Well, the 2022 season is finally over and if you’re like me, you’re relieved. This was not a fun time to be a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan. The frustration levels were high all year and I am personally happy to be done with it. However, before we can put this season to bed and behind us for good, we have to take a deeper look at what went wrong and what went right throughout the last 20 weeks or so.
That’s what this is.
I’m going to sift through the garbage pile that was this season, by each position group, to see where the Bucs need to improve this off-season to be more competitive next year. I will also touch on some of the free agent and contract situations that will need to be addressed, along with players that could be coming back and players who probably won’t be back. I’ll also touch on the coaching situation and the changes that could and probably will take place rather quickly here coming up. So without any further adieu, let’s get into it.
The Buccaneers finished 15th in total offense averaging 347 total yards per game, but just 25th in scoring offense with just 18.4 points per game. They were one of the most one-dimensional teams in the league finishing 2nd in passing offense, averaging 270 yards per game and 32nd in rushing offense with just 77 yards per game (10 yards less per game than the next worst team). Last year, the Bucs finished the regular season 2nd in total offense averaging 406 total yards per game and 2nd in scoring offense with 30.1 points per game. They were 1st in passing offense with 308 yards per game and 26th in rushing with 98 yards per game.
It was the largest difference in offensive production from one season to the next since 1978 and it can be credited to a multitude of things. The first was the injuries to the offensive line and the wide receiver group. The second was the losses of players to free agency and “retirement“. The third was the unusually inconsistent play by Tom Brady. And the last, but not least, was the lack of creativity and adjustments in the playcalling of Byron Leftwich. Some of things can’t be avoided or fixed, but the other things can. The things that are fixable need to be addressed this off-season in order for them to be competitive again. That will start with a new offensive coordinator.
The Buccaneers defense finished 9th in total defense allowing 324 total yards per game and 13th in scoring defense with 21.1 points per game. They were extremely inconsistent throughout the season, but finished 9th in pass defense allowing 204 yards per game and 15th in run defense giving up 121 yards per game. Last year, they finished 13th in total defense allowing 332 total yards per game and 5th in scoring defense with 20.8 points per game. They were 21st in pass defense with 239 yards per game and 3rd in run defense with 93 yards per game.
Even though the pass defense seemed to improve, they were only 26th in interceptions with 10 after being 8th last year with 17 picks. After not re-signing Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh AND losing Shaq Barrett to a season-ending injury, they still finished 9th in the league with 45 sacks, which is close to where they were last year at 7th and 47 sacks.
Tom Brady set multiple NFL, franchise and career records this season while completing 67% of his passes for 4,694 yards, 25 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. The Bucs had four quarterbacks on their roster in 2022, including Brady, Blaine Gabbert, Kyle Trask and Ryan Griffin. This group could go through some real changes this off-season. Brady is an unrestricted free agent and would be able to sign anywhere IF he doesn’t retire. If the Bucs bring in a new offensive coordinator with a new scheme, then Gabbert could be on his way out as well. Trask will obviously stick around as the possible future of the team. And Griff will at least be kept through training camp. Man, I swear that guy is blackmailing somebody in the Bucs front office to keep hanging around the way he does.
I have a feeling that there’s only two outcomes with the Brady situation. One is that he retires. But I don’t see a competitor like him ending his career this way. Not with the first losing record of his career. No, I don’t think he retires. I think he wants to go out a winner. And I think he wants to go out a winner in Tampa. That’s why my second option is for him to re-sign with the Bucs. There are tons of rumors and suggestions out there. There’s the Raiders. There’s the Niners. There’s the Dolphins. There’s the Jets. He’s been rumored all over the place. But the only place that really makes sense is back with the Bucs. He’s familiar with the organization. He’s close to the players. He’ll have a new, more innovative offensive coordinator. He’ll have his starting center Ryan Jensen back healthy. He still has one of the best wide receiver duos in the league in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. It just makes sense.
The Bucs finished with a historically bad rushing game in 2022 totaling just 386 carries (32nd) for 1,308 yards (32nd) and 5 touchdowns (32nd) while averaging a pathetic 3.4 yards per carry and 76.9 yards per game. They had a longest run of 35 yards, which was ranked 31st. The only team that was worse were the Washington Commanders with a 33-yard run. Leonard Fournette had 189 carries for 668 yards and 3 touchdowns and added 73 catches for 523 yards and 3 touchdowns in the passing game. Rachaad White had 129 carries for 481 yards and 1 touchdown and added 50 catches for 290 yards and 2 touchdowns in the passing game.
According to ProFootballFocus.com, Leonard Fournette and Rachaad White were the two worst in yards after contact out of 42 qualified running backs. Fournette’s 3.5 yards per carry was the worst out of 35 backs with 150+ carries this season and he averaged 7.2 yards per catch on 73 catches, where only the Chargers Austin Ekeler averaged less with that many catches.
The Bucs will have a decision to make with Fournette. With the emergence of Rachaad White into an every down back, the Bucs will have to decide if Fournette is worth his $8.5 million price tag. They could cut him and save about $3.5 million, but he would still count as $5 million in dead cap space because of how his contract was written. White seems like the future of this team’s backfield. Giovanni Bernard will probably not be back, but they still have Ke’Shawn Vaughn. And they could always take another back in the mid-rounds of the draft and/or sign a cheaper free agent back. But the big off-season debate for this group will be Fournette’s value to this team.
The Bucs finished 5th in the league with 4,746 receiving yards, but averaged just 9.5 yards per catch, which was 31st in the NFL. They were 6th with 279.2 yards per game, but their longest pass play was 63 yards, which was 20th in the league. They also finished with just 26 receiving touchdowns, which ranked 13th in the NFL. In 2021, they had 5,383 receiving yards (1st), 10.9 yards per catch (t-17th), 316.6 yards per game (1st) and had 43 receiving touchdowns (1st).
Mike Evans led the group with 1,124 yards on 77 catches with 6 touchdowns. Chris Godwin led them with 104 catches for 1,023 yards and 3 touchdowns. Russell Gage had 51 catches for 426 yards and 5 touchdowns. Julio Jones had 24 catches for 299 yards and 2 touchdowns. Scotty Miller had 23 catches for 185 yards and Breshad Perriman had 9 catches for 110 yards and a touchdown.
Evans, Godwin and Gage are still under contract for 2023, but Jones, Miller and Perriman are all free agents. I could see Miller coming back on a cheap deal. However, the more likely scenario is that all three of them are gone and the Bucs look for new additions in free agency and/or the draft. They could have a decision to make with Gage. He’s set to make nearly $12.2 million next season, with a dead cap hit of $9.3 million. However, if they wait until after June 1st, his cap hit drops to about $7.2 million. That means the Bucs could potentially save about $5 million by releasing him this summer. Tampa Bay will have to choose whether they want to keep him and his hefty price tag OR release him and save a little money.
This group was almost nonexistent in Byron Leftwich’s offense. Rookie Cade Otton led them with 42 catches for 391 yards and 2 touchdowns averaging 9.3 yards per catch. Cameron Brate was next with 20 catches for 174 yards. Next was the other rookie Ko Kieft with 7 catches for 80 yards and a touchdown. And last was the free agent bust of the season Kyle Rudolph with 3 catches for 28 yards and a touchdown.
Otton and Kieft will obviously return for their second seasons, but it looks like Brate and Rudolph could be sent packing. Rudolph was injured for much of the season, playing just 9 games, and Brate will likely be a cap casualty, as the Bucs could save about $2 million by releasing him. I see the Bucs looking to add a veteran tight end in free agency (possibly Gronk?) and probably another in the draft.
This is where the Buccaneers need to put a lot of their focus this off-season. They only gave up 22 sacks, which was fewest in the league, but that’s because Tom Brady was getting rid of the ball so fast. He had no choice. And let’s not forget about that whole worst rushing offense of all-time thing. Injuries hurt them all season. It started with losing center Ryan Jensen and guard Aaron Stinnie for the season during training camp and continued with guards Luke Goedeke and Nick Leverett, as well as tackle Josh Wells during the season.
Left tackle Donovan Smith had arguably his worst season as a pro. Luke Goedeke was a disaster at left guard. Once he was injured, Nick Leverett stepped in and was an improvement, but still not dominant. Center Robert Hainsey was serviceable in his first season as the full-time starter. Right guard Shaq Mason wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t as good as he had been in New England all those years. And right tackle Tristan Wirfs was rock solid as one of the best tackles in football. Of these six, Leverett is the only one becoming a free agent. As for the other guys, Ryan Jensen is still under contract for 2023. As for the backups, Aaron Stinnie and Josh Wells are going to be free agents, while Brandon Walton and John Molchon are still under contract for another year.
After 8 years, I think the Bucs could put an end to the Donovan Smith project and cut their losses. Even though he’s under contract for $17.9 million in 2023, they could still save about $10 million in cap space by releasing him. Even more if they wait until AFTER June 1st. One option for his replacement could be moving Tristan Wirfs from the right side to the left. He played there some at Iowa in college and he’s athletic and talented enough to make the switch. That would open up right tackle for Luke Goedeke, which is where he actually played in college and where he played the entire game in Week 18 against the Falcons. If Stinnie can come back healthy, I don’t see why the Bucs wouldn’t re-sign him. As for Wells, every time I think the Bucs will move on from him and let him hit free agency, they bring him back for another season. So I’m sure he’ll be back again, even though he probably won’t be available for the start of the season with his knee injury.
This group under-performed according to most critics, especially after losing Shaq Barrett for the season. Unfortunately, most of these guys are becoming free agents, including Anthony Nelson, Akiem Hicks, Carl Nassib, Will Gholston, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Pat O’Connor, Genard Avery and Deadrin Senat. That accounts for 13 of the Bucs 45 sacks this season. Most of them will be back on cheap one-year deals, but a few of them will have to hit free agency. As for the rest of the d-line, Vita Vea is under contract through 2026, Shaquille Barrett is under contract through 2024 and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and Logan Hall are still under their rookie deals. With Barrett’s future in question after his Achilles injury, the Bucs may have to look to the draft to fill their pass rushing void because they won’t be able to afford anyone substantial in free agency.
This off-season could bring the end of an era in Tampa Bay for one of it’s longest tenured players. Lavonte David has been a Buccaneers for 11 years, since they drafted him in 2012, and he will be a free agent going into 2023. He has expressed that he would love to finish his career in Tampa and retire a Buc, but the NFL is a business and it all comes down to the money. Even at 33-years old, he’s still playing at a high level. He finished tied with fellow linebacker Devin White with a team-high 124 tackles this season. If he’s willing to play for much less than the $12.5 million he made in 2022, then there’s no reason he shouldn’t get the chance to stay in Tampa. Not bringing him back would result in a dead cap hit of nearly $7 million anyway, so it would be in the best interest of the Bucs to re-sign him. But, if they do, it will be for less money.
Even if they keep David, they will still need to find another linebacker either in free agency or the draft. KJ Britt was their only constant reserve linebacker and he has shown that he’s not capable of playing any significant time on defense. He’s a decent special team’s guy, but the Bucs can’t rely on him as their main backup to White and David. I see him as more of a fourth man in this group, so they’ll need to find a reliable number three guy this off-season.
This group could potentially go through BIG changes over the next few months. Their #1 corner Carlton Davis III is under contract through 2024. However, both Jamel Dean AND Sean Murphy-Bunting are now free agents and Tampa Bay probably won’t be able to re-sign both of them. They need to keep one. Dean was the most consistent player of the two this season, but Murphy-Bunting came on strong towards the end of the year. Dean will be more expensive, but he would be my choice to keep. Rookie Zyon McCollum proved that he wasn’t ready to be an NFL corner just yet, but he was one of the Bucs best special teams players. The only other corner that had any real significant playing time was Dee Delaney, and that was mostly at safety. Even if they do keep Dean OR Bunting, the Bucs will still need to add another corner this off-season whether it’s in free agency or the draft.
The Buccaneers secondary could have a much different look next season than it did this season. Antoine Winfield Jr. will be finishing up the final year of his rookie contract in 2023, so the Bucs could wait to sign him to an extension. However, Mike Edwards, Logan Ryan and Keanu Neal are ALL free agents this off-season. With their money troubles, the Bucs probably can’t afford to re-sign all three of them. They may let Edwards test free agency, although they did that with safety Jordan Whitehead last year and it backfired on them. There’s a possibility all three could be back in Tampa IF the money is right. Todd Bowles defense utilizes three safeties quite a bit. With Winfield Jr. playing the nickel safety position now, the Bucs will need another safety to play significant time on their back end. They will likely look for someone in the draft, even if they do keep two of their free agent safeties.
Todd Bowles has already made the statement that the Bucs need to be able to kick field goals longer than 50-yards CONSISTENTLY next season. That could have been a hint that veteran kicker Ryan Succop, who was just 2 of 7 from 50+ yards this season, could be on his way out. The move also makes sense financially, as releasing Succop would free up about $3.75 million in cap space. So don’t look for him to be back with the Bucs for 2023. Rookie punter Jake Camarda was one of the bright spots for Tampa Bay this season and longsnapper Zach Triner was consistent as usual. I don’t foresee any changes there. Kicker will be the focus this off-season. In fact, the Bucs have already claimed one in by the name of Jake Verity off of waivers. They will likely look for one late in the draft or even bring back Jose Borregales, who competed with Succop in training camp this season and is still unsigned.
Where do I even start with this bunch? Luckily, the Bucs already have by relieving Byron Leftwich of his offensive coordinator duties. They also terminated the services of wide receivers coach Kevin Garver, offensive quality control coach Jeff Kastl, specialist coach Chris Boniol, running backs coach Todd McNair and assistant defensive line coach Lori Locust. They also had a few coaches “retire” including quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen, senior offensive assistant Rick Christophel and outside linebackers coach Bob Sanders. Tampa Bay has started interviewing candidates for offensive coordinator. Some of the names already brought in are Broncos passing game coordinator Klint Kubiak, Jaguars passing game coordinator Jim Bob Cooter and Vikings wide receiver coach and former Buccaneer receiver Keenan McCardell. They have also been tied to Georgia Bulldogs offensive coordinator and former Bucs OC Todd Monken and Bengals QB coach Dan Pitcher are scheduled for meetings this week. Other possible candidates include recently fired Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury and Giants QB coach Shea Tierney.
I don’t see the Buccaneers OC position being very appealing to coaches looking for a good opportunity. With HUGE question marks surrounding the quarterback position and the o-line issues, what candidate in their right mind would want to come to Tampa right now? If Tom Brady was for sure coming back then that would be a different story. But as of right now, Kyle Trask is the ONLY quarterback on the Buccaneers roster. It’s not exactly ideal. And with 12 NFL teams looking for a new OC, there is some serious competition for the top guys. Frank Reich (new Panthers HC), Bill O’Brien (new Patriots OC)and Kellen Moore (new Chargers OC)have already been hired. We just need to hold out hope that someone sees some kind of potential in this team and wants to be a part of it.
If or when they do find one, he could make even more changes to the staff. Among the offensive coaches still with the team (for now at least) are run game coordinator Harold Goodwin, offensive line coach Joe Gilbert, tight ends coach John Van Dam and assistant receivers coach Thaddeus Lewis. A new coordinator may want to bring his own guys in with him, so don’t be surprised if some or all of these guys eventually go too.
When Bowles was announced as the Bucs new head coach taking over for Bruce Arians, it was already the end of March. He didn’t have an opportunity to put his own coaching staff together. He was essentially forced to use Arians entire coaching staff. That is the ONLY reason that Bowles still has his job. I don’t care that they “won” the weakest division in football and made the playoffs. They finished with an 8-9 losing record and averaged just 18 points per game. They didn’t deserve the division title or the playoffs. The Glazers want to give Bowles one more season, with his own handpicked staff, to see what he can do. That’s the fairest thing to do. But if this team has another year like this one, Bowles will be on his way out as well.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
QB Tom Brady
QB Blaine Gabbert
RB Giovanni Bernard
WR Julio Jones
WR Scotty Miller
WR Breshad Perriman
TE Kyle Rudolph
OT Josh Wells
G Aaron Stinnie
DT Akiem Hicks
DT Will Gholston
DT Pat O’Connor
DT Deadrin Senat
DT Rakeem Nunez-Roches
OLB Genard Avery
OLB Anthony Nelson
OLB Carl Nassib
ILB Lavonte David
CB Sean Murphy-Bunting
CB Jamel Dean
S Mike Edwards
S Logan Ryan
S Keanu Neal
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
OLB Cam Gill
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
G Nick Leverett
CB Dee Delaney
PLAYERS CURRENTLY UNDER CONTRACT
QB- Kyle Trask
RB- Leonard Fournette, Rachaad White, Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Patrick Laird
WR- Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Russell Gage Jr, Deven Thompkins, Kaylon Geiger
TE- Cade Otton, Cam Brate, Ko Kieft, David Wells, Dominique Dafney
OT- Tristan Wirfs, Donovan Smith, Brandon Walton, Justin Skule, Dylan Cook, Grant Hermanns
G- Shaq Mason, Luke Goedeke, John Molchon
C- Ryan Jensen, Robert Hainsey
DL- Vita Vea, Logan Hall, Mike Greene, Willington Previlon
OLB- Shaq Barrett, Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, Hamilcar Rasheed, Charles Snowden
ILB- Devin White, KJ Britt, Ulysees Gilbert, JJ Russell
CB- Carlton Davis III, Zyon McCollum, Anthony Chesley, Don Gardner, Duron Lowe
S- Antoine Winfield Jr, Nolan Turner
K- Ryan Succop
P- Jake Camarda
LS- Zach Triner
POTENTIAL SAVINGS FROM RESTRUCTURES
Chris Godwin- $9.4 million
Russell Gage Jr- $4.4 million
Leonard Fournette- $2.7 million
Ryan Jensen- $5.6 million
Vita Vea- $8.5 million
Shaq Barrett- $6.5 million
Carlton Davis III- $6.7 million
TOTAL CAP SAVINGS – $43.8 million
POSSIBLE PLAYER RELEASES & CAP SAVINGS
Donovan Smith- $10 million ($15.25 million after June 1)
Leonard Fournette- $3.47 million ($5 million after June 1)
Cam Brate- $2 million ($4 million after June 1)
Ryan Succop- $3.75 million
TOTAL POTENTIAL CAP SAVINGS :
$19.2 million ($28 million after June 1)
TOM BRADY’S CAP NUMBERS
Brady’s decision to stay in Tampa, go to another team or retire will have a HUGE effect on Tampa Bay’s salary cap situation. If he signs with another team, his cap hit will be $35.1 million and there’s not much the Bucs can do about it. If he retires, the Bucs could shift some of that $35 million to 2024 to lessen the 2023 cap hit. For instance, they could keep $11 million on for this year and push the other $24 million to next year. If he stays in Tampa Bay, the Bucs could sign him to an extension and kick some of that dead money down the road as well, but they would be adding the new contract money on to that dead cap money. So you can see why the Buccaneers front office wants him back for next season. Not only would they get the “GOAT” back for one more run at another title, but it would save them some money as well.
THE WRAP UP
This 2022 season didn’t go the way any of us had expected. Luckily, it’s over and we can move on to next year. However, the Bucs aren’t heading into this new year in a very good position. They are an estimated $55 million OVER the salary cap right now. And that’s BEFORE re-signing any of their free agents. A big chunk of that is Tom Brady’s dead cap hit of $35 million, so a lot will depend on his upcoming decision. There are many ways the Bucs can reduce that cap number and even create cap space. Contract extensions, contract restructures and player releases are all available to Tampa Bay this off-season. All included, the Bucs could potentially free up $100+ million. Doing so could give them between $50-60 million to re-sign some players and possibly bring in some other free agents.
Todd Bowles second off-season as the Buccaneers head coach will be much more difficult than his first. Trying to find a new offensive coordinator. Dealing with serious salary cap issues. Twenty-four free agents set to hit the market including Tom Brady and Lavonte David. It all sounds like a nightmare. If he’s able to get through it, improve this team, win the division and make the playoffs next season, he could end up saving his job and securing his head coaching position with the Bucs for a while. If he can’t get it done with his own coaching staff, then the Bucs will likely move on from him and move into rebuilding mode. That’s never something fans want to hear, but it’s a reality that Bucs fans should start facing.
If Tom Brady doesn’t come back, this team is in real trouble. Not just financially, but personnel wise too. Who’s going to be their quarterback? Is Kyle Trask the guy? We haven’t seen enough of him to make that determination yet. Will they trade for someone like Derek Carr or Trey Lance? Jason Licht isn’t too keen on trading valuable draft picks away. Do they test free agency, even though there aren’t many good realistic options there? They don’t really have the money to sign a good free agent starting QB. Do they use their first round pick this year on a QB? Not with the 19th pick and not when they have so many other needs on this team. The Bucs have a lot of work to do over the next few months if they want improve on this season. A big piece of the puzzle should fall into place this week with the possible hiring of a new offensive coordinator. Then, we’re just waiting on Brady’s BIG decision. Buckle up, Bucs fans. This off-season is going to be a rollercoaster ride!
Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!