Tampa Bay BuccaneersThis week, Bucs fans have questions about multiple quarterback situations, a potential Tristan Wirfs extension and moreScott Smith
This September, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will have a new starting quarterback on opening day for the first time since Tom Brady arrived with his six (soon to be seven) Super Bowl rings in 2020. That new quarterback will, in fact, replace Brady, who has retired after 23 NFL seasons, the last three in Tampa. As Head Coach Todd Bowles said in a number of different ways during a 30-minute session with the media at the NFL Annual Meeting on Tuesday, that person should not try to be the next Tom Brady. He needs to let the rest of a pretty talented roster help him elevate to the best version of himself and, in terms of keeping the offense in high gear, simply "drive the car."
It appears that person will be either Kyle Trask or Baker Mayfield, who are set to compete for the starting job in training camp this summer (more on that below when we get to your questions). The Buccaneers are almost sure to add at least one more quarterback somewhere along the way, but after listening to Coach Bowles on Tuesday it seems clear that we're probably talking about a player who will be the clear third on the depth chart, like Trask has been the past two years.
The Buccaneers drafted Trask with the last pick of the second round shortly after winning Super Bowl LV with Brady. It was quite clear at the time and all throughout the next two years that he was in a developmental phase, because Tampa Bay clearly wasn't going to start anyone for Brady as long as he was around, and if Brady were to miss any games Blaine Gabbert was the obvious next man up. As such, Trask has thrown only nine regular-season passes in his career so far, all at the end of a meaningless Week 18 game in Atlanta last season.
A few days into the new free agency period, despite a very restrictive cap situation, the Buccaneers were able to add an established veteran to the QB room, signing former first-overall pick Baker Mayfield to a one-year deal. As Bowles said on Tuesday, pairing the untested rookie with a quarterback who has started entire seasons in the NFL and been to the playoffs, gives the Bucs a better shot at not "dipping" too far on offense as they move on from Brady. Trask may prove he's ready to start or Mayfield may prove he's the best option but the Bucs have increased their chances they'll be in good hands this fall, one way or the other.
So, barring an unforeseen and pretty surprising development, it's the third-year player who has never started an NFL game before or it's the former Cleveland Browns first-rounder who played for two different teams last year (Panthers and Rams) who will start under center for the Bucs in Week One. Either way, it will be a pretty novel situation for the franchise.
Through franchise's first 46 seasons, they have had exactly 20 quarterbacks make an opening-day start for the Buccaneers for the first time. Only three of those 20 had never started a regular-season NFL game before, and all of them were rookies: Randy Hedberg in 1977, Doug Williams in 1978 and Jameis Winston in 2015. If Trask gets the job in Week One, he would be the first non-rookie making his NFL starting debut as a Buccaneer in team history.
The Bucs have signed a veteran with significant starting experience and put him on the field in Week One plenty of times, most recently with Brady. Brad Johnson, the Buccaneers' quarterback for their first Super Bowl run in 2002, had signed with the team as a free agent in 2001 after making exactly 50 previous starts for Minnesota and Washington, for instance. You can put Steve DeBerg, Brian Griese, Jeff Garcia, Byron Leftwich, Josh McCown and Ryan Fitzpatrick in this category, as well, to varying degrees.
Six of those 20 were Bucs' draft picks who didn't make their first opening-day start until their second year or later, but all six had at least made a couple previous starts. That group consists of Vinny Testaverde in 1988, Craig Erickson in 1994, Trent Dilfer in 1995, Shaun King in 2000, Chris Simms in 2006 and Josh Freeman in 2010.
The rest of that group of 20 is kind of a hodge-podge of previous experiences. Steve Spurrier made a career-high 12 starts for the Bucs in their inaugural 1976 season, and that was the end of his playing career. Jerry Golsteyn and Jack Thompson were short-lived replacement attempts for Williams who had some previous starting experience but not much. Steve DeBerg had two different stints and three different Week One starts with the Bucs but never started 16 games in a season for them.
Mayfield would seem to fit best into that second group above, the one with the likes of Griese and Garcia in it. So what would make him a unique option as a Week One starter in franchise history? Well, for one thing he would be the first one among the veterans on the list who was, as mentioned, a former first-overall draft pick. But also, he would be the only guy making his Week One starting debut for the Buccaneers who had started for two different teams the previous season. Mayfield won a training camp competition with Sam Darnold last summer and started six games for the Panthers, including the first five. He was later waived in early December and claimed by the Los Angeles Rams, whom he famously guided to a victory over Las Vegas less than 48 hours after arriving in town.
We'll discuss the upcoming competition between these two a little bit more below, but whoever emerges as the Week One starter is going to be something a little different than the team has ever had before.
Now on to your questions.
A reminder that you can send questions to me anytime you want on Twitter (@ScottSBucs) and they're easier to find if you include the hashtag #SSMailbagBucs. We are also now soliciting questions each week on our Instagram page; look for that story on Wednesdays. As always, if you want to get a longer question into the mailbag and would prefer to email your question, you can do so to email@example.com.
Is trading for Lamar a possibility?
- the_cajon_man_ (via Instagram)
Okay, so Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson revealed a couple days ago on social media that he had submitted a trade request to the team about three weeks ago. Less than a week later, the Ravens placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on Jackson, before he could become an unrestricted free agent on March 15.
In some ways, that action was similar to letting Jackson seek out a trade partner. With the non-exclusive tag, he is free to negotiate and come to terms on a contract with any team. If he were to do so, the Ravens would then have a chance to match those contract terms and sign Jackson to the same deal. If the Ravens chose not to match, the signing team would have to give up its next two first-round picks.
It seems unlikely that any trade the Ravens would accept - if they are even considering that option at all - would be less than two first-round picks - so the machinations of the non-exclusive tag are not that much different than if the Ravens re-signed Jackson and then traded him.
Jackson is, in other words, available right now to most teams, at least to the extent that he could sign with any team but then everyone would have to wait to see if the Ravens matched. (A team that does not own a first-round pick in this year's draft, like the Dolphins, would have to wait until after the 2023 draft so that the compensation going back to Baltimore in a non-match situation would be first-round picks in 2024 and 2025.)
Jackson is 26 years old, he's four years removed from being just the second unanimous MVP selection in league history (the other was Brady, natch), and Baltimore's offense has been better be an enormous margin when he's been on the field then when he's been off it. He could legitimately throw for 3,000-plus yards, run for 1,000-plus yards and account for 40-plus total touchdowns. He's done it before. You will hear concerns about his recent injury history and playoff struggles (in too small of a sample size, in my opinion), but he is undeniably a very talented player.
As such, there should be no shortage of teams that would at least conduct internal conversations about whether or not they should pursue Jackson, and that would be doubly true of teams that are currently unsettled at the quarterback spot. And yes, the Buccaneers belong in that category as they move on from the Tom Brady era.
However, there is also the financial impact of such an addition, and I think that's what removes the Buccaneers from any Lamar Jackson consideration. The team has already had to make a number of tough decisions to erase what was a potential $55 million salary cap overage, and they did that while also somehow retaining the likes of Lavonte David, Jamel Dean and a few others and signing Mayfield. I know it sometimes seems like anything is possible no matter what the supposed cap limitations are, but this seems like too big of a hurdle for the Bucs to get over. In fact, I think Todd Bowles made that point pretty directly on Tuesday when asked about Jackson.
"He's a great player," said Bowles. "Like I just told these guys, we're shedding a lot of money. It would be an insult to a great player like that. So we have our plan. We know we have to get down; it's time for us to get under the cap and he makes a lot of money. But he's a heck of a player and I hate playing against him."
What are the chances of Tristan Wirfs getting an extension done sooner rather than later?
- mikey_kelly__ (via Instagram)
I would say the clock is ticking but there isn't any need to worry about the timing of a new deal yet.
The Bucs have until May 1 to submit to the league whether or not they are picking up the fifth-year option on Wirfs' contract, which applies to the 2024 season. (Spoiler alert: They will be picking up that option.) When that is done they will have Wirfs under contract for two more seasons, which does give you plenty of time to work out a deal. Still, with a player this clearly good and this young, teams don't like to wait until the 11th hour to get a new long-term deal done. This is the first year that Wirfs has been eligible to get a contract extension, and I'm not sure there's another player on the roster right now with whom the Bucs would more want to secure a long-term future.
That said, we've already discussed the Bucs' cap situation in this mailbag and it is something that is necessarily influencing every roster decision the team makes right now. After all of the maneuvering to first get cap compliant by March 15 and then to sign and re-sign some key players, the Buccaneers are still dealing with a relative lack of cap space. The team doesn't release it's own salary figures or cap numbers, but Spotrac has them at juts about $3.5 million under the cap at the moment. It may not be the perfect time to strike a new deal that will surely make Wirfs one of the highest paid players at his position in the NFL.
Yes, I know that multi-year extensions can often make a team's cap situation for the current season better, but because he's just going into the fourth year of his rookie deal, Wirfs doesn't have too high of a cap hit right now. Over the Cap has it at just over $5 million, so there's really not that much room to create cap relief with a restructured deal. Wirfs' hit will more than triple in 2024 when he goes into that fifth-year option, which always carries a hefty raise.
I would think at the very least the Buccaneers would want to get through the upcoming draft before figuring out how to move forward with such key players as Tristan Wirfs. The team currently has nine draft picks, and that's nine more player contracts they'll need to fit under the cap after the draft. They'll probably have to do some more maneuvering just to make that possible.
Look to Vita Vea as a guide. I would put Vea and Wirfs into the same category: First-round draft picks who panned out extremely well and are looked at as long-term cornerstone players. The Buccaneers picked up Vea's fifth-year option, of course, during the 2021 offseason. They could have also signed him to an extension at that point, but they did not. Instead, they did it in early January, right around the end of the 2021 regular season. That was more than a year before he would have first been eligible to hit free agency. Some kind of similar timetable could make sense with Wirfs this time around.
I have seen most of the TV networks already giving the job to Mayfield. Do you think they are going to give Trask a real chance?
- No__sinceofhumor (via Instagram)
Yes, I would agree that there are certainly plenty of people - network pundits, message board experts, my neighbor - who feel pretty strongly that Baker Mayfield is going to beat out Kyle Trask for the opening-day start for the Buccaneers, mostly based on the huge gulf between their respective levels of experience. And I have no qualms with people making that prediction; I could certainly see the logic. We have at least already seen Mayfield play at a level good enough to get his team to the playoffs. We have not had a chance to see much of Trask in action at all.
I also have encountered folks who don't have as high of an opinion of Mayfield's chances and think he's more likely to become the type of experienced backup that teams like to have when they are going with a young and green starter. They think the Bucs used a pretty high draft pick on Trask for a reason and have had two years to develop him into a viable starting candidate. I don't have a problem with that argument, either.
But I will definitely push back against anyone claiming that this is not going to be a real competition and that Mayfield is simply going to be handed the job. I'm not naïve. I know that coaches and team officials sometimes have to be careful with their words in order to maintain relationships and keep players' confidence levels high. However, I think Bowles and General Manager Jason Licht are being completely above-board when they say that the starting quarterback job is absolutely going to be determined by a competition between the two.
And why not? Why wouldn't team architects like the idea of the quarterback they drafted as a potential starting option proving that he is exactly that? If it turns out that Mayfield is clearly the better option, then so be it. That's why you bring in competition in the first place.
Again, I truly believe that Trask and Mayfield are starting out on even ground and that both will be given a full opportunity to win the job. How tough that competition turns out to be will be up to them.
What's your favorite sandwich?
Well, I'm sure Bucs fans would much rather know the favorite sandwich of, say, Mike Evans or Shaq Barrett than mine, but since you asked Danielle, I'll sub in my answer here. (Get it?)
Really, this is a loaded question. (Get it? I could do these all day.) There are too many good options. I'll think I've come up with my final answer, and then I'll think of another one that's even better. I can rule out one favorite right away, however: I'm not a PB&J guy. Never have been. I'd sooner eat it with only peanut butter, but regardless, it's not at the top of the list.
I've actually voted in an NCAA tournament-style 64-sandwich bracket before. The Final Four were Grilled Cheese, Philly Cheesesteak, Reuben and Cuban. The four eliminated in the Elite Eight matchups were Buffalo Chicken, Turkey Club, Fried Chicken Sandwich and BLT.
I am definitely fond of a cheesesteak, but I usually get it without the peppers and onions so I wonder if I am voting on the full experience with that one. Reubens are great, too, but I have to be in the mood for one, and that's not always the case. I think my top three would be Cuban, BLT and grilled cheese.
Cuban sandwiches were a revelation when I moved to Florida. I had never encountered one before. If I could have just one sandwich variety for the rest of my life, I might have to go with the Cuban. Unlike the Reuben, I'm always in the mood for a Cuban.
The great thing about grilled cheese is that it's so simple, it's so easy to make and it's very comforting. If you need a bowl of tomato soup to fully enjoy one, so be it, but I'm good with just a couple slices of American cheese grilled on buttered white bread. Grilled cheese actually won that bracket I mentioned above, and I think that's because while other sandwiches have their champions and their detractors, everybody likes grilled cheese.
Despite all of that, I have to say that my favorite of all sandwiches is the BLT. I rarely have one, but when I do I'm always thrilled with the choice. Anyway, thanks for asking. And if anybody wants to tell me how wrong my sandwich opinions are for the next mailbag, please do so.