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TAMPA, Fla. With quarterback Tom Brady officially retired, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers must bet on finding his replacement. “Operation Shoeless Joe Jackson” was the code name invented by Buc’s director of gaming staff, John Spytek, for the organization’s hunt for Brady two years ago. Can they lure a top free agent to Tampa through free agency or a trade? Will they face the future of Kyle Trask, who was drafted in the second round last spring?
They have a list ready to win now if they can keep the core of it intact; but without a quarterback it does not matter.
“It has not completely shocked us in the last 24 hours that this could happen, so we have prepared ourselves,” general manager Jason Licht said on Tuesday. “We were in this situation a few years ago where [coach] bruce [Arians] and I both said we’ll have to look behind door # 2. We’re in that position again. … We will explore all avenues to try to make the best decision we can for the organization. ”
The Bucs have about $ 20 million in payroll and a number of marker-free agents they are trying to sign, including wide receiver Chris Godwin, center Ryan Jensen, running back Leonard Fournette, cornerback Carlton Davis, safety Jordan Whitehead and right-back Alex Cappa. Tight-end Rob Gronkowski’s status is also in the air, and he said he would be open to returning to the Bucs even without Brady.
They showed a willingness to borrow from the future last year in an attempt to “get the band back together,” and re-signed players like linebacker Lavonte David and even Brady to contracts with invalid years, a tactic they had not used for a long time. a decade. They can technically do the same thing again to extend their championship window.
The advantage of having Brady was that he spent his career constantly taking less in an attempt to keep talent around him. Brady was the 15th highest paid quarterback in the league last season compared to his actual cap hit ($ 10,545,588), compared to $ 32 million for Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. Others may not be so inclined to do so.
Who they have under contract
The Bucs have a quarterback under contract for the 2022 season: Trask, who they picked in the second round of the draft out of Florida, but treated like a red-shirt year-old QB in 2021. He was inactive in every game. His reps were mostly as the scout team’s quarterback. Most of the last year was spent working on Trask’s technique to improve everything from his throwing motion to his footwork. They also worked on his strength in the weight room and body composition.
“We are very excited about the development of Kyle, where he has come from in the last year, and what he has done,” Licht said, lowering expectations: “We are not crowning. [him] as heir yet. “
Asked whether Brady’s departure speeds up the schedule for developing Trask, Licht said: “I do not think we necessarily need to speed up the process with Kyle because I think we have him on a good track right now. He has become well trained and he has had incredible resources to rely on to get to where he is right now.We’ll see where it goes.We do not want to rush anyone but I could not imagine a better experience for a young quarterback to spend his rookie year than with the best player ever. “
Bucs’ two other QBs from last year – backup Blaine Gabbert and Ryan Griffin – are both set to become unlimited free agents.
Gabbert spent the last two years as Brady’s backup and saw some game action as the Bucs had significant leads. In 10 games over the past two seasons, Gabbert completed 16 of 27 passes on 210 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. The coaching staff believes that his development in the early part of his career was marked by instability and they trust him.
Griffin is the Bucs’ longest-serving quarterback in seven seasons despite only seeing action in two games in the regular season in 2019. He spent six seasons on the active list before the arrival of Trask knocked him down the pick order.
Who is available?
As for the current free agents – it seems unlikely that the Bucs would pursue the previous overall choice Jameis Winston after parting ways with him after the 2019 season. They were interested in Teddy Bridgewater two years ago when they landed Brady, and saw him as an alternative if Brady fell through, and some oddsmakers have even put him as a favorite.
Would they consider Andy Dalton, or would he at this point be a sideline from Gabbert?
ESPN’s Bill Barnwell suggests Mike White would be an interesting name. The former Western Kentucky quarterback has previously been transferred from USF. He went 37-of-45 in 405 yards and three touchdowns to help the Jets beat the Bengals, but he has only a little more experience than Trask.
Other quarterbacks who may be available and have the right mix of experience with plenty of gas left in the tank include Seahawks ‘Wilson, Packers’ Aaron Rodgers, 49ers ‘Jimmy Garoppolo, Raiders’ Derek Carr, Titans ‘Ryan Tannehill and Colts’ Carson Wentz.
Rodgers and Wilson would be dream scenarios. The Bucs play against the Packers and Seahawks next season, so a trade-off seems unlikely in either case. The Bucs also met the Garoppolo 49ers next year, and he helped them reach the Super Bowl two years ago and the NFC Championship Game this year (plus he was Brady’s backup in New England), but they have last year’s first round, Trey Lance.
Carr certainly has the arm to fit Arians’ attack, and he is a strong leader who could help fill the void left by Brady. He has a year left on his contract and it is unclear how new head coach Josh McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler are doing with him.
Tannehill are at their best with a strong ground play, and the Bucs could certainly lean on that if they brought Fournette back. But there’s a catch: Trading him before June 1 would mean the Bucs are on the hook for his $ 29 million base salary for next season, which is fully guaranteed. The only way the Bucs could handle that would be if the Titans took on some of that pay.
Arians loved Wentz, who came out of college, and he had a strong fight against the Bucs in Week 12, where he threw 306 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. He’s big size and can extend games, but injuries have been an issue and he has a daunting contract of $ 82 million to be paid over the next three seasons.
Could they draft a QB?
Unlikely. It is considered to be one of the weakest QB draft classes in recent times. Plus, the Bucs feel strongly that Trask is doing well against this QB class.
How will the Bucs now retain the same culture they had with Brady?
He was basically a coach out on the field instructing wide receivers on how to run their routes specifically for him. He wanted to lead meetings. This is not to say that position coaches would not instruct, but Brady would specifically tell the players what he needed and his record and experience allowed him to do so. That’s a lot to demand of a quarterback coming in, and too much for someone who’s just started at the position in the NFL.
“I think it will continue,” Licht said. “We’re losing a legend in Tom and no one wants to lose a legend, but the experience he’s given these guys with only his actions and his leadership – along with our head coach, who we still have – will continue to lead ours. team and continue to build on it. We will continue to be successful because of it. I’m sure of it. “
On top of these concerns, Bucs’ non-divisional opponents for next season (the schedule will not be released until April) are brutal, with eight of them reaching the off-season. Outside of NFC South, they will face the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Rams, Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers and San Francisco 49ers. Together, their opponents in 2022 were a combined 154-134-1 last season.