Monday Musings: Time to Start Over?


Good evening, folks.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 31-14 loss last week to the since-eliminated Dallas Cowboys (tee-hee) put the Bucs into the offseason earlier than their fans wanted.  And it effectively took a shovel to the good time Brady era that we had all enjoyed for the last 3 years.

Because surely Tom Brady isn’t coming back, right?  Clearly it’s time to rebuild and go younger…yeah?

Well, let’s take a look at the circumstances first…

The Buccaneers are in cap hell, but one that is potentially navigable

Question #1 is, can the Buccaneers financially afford to bring back Brady and enough stars to keep this window cracked open for one last year?  If you look simply at the salary cap without context, it looks impossible.  As per, the Bucs are over $54 million over the cap in 2023.  Only the Saints (>$58 million) are in worse shape.

But, as cap guru Joshus Queipo notes, there are some ways they could get around this number.  The first is, yes, that elephant in the room…or GOAT, if you will.  Brady is set to be a $34.1 million dead cap hit if he does retire or signs elsewhere.  Re-signing him – depending on the number – would reduce the cap hit substantially, freeing up 8-figures worth of cap room.  That’s a great start…but one that might be a long shot.

It’s the other roster moves that will tell the tale.  Tampa Bay has a ton of unsigned free agents hitting the market.  Many will almost assuredly be heading out of town (Giovani Bernard, Kyle Rudolph, Scotty Miller, Keanu Neal, and Julio Jones are among the noteworthy names). And there might be some painful decisions to be made on veterans such as Donovan Smith and/or Leonard Fournette.  Does Buccaneers’ legend Lavonte David get an extension?  He’s deserved it, and it would help reduce his cap number – if the two sides can work something out.  What about a Mike Evans extension, which could be done in short-term-cap-friendly/deferred manner? There can also be restructures done on other veterans as Queipo notes, which could free up tens of millions of dollars.

So….can it be done?  Theoretically, yes.  So let’s put aside the impossible and move on to…

Can the Buccaneers get Brady back in 2023?

SHOULD they try to keep the plates spinning for one more year?  Because it ALL comes down to this: the Bucs have to find a quarterback good enough on the open market to come in and win in 2023.  Kyle Trask simply isn’t good enough to get the Bucs to the Super Bowl next year.  If the Buccaneers can’t find a solid signal caller, then there’s no point in creating more future cap hell for themselves without a realistic shot of a playoff push.

There have been multiple reports that Brady’s Bucs teammates believe he’s played his last down in Tampa Bay.  But the question is: where else would he go?  The 49ers seem like a logical fit, but they’re rolling right now with Brock Purdy and have a legitimate chance of going to and winning the Super Bowl with his level of play.  Would John Lynch dare disrupt that to bring in a 45-year old Brady?  I don’t see it, despite all the local ties for Brady to the area.

The Dolphins?  They seem ready to move with Tua, who looked good when healthy this season in Mike McDaniel’s offense.  The Raiders aren’t built defensively to make a run for a Super Bowl.  The Titans sorely lack passing game weapons of the Buccaneers or any other possible suitor and are in the murderer’s row AFC.

Honestly, there aren’t many good fits out there for him right now.  Which is why, if something can be worked out, his best bet is coming back in a weak NFC South and leading the Bucs to their third straight division title.

If not Brady, is there any QB out there that could help the Buccaneers get back to the Super Bowl?

You’ve got the usual suspects out there as QB1s who probably can’t get you far – Jacoby Brissett and Baker Mayfield.  Neither is really capable of elevating a team to the next level.  Uninspiring.

What could be more interesting comes from out west.  Jimmy Garoppolo appears to be the odd man out in San Francisco with the emergence of Brock Purdy and a high draft pick invested in Trey Lance.  Garoppolo will be an unrestricted free agent this year, and he should be one of the first calls the Bucs make when they’re able.  While not a top-flight player, he would be capable – with the right offensive coordinator and system – of leading the Buccaneers to an NFC South title.

I also think Derek Carr is a better option that Brissett or Mayfield, but likely not one that’s going to reach a Super Bowl with even a best-case scenario of draft hits and retaining veterans.  I think he might be good enough to win a weak South division, but one has to wonder if it’s worth kicking the can down the road if that’s the ceiling.  I’m less confident in him that Garoppolo.

Conclusion: find a quality QB fast, or hit the reset button.

If the Buccaneers can land Brady or even Garoppolo, I think trying to find a way to perform cap gymnastics and keep this group as intact as possible for one more run would be worth trying.  Division titles haven’t grown on trees in Tampa Bay, and a hot team – with a good offensive coordinator and either of those two QBs at the helm – might have a shot to improve on this year with a properly tweaked roster and staff.

Failing that, it’s hard to argue that the Bucs’ window hasn’t completely shut.  In that case, it would be time to give Trask a look at starter, cut ties with veterans, turn to the draft, and begin the painful process of starting to build what is hopefully the next memorable Buccaneer group.

The Aftermath with AJ & Slick

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