The Buccaneers sold their soul in the 2020 NFL offseason and received Tom Brady and a Super Bowl title in return. Okay, maybe that is a tad extreme, but Tampa Bay is destined to finish with one of the worst records in the league in 2023.
Buccaneers: Tampa Bay Is In Trouble After Turning Page On Tom Brady Era
After 12 straight seasons from 2008-2019 without a postseason appearance, the Buccaneers pushed all chips to the center of the table when the franchise acquired the most successful quarterback of all time, Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr.
Tampa immediately made good on its league-altering move by securing its second Lombardi Trophy in franchise history. For Brady, the 2020 season marked the seventh ring in his illustrious career. Although the team qualified for the playoffs in each of the two ensuing campaigns, both Brady and the roster looked like a shell of their former selves.
In what turned out to be Brady’s final season, the Buccaneers limped into the postseason with an 8-9 record before getting blown out of the water by the Dallas Cowboys. The writing was on the wall for Tampa as the offseason got underway. Without Brady and with an aging (and expensive) roster, the franchise had minimal wiggle room to improve the group.
Lavonte David and Jamel Dean re-upped with new deals, sticking with the organization that drafted them. However, the free agent haul was less than inspiring. Polarizing signal-caller Baker Mayfield stood out as the most notable acquisition, even if the move was met with pushback from NFL fans.
Baker Mayfield Is Set Up For Failure As A Tom Brady Successor
Another year of wear and tear to the roster, along with uncertainty at quarterback, is a disaster waiting to happen. Even in a winnable division, the Buccaneers must rely on Mayfield to elevate the talent around him. That is a riskier proposition than visiting the Titanic in an aluminum can.
Was this a calculated move by the front office? Perhaps. In an era where tanking is becoming more accepted, it is hard to rule it out as a possibility. That being said, this isn’t a roster full of unproven talent — it still boasts several key members of the Super Bowl-winning squad from a few years back. They won’t just lay down and waste a year of their careers.
Still, there are a few glaring concerns that will ultimately be too difficult to overcome. Health and lack of experience on the offensive line are chief among them. All-Pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs is sliding to the blindside, which could result in some growing pains as he adjusts. The rest of the unit around Wirfs is iffy on paper.
Center Ryan Jensen is a high-quality player when healthy, but at the ripe age of 32, it’s fair to wonder if we ever see a fully healthy Jensen again. On top of that, Luke Goedeke and Cody Mauch possess starting-caliber potential but must prove that they can hold up against the elite of the elite on Sundays.
Mike Evans and Chris Godwin still form one of the most fearsome wide receiver duos in the NFL. Cade Otton and Rachaad White contributed to the offense as rookies in 2022, and both should see a second-year leap with another offseason under their belts.
Judging off sheer star power alone, the Tampa defense still looks like an above-average unit. The success of the group likely boils down to health, especially in the secondary as Jamel Dean, Carlton Davis, and Antoine Winfield Jr. all missed multiple games in the 2022 season.
Shaq Barrett only saw action in eight games, while Vita Vea was forced out of the lineup three times. In order to keep the team from regressing more on the defensive side of the ball, the Buccaneers need Barrett and Vea to be reliable and available.
Head coach Todd Bowles retains his position for the 2023 season, but his seat is hotter than a baked potato fresh out of the oven. Anything short of a playoff berth will likely result in Bowles’ dismissal. Fair or not, these lofty standards come with the territory.
Kyle Trask and John Wolford provide the only competition to Mayfield behind center. While the former No. 1 overall pick is a better player, it ultimately won’t matter which quarterback starts for Tampa Bay. A top-five pick is beginning to feel inevitable.
Tom Brady To Caleb Williams Is Worth One Down Year
Doubting a roster full of Super Bowl winners might be shortsighted, but I see the Buccaneers as a front-runner in the Caleb Williams Sweepstakes. Regardless of how you feel about tanking, landing Williams is a move that would set the franchise up for the next decade and a half.
Playoffs or a top pick… those are the best possible outcomes for Tampa Bay. Anything in between could place the team squarely in mediocrity for the foreseeable future. Either way, the 2023 NFL season will lay the groundwork for the next era of Buccaneers’ football. How do you see it shaking out?