signed Jones’ former Falcons teammate Gage during the initial wave of free agency.
However, Bowles lauded the timing of general manager Jason Licht.
“If you look at last year, we got beat up pretty good in the receiver room and we kind of limped to the finish line at the end,” Bowles said. “If you wait until midseason you’re not going to get a good football player, you’re going to be grabbing guys. Jason is very smart. We’re going to do the smart thing and try to get a lot of depth now, so we don’t have to stumble or hit a rock on the way, trying to win some ballgames. We’ve got people that can step in that know how to play.”
For 10 seasons, Jones terrorized the Bucs as one of the greatest Falcons of all time. However, injuries marred his final seasons in Atlanta and his lone year with the Tennessee Titans in 2021, in which he missed seven games. Thusly, the current matters at hand for Bowles concerning Jones are getting the veteran acclimated to offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich’s offense and maintaining him health-wise.
“He’s got to learn the system, No. 1,” Bowles said. “He’s been in a bunch of systems right now. He’s a pro. He’s going to learn it; it’s probably just the terminology. His health has been an issue in the past and he’s healthy right now, so we’re going to monitor that and keep it up and make sure he can help us.”
The ceiling for Jones, who has 879 receptions, 13,330 yards receiving and 61 receiving touchdowns in his career, remains high even if he’s clearly not the same Pro Bowl threat he was three seasons ago. And among the many reasons for the Bucs bringing Jones aboard the reigning NFC South titlist’s ship is the hope that he can help fill the void left by another future Hall of Famer.
“Well, he’s still a good football player,” Bowles said. “We’ve got to replace Gronk’s catches. We’ve got an extra weapon, especially in the red zone and out in the field and we’re going to put him to use. It gives us a chance to be more creative in some of the things we do, and we’re happy to have him.”
Two years after winning the Super Bowl, the Buccaneers have a “luxury” and “an extra weapon” in an all-time great.
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