Welcome to 32 teams in 32 days. To get us through the offseason, we’ll be taking a closer look at every team in the league, in order of projected 2023 win totals. Up next: the Buccaneers.
Tom Brady isn’t walking through that door. And right now, that door may as well be a revolving one of the Buccaneers.
After three years of Brady and, in that span, two division titles and a Super Bowl victory, Tampa Bay is left to rebuild with some aging parts and no quarterback of the future. With Brady retired, the job is left to a competition between Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask. With Mayfield likely to win the job, it’s his last chance to prove he can start and be productive after being the No. 1 pick of the Browns in 2018.
For general manager Jason Licht, the summer could hold some significant decisions. Should he trade Pro Bowl receiver Mike Evans, who is 30 years old and entering the final year of his deal? What about linebacker Devin White, who is playing out his fifth-year option and has already asked to be dealt?
With the Buccaneers nowhere near contention, Licht should consider all options with a roster low on young talent and high in cost. For Tampa Bay, it’s time to tear down their house and start the slow build back.
Biggest gamble this offseason: Not making a bigger splash at quarterback
One could argue this was the right decision by Licht and the front office. The Buccaneers need to think long term, and going after a bridge quarterback who starts for the next few years might not be the correct play.
Still, adding Derek Carr would have made Tampa Bay very intriguing in the NFC. Consider if Carr was under center, playing with Chris Godwin and Evans on the outside, along with tight end Cade Otton working the middle. Paired with a respectable defense, that could be the group that wins the NFC South and maybe fights in a playoff game.
Instead, the job falls to Mayfield, who is now on his fourth team in three years. Last year, Mayfield threw for 2,163 yards with 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions, between the Panthers and Rams. Even the most ardent supporters of the Heisman Trophy winner would be hard-pressed to argue he helps Tampa Bay in 2023.
Toughest stretch of the season: Weeks 8 to 12
The NFC gets only eight home games compared to nine away dates, and that catches up to the Buccaneers in Weeks 8 to 12.
Tampa Bay will be on the road four times in that span, including contests with the 49ers and Bills. They also have to make a pair of trips to Houston and Indianapolis, facing two highly touted rookie quarterbacks in C.J. Stroud and Anthony Richardson. Even the home game will be tough, taking on the Mike Vrabel–led Titans that promise to play a physical brand of ball.
Tampa Bay’s schedule isn’t too difficult with 10 games against the AFC and NFC South divisions, and that midseason stretch could determine its fate.
Breakout player to watch: Joe Tryon-Shoyinka
In his third year, Tryon-Shoyinka needs to become what the Buccaneers envisioned when they selected him at No. 32 in 2021.
The edge rusher has shown flashes of being a quality starter but little more, notching only four sacks in each of his first two campaigns. Tampa Bay moved on from veteran pass-rusher Jason Pierre-Paul before last season and now has Shaq Barrett coming off a torn Achilles tendon. If the Buccaneers are going to win games, it’s on their defense, and Tryon-Shoyinka must become an integral part of the unit.
If he struggles again in 2023, there’s a very good chance he doesn’t see his fifth-year option picked up. However, a strong season could mean big things for both Tryon-Shoyinka and the Bucs.
Position of strength: Secondary
If there’s one area the Buccaneers are stronger than most other teams, it’s the defensive backfield.
Licht has spent significant money and draft capital in this arena, including on corners Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean. At safety, Tampa Bay has seen the free-agency departures of Mike Edwards and Jordan Whitehead in recent years, but Antoine Winfield Jr. remains one of the league’s best on the back end.
In a division fielding young, inexperienced quarterbacks in Carolina and Atlanta, the Buccaneers might be able to force turnovers and get short fields from them.
Position of weakness: Quarterback
There’s no way to go any other direction. The Buccaneers have excellent receivers in Evans and Godwin, an intriguing tight end in Otton and a solid backfield. The problem is none of it matters if Mayfield can’t play.
At 28 years old, Mayfield hasn’t shown consistency or leadership that provides confidence he can lead the Bucs. If he can’t, the job falls to Trask, who has spent two years in offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich’s system.
A 2021 second-round pick from Florida, Trask was a two-year starter for the Gators and threw for 69 touchdowns against 15 interceptions. If Trask gets the nod, can he succeed early after throwing nine passes since being selected?
X-factor: The NFC South
In any other division, the Buccaneers would almost be assured of a second-place ceiling. Yet in the NFC South, there’s no reason to believe Tampa Bay couldn’t surprise if Mayfield plays well, as big of an if as that may be.
The Saints, Panthers and Falcons all have reason for optimism, but they also have plenty of potential pitfalls. The Buccaneers enter the season with the lowest win total of the quartet, but they also have the most experience and are the only team with a coach and quarterback who have each been to the playoffs. That counts for something.
Sleeper/fantasy pick: RB Rachaad White
White is in prime position to outperform his draft stock, as the Buccaneers cut ties with Leonard Fournette in the offseason, and didn’t replace him in the draft or free agency. White could emerge to be a nice No. 2 fantasy back in 2023. –Michael Fabiano, SI Fantasy
Best bet: Look toward the over on Chris Godwin’s reception market when it is released. Godwin will be stronger in his second season back from the ACL injury, and this team will be playing from behind often. Mayfield will target his talented slot receiver, who caught more than 100 passes last season. –Jennifer Piacenti, SI Betting
Final record: 5–12, 4th in NFC South