“For good this time.”
That was how Tom Brady described his second retirement announcement early Wednesday morning on an Instagram post. This time, he was sitting all alone, on the beach, in a video thanking his friends, family, coaches, teammates and competitors. It was short and sweet. It was full of emotion. And it seemed like the end. A year ago, I didn’t believe him and he was back 40 days later. This time, I do.
Now, the question is what will the Tampa Bay Buccaneers do at their quarterback position? The only quarterback on their roster right now is Kyle Trask. Brady is retired. Blaine Gabbert is a free agent. Ryan Griffin is, well, he’s Ryan Griffin. That’s it. So, who’s it gonna be? Head coach Todd Bowles is in a tough spot next season. Ownership gave him a “free pass” for this season, using Byron Leftwich as the main scapegoat for the Bucs finishing with an 8-10 record. Bowles excuse was that it wasn’t “his staff“. It was Bruce Arians staff that he inherited. He has now cleaned house and is bringing in his own handpicked coaching staff. He won’t have that excuse this year. He needs a winning season to keep his job. Does he trust their 2021 second round pick Trask enough to hand him the reigns? Does he believe in him enough to bet his job on him? What other options do they have? Well, that’s what we’re here to discuss. I’ve put together a list of candidates and scenarios that the Bucs will have available to them this off-season. So, here’s what I came up with.
OPTION 1 : KYLE TRASK
As of right now, he’s the man. Being the ONLY quarterback on the current roster has that effect. Now, will he keep the job? The Bucs spent a second round pick on Trask, so that’s a considerable investment in a player that has never seen the field as a starter. He hasn’t had enough playing time for the Bucs to see what they have in him, so it isn’t easy to decide if he’s NFL starter quality or not. But they may not have a choice. The Bucs are in salary cap hell this year. Brady helped them some by retiring and freeing up about $24 million in cap space this year, but they are still roughly $31 million in the hole to start this off-season. Their best option could be to roll with Trask and see what happens.
If they do decide to do that, they’ll have to sign a veteran to back him up, just in case. They could re-sign Blaine Gabbert to a cheap contract, but would he be okay holding the clipboard for a third year player without a start under his belt? I’m not so sure. Plus, does Todd Bowles have enough faith in Trask to risk his job? Bowles needs to win next season. He needs to prove that he can be a good head coach and that last season wasn’t his fault. The only way to do that is to finish with a winning record in 2023. Winning the division for the third straight season wouldn’t hurt either. But he may have to do all that with an unproven quarterback in Trask.
OPTION 2 : BLAINE GABBERT
At 33-years old, he’s a free agent this year. After making about $2.25 million last season playing behind Brady, he could be in line for a pay raise IF the Bucs decide to bring him back as the starter. It’s not the ideal situation, but it may be one of their only realistic options. If they were going to be running the same offense, then the move would make much more sense. Gabbert knew Arians system so well, that he’s the one who taught it to Brady. But that’s not the case. A new offensive coordinator will bring in a new system and we still don’t know who or what that is or if Gabbert is even a fit for it. However, with the Buccaneers money troubles and plenty of roster holes to fill in the draft, their best bet might be to re-sign him to a cheap deal to be the starter and let Trask sit behind him as the backup for another year.
OPTION 3 : AARON RODGERS
He’s not a free agent, so the Bucs would have to trade for him. The Packers most likely wouldn’t trade him to another NFC team, but it could happen if they don’t have enough interest from an AFC team. I doubt that will be the case though. There are plenty of AFC teams in need of a quarterback. Regardless, he could be an option IF Tampa Bay is willing to part with some valuable draft picks. When the Texans traded Deshaun Watson to the Browns, they got the 13th pick in 2022, a first and third in 2023 AND a first and fourth in 2024. When the Seahawks traded Russell Wilson to the Broncos, they got the 9th, 41st and 153rd picks in 2022, first and second round picks in 2023 AND three additional players. In order for the Bucs to get Rodgers, they would likely have to come up with a similar compensation package that would include their first and second round picks this year, as well as their first and second rounders next year. I’m not so sure Jason Licht is willing to do that for a 39-year old quarterback.
The draft picks aren’t the only problem though. It’s also the money. Rodgers has a very complicated contract with the Packers. If the Bucs trade for him, they would have to assume that contract and exercise an option bonus that is tied to his salary. They would have to convert $58.3 million of his $59.515 million salary into a prorated bonus spread out over the next four years. His 2023 cap hit would then be about $15.8 million, which the Bucs could swing with a few roster moves and contract restructures. However, it gets worse from there. If they keep him through 2024, his cap hit would be $32.5 million with a dead cap hit of over $60 million for 2025. Between the draft collateral and the dead cap money, I just don’t see this happening, even though the Bucs could make it work on paper.
OPTION 4 : DEREK CARR
Carr could be a more realistic trade option for Tampa Bay. Since the Raiders benched him towards the end of last season, his trade value has dropped. If they don’t find a trade partner, they could end up releasing him before February 15th, when his 2023 salary of $33 million AND $7.5 million of his 2024 salary become fully guaranteed. Experts are saying that the Bucs could possibly get him by trading their third rounder this year and their 2024 third rounder. It’s not a terrible deal for a 31-year old proven starter. The problem would be that Tampa Bay would have to have the $33 million in cap space to initially take on his contract. They could, of course, restructure a deal once he’s here. But they would have to have the money available to make the trade. That would take some mathematical magic by the Buccaneers salary cap guru Mike Greenberg.
A new deal could free up about $25 million in cap space for the Bucs to sign some other players. However, it would push a ton of money down the road. His cap number for 2024 would be around $48.3 million with a dead cap hit of $32.8 million, and his 2025 cap hit would be around $47.6 million. That’s a HUGE investment. One that I’m not sure the Bucs can afford or would want to make. With that being said, he’s another option on the table this off-season. The ideal situation would be Las Vegas releasing him before that Feb. 15th deadline. If that happens, Carr becomes a free agent and the Bucs wouldn’t have to give up any draft picks and they could sign him to a much more affordable contract.
OPTION 5 : FREE AGENCY
There’s not a lot of options in the free agent quarterback market this year. The player that would’ve been at the top of everyone’s list, Lamar Jackson, is likely getting franchise tagged by the Ravens. So, he’s out, not that the Bucs could afford him anyway. What they need to find is a starter quality QB at a backup QB price. Some Bucs fans may not want to hear this, but Baker Mayfield is one of those QB’s. After being traded to the Panthers last season, he was released only to sign with the Rams when Matthew Stafford got injured. Spotrac.com has his market value at $6.5 million. That’s a cap friendly price that the Bucs could easily afford. Mayfield makes even more sense if the Bucs end up hiring Todd Monken as their new OC since they spent time together in Cleveland.
Another free agent option could be the Niners Jimmy Garoppolo, but I don’t see him getting anything even remotely close to his $34.9 million market value. He would have to sign with the Bucs for a cheap one-year prove it deal for it to work, and I’m sure another QB needy team out there could pay him more than them. But how ironic would it be for Jimmy G. to take over for Tom Brady in Tampa Bay after backing him up in New England? Jacoby Brissett is a free agent with a market value of $5.4 million, which is even cheaper. He kept the Browns afloat last season while Deshaun Watson was serving his suspension. He finished the season completing 64% of his passes for 2,608 yards, 12 touchdowns and 6 interceptions in 11 games. He could be a guy that’s serviceable for next season until they find a more permanent solution at quarterback.
OPTION 6 : THE DRAFT
There are about ten teams who need a quarterback that are picking BEFORE the Bucs at their 19th pick. If they are looking at one of those top four QB’s, they will have to trade down in the draft to get one. The Eagles currently hold the 10th pick of the 2023 Draft. According to the 2023 NFL Trade Value Chart, the Bucs would have to give Philadelphia their 19th pick, a 2024 first rounder AND a 2024 fourth rounder for that 10th pick. Is it worth it? At that point, two of those four QB’s will be off the board, possibly even three. Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s CJ Stroud will be gone, but Kentucky’s Will Levis and Florida’s Anthony Richardson could still be on the board when the Bucs go on the clock.
Now, if they want one of those top two guys, it’s gonna cost them. To move from the 19th pick into the top five is going to cost multiple first AND second round picks. Something like their 19th pick this year, a 2024 first and second AND a 2025 first rounder. It might even cost them this year’s first and two years of first and second rounders. That’s a BIG gamble for a franchise that has NEVER in team history drafted and developed a true franchise quarterback. Jason Licht loves his draft picks. Very rarely have we seen him trade up to get a player. Most of the time, in fact, he’s trading back to gain draft picks, not give them up. I just can’t see the Bucs giving up picks when they have so many holes to fill on their roster.
Out of all the options I’ve given, there are really just two that are truly realistic. The first, is rolling with Kyle Trask and living with the results. Worst case scenario, the Bucs finish with the worst record in the league and end up with the #1 pick next year, in which case they could then draft USC quarterback Caleb Williams. The second is bring in a veteran free agent to start, or at least compete with Trask for the starting job. Out of the free agents I mentioned, Mayfield and Brissett would be the cheapest options. Carr would be the best free agent option, in my opinion, but he would also be the most expensive. However, the Bucs could definitely make the cap numbers work with any of those guys.
My prediction, is that Derrick Carr will be released by the Raiders within the next two weeks and eventually become the next starting quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with Trask as his backup. That’s what makes the most sense to me. It gives the Bucs a four-time Pro Bowler and proven vet as a starter and it will allow them to sign him to a more cap friendly contract. Plus, they don’t have to give away any valuable draft picks, which they’re going to need to fill the holes in this roster. Carr says he wants to go to a team that’s ready to win a Super Bowl. Of all the QB needy teams, the Bucs are probably the closest ones to that goal. Now, we wait. The Bucs are still searching for their new offensive coordinator. The Raiders have until Feb. 15th to release Derrick Carr. And free agency doesn’t start until March 15th. That’s when we’ll find out.
Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!