Tom Brady‘s unretirement and return to Tampa Bay in the offseason electrified the fanbase and sprung hopes of another deep playoff run with the greatest to ever do it.
It was certainly a strange 2023 for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their fans Then, the season happened. A disjointed and predictable offense sputtered through the season.
Brady looked noticeably worse than in prior seasons. Byron Leftwich’s play calling was painfully predictable and unimaginative, such that he was fired shortly after the season ended. The offensive line was hit hard with the retirement of Ali Marpet, Ryan Jensen’s season-long knee injury, and Donovan Smith’s massive regression.
And the defense normally a brick wall against the run was susceptible at various times throughout the year. Now, the Bucs are awaiting the winner of the quarterback battle to determine who’s going to lead the offense in 2023.
The obvious downgrade at the QB position has some pundits wondering where that will place the Bucs amid an NFC South division that lacks an obvious contender – or much proven quarterback play for that matter.
For Matt Verderame of Sport Illustrated, the rest of the division apparently has better quarterback options such that Tampa Bay is somehow the worst team in the division. He calls for the Bucs to go 5-12 and finish 4th in the NFC South. Verderame does what many experts have done – moan over the Bucs choosing Mayfield as the team’s 2023 QB.
He believes that the difference between a player like Derek Carr and Baker Mayfield is the difference between the Buccaneers winning the division and fighting in the playoffs to finishing dead last in the worst division in football.
We’ve seen what quarterback play can do from 2019 to 2020, but putting that much stock in the difference between Carr and Mayfield seems like a bit of a stretch.
However, it’s Verderame’s take on the direction of the franchise that’s off. He takes it a step further than simply fading the team’s 2023 outlook.
He mentions age as a factor working against the Bucs, and as such believes it’s time to tear the team down and rebuild: 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. – Matt Verderame, Sports Illustrated
Well, he’s right about the cost part, but wrong about age one. The Bucs’ offense was the oldest in the NFL in 2023 by snap-weighted age, per Football Outsiders.
Understandable, considering Tom Brady was under center. Having a 45-year-old quarterback is going to skew those numbers quite a bit.
The offensive line is anchored by one of the best young linemen in the entire league in Tristan Wirfs, who will be tasked with making a quick adjustment at left tackle this fall. Mike Evans, despite turning 30 and who Verderame muses whether the Bucs should trade, is still a dangerous and productive WR, as evidenced in the division-clinching win against Carolina when he had a whopping stat line of 10 catches for 207 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Together with 27-year-old position mates Chris Godwin and Russell Gage, the team still has juice left on the outside.
TE Cade Otton showed promise as a middle-of-the-field target in the passing game last year as a rookie, and newcomer Payne Durham appears to have the blocking skills and reliable hands to earn the team’s TE2 spot this fall.
Jason Licht and Todd Bowles also appear content with second-year RB Rachaad White as the team’s primary ball carrier, who showed some good burst when given the chance last year. The defense will actually be relying on a lot of young talent this fall.
Rookie Calijah Kancey and second-year Logan Hall are the leading candidates to start on the defensive line alongside Vita Vea, or at a bare minimum will be important rotational players.
Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, who needs to break through in 2023, is just entering his third year. Jamel Dean was re-signed and pairs with Carlton Davis to give the Bucs a strong pair of 26-year-old corners.
Antoine Winfield, Jr. is one of the best young safeties in the game. So the implication that the Bucs don’t have a good crop of young talent is simply wrong. While the play of the quarterback position will be key for the Bucs in 2023 and beyond – just like any other team in any other season – the team has more than enough young pieces in place to build on, and doesn’t require a total overhaul or, as Verderame put it, a full rebuild.