Giovani Bernard is a latecomer to free agency after the Cincinnati Bengals requested he take a pay cut. Bernard was not interested, and thus he was released today by the only team he's ever known.
Bernard is a running back in name only. He is most effective as a receiver coming out of the backfield, and that is where all his impact will come from. In 16 games last year, he gained 355 yards through the air, which isn't a huge number but ranked No. 11 among all RBs in 2020 and his 15 first downs gained was good for No. 13 for his position last year. Taking into account that he played with a rookie QB in Joe Burrow for the first half of the season and then backups for the remainder, Bernard can clearly contribute to a winning effort, even if he isn't a true difference-maker in the vein of Alvin Kamara or J.D. McKissic.
Bernard could be mighty helpful for a team looking for that kind of ability out of the backfield. Here are four potential landing spots for the eight-year veteran.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs spent this offseason working to bring back every contributor from their Super Bowl run and pretty much succeeded. The one area they did not address is pass-catching out of the backfield. Tom Brady loves to throw to those types of guys and while Ronald Jones II and Leonard Fournette do try their best, they aren't made of the right shifty, make a guy miss in the open field stuff to truly be effective in that area. Bernard could be had for cheap, especially if he wants a taste of winning after several straight years in the cellar of the AFC North. Tampa Bay couldn't or didn't care to pry James White away from the Patriots, so Bernard is the next-best option to give their quarterback every weapon he desires.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers don't really need a running back after giving Aaron Jones a big deal and with 2020 second-round pick A.J. Dillon still on the roster. But they did let Jamaal Williams walk in the process of re-signing Jones, and Bernard brings a similar skillset to the table. Bernard would fit perfectly into any two-back sets Matt LeFleur wants to play with and would serve as good insurance to replace Jones' production through the air should he get hurt at any point next season. Green Bay also brings a similar guarantee of winning football that not many other teams can offer.
New York Giants
The Giants have shown great interest in acquiring as many weapons as possible for Daniel Jones this offseason. Bernard would be another solid addition. Hopefully Saquon Barkley comes back good as new, but even if he does New York won't want to give him a huge workload to kick off the season. Dion Lewis filled the receiving back role last season and was not very good, posting a meager line of 19 catches for 119 yards in 16 games. Bernard had more production receiving than both Lewis and Wayne Gallman combined last year. He makes a lot of sense in terms of giving Jones a reliable safety blanket and bringing in relief for the only true superstar on the team.
The Falcons have widely broadcast their desire to compete this season despite finishing with the fourth-worst record in the NFL last year. Bernard would help. He had nearly as many yards receiving (355) as Todd Gurley and Brian Hill combined in 2020 (364). Gurley will spend the remainder of his NFL career with the well-earned label of injury prone and Hill/Ito Smith are marginal contributors on the best of days. If Atlanta is going all-in on Matt Ryan, they should give him as many weapons as possible to succeed. Bernard is a low-cost option to help him do just that.