He may have signed on a one-year deal worth the veteran minimum, and chances are, he won't emerge as the team's starting running back after the preseason. But do not be fooled, Giovani Bernard's agreement to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this offseason is substantial.
The Buccaneers entered the offseason with two priorities at the running back position: Retain imminent free agent Leonard Fournette to split duties with Ronald Jones II, and find a change-of-pace, third-down specialist to complement the power backs.
Both missions were accomplished. Bernard is a capable three-down back but excels on passing downs, something he's proven consistently throughout his eight-year NFL career. What he wants you to know, however, is that he'll do more than just catch the ball.
"Coming out of college, I think for me, I just wanted to be as well-rounded of a football player as I possibly could be," Bernard explained to media on Wednesday. "I wanted to be able to run receiver routes as a running back. I wanted to be able to block like a lineman in the backfield. So I wanted to be able to have those characteristics that, you know, an every-down back has.
"And, for whatever reason, you know I'm not as tall, I'm not as big or whatever it may be, but I still hold my own," Bernard offered about his ability as a rusher. "But I've been able to excel obviously catching the ball out of the backfield and just working those."
Bernard put an emphasis on viewing the quarterback - in the Buccaneers' case, Tom Brady - as a valuable investment that needs protection. So while yes, he's caught nearly 350 passes in his career, Bernard plans to provide more than sure hands during his time in Tampa. He looks forward to blocking for Brady and offering pass-protection strength that Jones and Fournette do not.
"I really take in[to] account the blocking, that's a huge thing and obviously, you want to be able to protect that investment behind you," said Bernard. "So I've always really relied on that."
Bernard's always done a good job of protecting that investment, primarily spending time with Andy Dalton and 2020 No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow in the backfield during his days in Cincinnati. Bernard graded below "above average" for a season in pass protection only twice in his career and is coming off of his best season in that department according to Pro Football Focus.
However, while he'll certainly offer an upgrade in pass protection, Bernard's ability as a pass-catcher is unique to Tampa Bay's backfield and should lead him to quite a few touches. Brady has always found comfort with a pass-catching running back by his side, which is something that was lacking during his first season with the Buccaneers.
Jones and Fournette caught a combined 64 passes for a measly 388 yards and one score a year ago, dropping a total of 10 passes throughout the regular season. Whereas, Bernard posted nearly as many receiving yards on his own with 355 on 47 receptions, dropping four passes.
Bernard stressed that receiving production at running back depends upon trust between him and the quarterback. Brady found such chemistry with James White, a friend of Bernard's from St. Thomas Aquinas during their time in high school, for six years in New England. White caught 320 passes and 24 touchdowns while Brady was a Patriot.
Now, Bernard looks to build a similar type of trust with the seven-time Super Bowl champion signal-caller, in search of an eighth.
"I think it's, part of it is the relationship between the running back and the quarterback as well. Understanding, 'Hey, this is what I see, this is what you see. Let's get on the same page,'" Bernard said. "So for me, I just want to be a tool for him and this organization to win another ring."