Tom Brady is officially retired, so NFL predictions about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be much less rosy moving forward than when the league’s greatest quarterback was under center. With Brady gone, the Buccaneers are entering a rebuilding phase, but they still have a lot of veteran talent on their roster. Can Tampa Bay compete in the NFC South, or should they hit the sim button until 2024?
Predicting the Best-Case Scenario for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 2023 NFL Season
The Buccaneers spent most of the 2022 campaign looking frustrated and disjointed. After entering the season as a presumptive Super Bowl contender, Tampa Bay limped to an 8-9 record, barely snuck into the playoffs, and was quickly dispatched by the Cowboys in the Wild Card Round.
Out of range to draft an early first-round quarterback, the Buccaneers are staging a competition between former second-round pick Kyle Trask and free agent signing Baker Mayfield. This figures to be one of the least inspiring quarterback battles in recent memory, but a best-case scenario for Tampa Bay undoubtedly involves Trask winning the job.
The NFL already knows who Mayfield is — a relatively limited signal-caller who can thrive under the right conditions. But the Bucs don’t really know what they have in Trask, the 64th overall choice in the 2020 draft who’s attempted just nine passes at the NFL level.
Trask couldn’t beat out veteran Blaine Gabbert for Tampa Bay’s backup gig behind Brady, and the club didn’t even let him start a meaningless Week 18 game against the Falcons last season. The former Florida Gator might be totally overwhelmed as a Week 1 starter, but the Buccaneers don’t have much to lose by giving him a chance.
In a perfect world, Trask could serve as a competent starter who could work within an offense that still has Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Not much has changed on the defensive side of the ball, where a unit headlined by Vita Vea, Lavonte David, Shaquil Barrett, and a solid secondary should be able to post at least league-average production.
If Trask could keep his head above water in his de facto rookie season, Tampa Bay could sneak into the playoffs in a weak NFC South. Everything would have to break right — Bryce Young and Desmond Ridder would need to struggle with the Panthers and Falcons, respectively, while the Saints would probably need to suffer a few significant injuries.
In a best-case scenario, the Bucs could win eight games, which was enough to secure the division crown last season. However, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if Trask and the rest of Tampa Bay’s roster bottomed out in 2023. If the Buccaneers are among the worst teams in the league next year, they could be in a position to land a passer in what could be a historic 2024 quarterback draft class.
Predicting the Worst-Case Scenario for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 2023 NFL Season
The best-case scenarios for the Buccaneers include two polar opposite situations: sneaking into the postseason or bottoming out with their eyes on a 2024 quarterback. The worst-case scenario is somewhere in the middle.
If Tampa Bay wins six or seven games next season, they might not have much of a path forward in 2024. That record would likely give the Buccaneers a top-10 selection in next year’s draft, but it probably wouldn’t be enough to land a top-five choice.
If Tampa Bay isn’t in range to land a franchise quarterback in 2024, they might have to stick with Trask for another season or find a mid-tier veteran replacement.
While the Buccaneers are getting younger under center, the rest of their depth chart is aging. Tampa Bay fielded the NFL’s second-oldest team in 2023. While parting ways with veterans like Brady, Julio Jones, Akiem Hicks, and Shaq Mason will help improve those numbers, the Bucs still have a lot of players on the wrong side of 30.
If Tampa Bay finds itself without a clear path forward, it might have to start making hard decisions on veterans like Evans, Godwin, and cornerback Carlton Davis III.
General manager Jason Licht may have to consider selling off those pieces for draft assets in an effort to acquire enough capital to move up for a quarterback.
Depending on how the Buccaneers finish in 2023, Licht might also have to think about changing coaches. From a game management perspective, Todd Bowles represented a steep downgrade from Bruce Arians, and there’s a chance he’s simply an excellent defensive coordinator who is not cut out to be a head coach.
While the Bucs could cause some self-inflicted harm next season, a worst-case scenario might also include Young and Ridder immediately firing as Carolina and Atlanta’s starting quarterbacks. If those two clubs have franchise signal-callers in hand, Tampa Bay would have difficulty fighting back toward relevancy in the NFC South.