Following Tom Brady’s second retirement, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers began the offseason with a fascinating decision tree. With their Hall of Fame quarterback off the roster, would the Bucs target an experienced signal caller and try to compete with a depth chart loaded with veterans? Or would they step back and regroup for 2024?
NFL free agency doesn’t start for another month, so Tampa Bay still has time to put their plans together. But the team’s decision on how to handle the rest of Brady’s contract may have given us some insight into how the Buccaneers intend to proceed.
The Buccaneers plan to absorb all of Tom Brady’s dead money in 2023
When the Buccaneers extended Brady in 2021, they not only added one more season to his contract and made sure it stuck through the 2022 campaign. They also added null years, essentially fake years that exist solely to prorate a signing bonus.
When Brady recast his contract in 2022, Tampa Bay added another gap year in 2026. Instead of absorbing Brady’s signing bonus for only the length of his contract, the Buccaneers were able to spread that money over multiple seasons while maintaining more flexibility in the game. short term. term.
This type of financial calculation represented a departure from Tampa Bay’s salary cap management strategy. In the past, the Bucs rarely used signing bonuses, preferring to offer high base salaries that came with more guarantees than most NFL teams.
But with Brady in town, Tampa Bay veered from that approach. Instead, they began using signing bonuses as much as other clubs to move money into the future. The Bucs were kicking the can down the road, but that was a viable strategy with a winning roster now and Brady under center.
That streak of success may be coming to an end. Brady is hanging up his shoes, leaving Tampa Bay with a tough decision about managing the $35 million in dead money left in his deal.
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According to NFL Media, the Buccaneers plan to absorb all of that total in 2023. They’ll take on all of Brady’s dead money hit this coming season, allocating $35 million of cap space to a player no longer on their roster.
General manager Jason Licht could have taken a different path. If Tampa Bay wanted to maximize its salary cap space in 2023, it could have approached Brady about signing a one-year extension for the next season in which he’d never actually play. By giving Brady a league minimum salary in 2023, the Bucs would have been able to spread their dead money over the next two years.
In that scenario, Tampa Bay could have deferred placing Brady on the retired list until after June 1. At that point, Brady would have had just $11.9 million in the Bucs’ salary cap for 2023.
That would have been a savings of nearly more than $23 million compared to what Tampa Bay plans to do. With that extra cap space, the Buccaneers could have gotten involved in the veteran quarterback market and targeted someone like Derek Carr or Jimmy Garoppolo as their next quarterback.
Instead, Tampa Bay will take a hit from Brady right away. That decision sends a clear signal that the Buccaneers plan to take a step back in 2023, but it also opens up two more pressing questions: Who will play quarterback in Tampa Bay? Will the Bucs try to trade any of their veterans?
Will Kyle Trask get his chance for the Buccaneers?
Let’s try to answer the quarterback’s question first. The Buccaneers have the worst salary cap situation in the NFL at $55+ million over the cap. I assumed Tampa Bay would fix Brady’s contract as outlined, restructure other veteran contracts and try to compete in 2023.
But with a retired Brady taking $35 million, the Bucs won’t have room to find a veteran quarterback. Sure, they might have enough cap space to target someone like Andy Dalton, Baker Mayfield or Taylor Heinicke, but I think they probably won’t have to go after a quarterback like Jacoby Brisset.
What does that mean for the Buccaneers? It sure sounds like it’s Kyle Trask season.
Trask, who Tampa Bay selected 64th overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, has barely played since entering the NFL. Brady didn’t like walking out of games, including beatings, and even then, Blaine Gabbert was the Bucs’ No. 2 quarterback ahead of Trask.
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Trask has attempted just nine NFL passes, all of which came in Tampa Bay’s 2022, Week 18 pointless game against the Atlanta Falcons. Trask didn’t enter that contest until midway through the fourth quarter, when he proceeded to complete three of those nine passes for 23 yards.
The University of Florida product has played well in the preseason, especially in 2022, when he showed more arm strength than his college scouting report might have indicated. At 6’5”, 235 pounds, Trask is the quintessential NFL size and was named a Heisman finalist after throwing for 43 touchdowns during his final season with the Gators.
While he has the physical build, Trask is still a virtual unknown at the NFL level. Can he diagnose opposing defenses before and after the snap? Can he speed up his mental and physical processing to align with NFL speed?
The Buccaneers still have plenty of offensive talent on their roster, so Trask won’t necessarily be asked to elevate those around him. New Tampa Bay offensive coordinator and former Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks coach Dave Canales helped Geno Smith break out after not seeing regular action for years, and Trask could represent a similar project.
If the Buccaneers are truly committed to a rebuild, starting Trask probably makes the most sense. By the end of the 2023 season, Tampa Bay will either feel secure with Trask as their franchise quarterback or will have lost enough games to be in range to draft a new sign in 2024.
Could the Bucs trade Mike Evans or Chris Godwin?
If Trask is Tampa Bay’s Week 1 starter, the Buccaneers would only make his life more difficult by trading some of the team’s veteran core. But dealing with some players to acquire extra draft capital could be the right move if Tampa Bay doesn’t plan to compete in 2023.
Mike Evans could be a candidate to be traded, especially since he only has one year left on his contract. He has had at least 65 receptions and 1,000 yards in the nine seasons of his career. Still, last year felt like a negative season for Evans, both because his chemistry with Brady seemed to fade and because he scored just six touchdowns (three of which came in Week 17).
Evans is owed a $13 million salary and a $1.5 roster bonus in 2023. I’m not sure the Buccaneers could get a first-round pick by trading him, but a second-round pick shouldn’t be out of the question. , especially for teams like the Chicago Bears, New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens, who could add a winner to their offense.
A team that acquired fellow Bucs receiver Chris Godwin would assume a slightly more substantial contact. Godwin has two years and $40 million left on his contract, but he’s still just 27 years old.
While Tampa Bay would trade him just one year after agreeing to a three-year extension, the Bucs would have paid him $19 million for that production season, about the same as the 2022 wide receiver franchise tag.
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Other potential trade candidates litter the Buccaneers’ roster. Tampa Bay has already paid cornerback Carlton Davis III $15 million, but they could cancel the rest of his contract while they acquire additional assets.
Guard Shaq Mason, who the Bucs picked up from the Patriots last summer, could possibly get a mid- or late-round pick. Linebacker Devin White might be harder to move given his $11 million-plus salary, but a rival team could target the former No. 5 overall pick based on their predraft evaluation.
In the meantime, given the team’s limited salary cap space, Tampa Bay is likely to say goodbye to its crop of pending free agents. Lavonte David is a Buccaneers icon, but there’s no point in a rebuilding team extending a 33-year-old linebacker, especially if the price tag hits $12 million a year.
Likewise, Jamel Dean and Mike Edwards have been standout members of the Tampa Bay secondary, but they’re likely to get better offers on the open market than the Bucs should be proposing. Maybe Tampa Bay can re-sign cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting to a modest deal, but for the most part, the team will have to let its free agents go.
This is the beginning of a new era for Buccaneers. We already knew that would be the case once Brady announced his retirement, but Tampa Bay’s decision to accept his full salary cap in 2023 highlights the nature of an impending rebuild. Next season might not be as fruitful for the Buccaneers, but with the right management, things could look a little brighter in Tampa Bay for 2024.