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Free Agent Spotlight: Wide Receiver, T.Y. Hilton

Could the longtime Indianapolis receiver be the next to join forces with Tom Brady in Tampa?

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For several years now, wide receiver has been one of the biggest positions of strength for the Buccaneers. It certainly was in 2020, with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson all contributing and making for a group that was five-deep. Not to mention, Justin Watson has shown to be a capable pass-catcher himself and even he was typically Tampa Bay’s sixth choice at the position last season.

However, for as strong as the group was in 2020, it does have the potential to look different in 2021. Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown are both free agents and the Bucs have plenty of moves they need to make while staying compliant with the salary cap. On the receiver front, it has been reported that there are no plans to let Godwin get out the door. Plus, a Brown return feels likely given his relationship with Tom Brady and the fact that he’s a guy who other teams will possibly view as a risk to sign. If both—or even one—of Godwin and Brown are back for another season, it’s unlikely the front office will have to further address the wide receiver position.

But just for fun and because it’s important to consider all possibilities, let’s say the Bucs are in the market for a receiver this offseason—one to fill a big role in the offense. Could they look to add longtime Indianapolis Colts star T.Y. Hilton to the mix?

T.Y. Hilton’s Career Thus Far

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Indianapolis Colts Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Hilton attended Miami Springs High School before attending Florida International University for his collegiate football career. While with the Panthers between 2008 and 2011, the speedy receiver hauled in 229 passes for 3,531 yards and 24 touchdowns while also rushing for 498 yards on seven touchdowns on 69 total carries. He was the Sun Belt Freshman Player of the Year in 2008 before winning Sun Belt Player of the Year and Little Caesars Bowl MVP honors as a junior in 2010. Hilton then wrapped up his time at FIU with a record-breaking senior season in 2011. He set single-season records for catches (72) and receiving yards (1,308) while also finishing with the program records for career receptions, career receiving yards and career receiving touchdowns.

After a great performance at the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine, where he ran a 4.34-second 40-yard dash, Hilton was selected in the third round of that year’s draft by the Indianapolis Colts. The No. 92 overall selection started just one game as a rookie but played in 15, putting up a solid debut season with 50 catches for 861 yards and seven touchdowns. From there, he went on a remarkable run in which he surpassed 1,000 receiving yards in five of the next six seasons. In that span he was selected to four Pro Bowls.

In the last two seasons, Hilton hasn’t managed to quite reach the same heights as he did during that prime stretch from 2013-2018. In 2019—his first year without Andrew Luck as his quarterback—he was limited to 10 games due to injury and caught just 45 passes for 501 yards and five touchdowns. In 2020, with Philip Rivers as his quarterback, he played 15 games and brought in 56 passes for 762 yards and five touchdowns. Despite not coming close to the 1,000-yard mark in either of the last two years, Hilton still averaged 11.1 and 13.6 yards per catch, respectively.

For his career, the nine-year veteran has caught 608 passes for 9,360 yards (15.4 yards per catch) and 50 touchdowns. And now, enters free agency for the first time.

Why It Works

If the Bucs find themselves in a position where they need to replace the likes of Chris Godwin and/or Antonio Brown, they could certainly do worse than adding a veteran like Hilton. The last two years have seen the four-time Pro Bowl selection hit a bit of a decline, but he very clearly still has some big-play ability in him. His speed would be quite the asset for Tampa Bay’s offense, as he spent years being one of the league’s very best deep threats. While he hasn’t been quite the same in the last two years with Jacoby Brissett and Rivers throwing him the ball, he can still add value to an offense, there’s no doubt about that.

Again, if we’re operating within the scenario that Tampa Bay is looking to fill the role of Godwin or Brown in the offense, a receiver like Hilton would make sense. In fact, at 5-foot-10, 183 pounds, he is nearly the same exact size as Brown (5-foot-10, 186 pounds). And despite no longer being at his peak, the speedy receiver is still a guy with reliable hands and a ton of experience. Hilton may not be the deep threat he once was, but he moves the chains at an exceptionally high rate. According to Pro Football Focus, 42 of his 56 catches last season went for first downs. He doesn’t drop passes and he has proven to be great on intermediate routes. Hilton should have plenty left, plus teaming up with Tom Brady and the defending champion Bucs would provide him with a chance to get a ring before he reaches the end of his career.

But...

Hilton, truthfully, isn’t the receiver he once was and he may never get back to that level. Of course, that doesn’t mean he can’t provide value to an offense, but he may not be the specific type of talent Tampa Bay would be looking for to replace Godwin or Brown. He also hasn’t played a full season since 2017 (though he has only missed nine games total over the last three seasons). There aren’t a ton of questions about Hilton, really, but bigger than any age and health concerns is the fact that his market in free agency will likely be pretty significant.

Hilton, for the majority of his career, has been the Colts’ No. 1 receiver. He proved for years that he was deserving of carrying such a status, and there are going to be plenty of teams around the NFL that will be looking to add him as a No. 1 or No. 1A receiver for their offense. So, would he want to come play a role in Tampa rather than be the main pass-catcher for a contender elsewhere? Along with that, he’s probably going to command a pretty hefty contract even at 31 years old. The Bucs would have trouble matching offers from teams with more cap space, surely.

What’s The Cost?

Pro Football Focus projects a three-year, $28.5 million deal ($9.5 million per year) for Hilton to stay with the Colts. The projected contract would include $18 million total guaranteed, with $10 million guaranteed at signing. Spotrac, on the other hand, lists his market value at $10.1 million per year and projects a three-year deal worth about $30.4 million. While it’s hard to see him getting offers similar to those from Tampa Bay, the yearly average salary would obviously be less than what the team will have to pay Godwin. Then again, Godwin is seven years younger than Hilton, so that kind of salary disparity would make sense at this stage in their careers.

What We Don’t Know

We don’t even know if Hilton is truly leaving Indianapolis. He recently said he would love to remain with the Colts and the team knows that, but if he is going to play elsewhere he will also be ready for that new challenge. Given that Indianapolis just traded for Carson Wentz, keeping Hilton around seems like a nice proposition to help set the former Eagles signal-caller up for success. But even if he does depart and finds a new team for the first time in his career, there are going to be some teams that want him to be their go-to guy. In Tampa Bay, he would be sharing targets with a number of receivers, as well as the team’s talented tight ends. Perhaps going and being the No. 1 for a team like Miami would be a good fit for him, especially given that he’s from the area. There seem to be some intriguing fits being thrown around for Hilton right now, and the Bucs don’t appear to be one of them. What he’s looking for and what the Bucs are looking for simply may not line up.

Make The Decision

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OK, Bucs Nation. T.Y. Hilton is a big name and likely has a few years of good football left in him. But would you like him as a potential replacement for Chris Godwin and/or Antonio Brown if it comes to that? Be sure to let us know what you think by voting in the poll and discussing your opinions in the comments down below.

Poll

When it comes to T.Y. Hilton, what would you have the Buccaneers do?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    Sign him no matter what
    (1 vote)
  • 14%
    Make an offer, but keep it reasonable
    (24 votes)
  • 17%
    Invite him for a cup of coffee and see where it goes from there
    (29 votes)
  • 30%
    Call him up if they have a need after the NFL Draft
    (49 votes)
  • 36%
    Don’t need him
    (59 votes)
162 votes total Vote Now

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