Considering the craziness that was this week and the uncertainty of what’s ahead in the immediate future, it’s safe to say sports fans are looking for an escape. And for some, that escape is looking forward to the NFL free agency period, which—as of now—is still on for next week.
Buccaneers fans are certainly no different, especially considering how intriguing this next week could be. Considering the question mark at the quarterback position especially, Tampa Bay could be a very different team by the end of this very month.
You know the deal by now. Despite the fact that it feels like the offseason has been going on for six months, it’s mid-March. Since the Bucs’ final game of the 2019 season, much of the talk surrounding the team has been about the future of the quarterback position. Bruce Arians may not have a lot of time left in his career, so he obviously wants to win now. Jason Licht has been the general manager since 2014 and has seen just one winning record (without a playoff appearance) in his tenure, so he needs to win now. Not to mention, the Glazer family is surely tired of the way things of been.
So, with so much focus on finding the right quarterback to help Tampa Bay win games in 2020, there have been a ton of names thrown around over the last three-plus months. And while we could go ahead and rank the choices based on how well they fit the system or simply their talent, we’ll go a different route.
We’re going to rank them based on excitement level. In other words, we’re ranking them by how much feeling they would inspire in the fan base, the city and the organization as a whole. Who would be best for boosting ticket sales, merch sales (with the new uniforms dropping soon, this is important) and overall interest from fans, the local media and the national media?
Keep in mind, these are obviously subjective rankings. It’s all my opinion. That means you can disagree all you want because that’s what this is for. Feel free to throw your thoughts in the comments down below. And finally, be aware that this isn’t an exhaustive list of all the choices. No draft prospects are included and not all free agent or trade possibilities can be considered. There are just too many. So, here are 10 of the many possibilities for the Bucs, ranked from least exciting to most exciting. Just for fun, they’re broken up into categories!
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10. Josh Rosen
Rosen’s NFL career has been a very weird one, and it’s only been two seasons. He was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals with the 10th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, only to be traded after the team decided to select Kyler Murray with the first pick in 2019. Rosen was shipped to Miami, where he played poorly—albeit for a very bad team—before being replaced by Ryan Fitzpatrick. With Fitzmagic and a rookie likely to take the top two spots on the depth chart in 2020, Rosen may be on his third team in three years. His name hasn’t been mentioned much, if at all, regarding the Bucs. That’s a good thing. It’s hard to think of an option that would inspire more apathy within Tampa Bay’s fan base than Rosen.
9. Marcus Mariota
Morbid curiosity. That’s how I would describe the tiny bit of interest I’d have in seeing Mariota in a Bucs uniform this fall. The ratio that the social media team would experience simply for announcing the signing would almost be worth it. Of course, he was the quarterback many fans wanted the team to draft over Jameis Winston in 2015. He went on to have a very uneven five years in Tennessee. He finished with a winning record a few times and even won a playoff game in 2017, but the former Oregon star’s time with the Titans will be remembered more for his inconsistency and injury issues. He’s unlikely to get a starting job anywhere in 2020—unless it’s as a gap guy for a few weeks—and he hasn’t been linked to the Bucs at all. But wouldn’t it be funny? I’d laugh, anyway.
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8. Andy Dalton
Dalton has actually had some pretty solid seasons throughout his nine years with the Bengals. He’s made three Pro Bowls and has made the postseason five times (but has gone 0-4 in those games... he missed the 2015 AFC Wild Card Game). In the right situations, he’s been pretty reliable. It’s just that, in recent years especially, a stigma has developed around the 2011 second-rounder. Whether it’s because of his playoff failures, his poor 2019 or the fact that he has quarterbacked Cincinnati to four straight losing seasons, Dalton just isn’t a guy that many fans look at in a positive light. He has one more year left on his contract with the Bengals, but with Joe Burrow likely to take over immediately as the top pick in this year’s draft, Dalton could find himself moving on this offseason. But fans in Tampa Bay—and likely everywhere—would be underwhelmed if their team added the 32-year-old in a starting role.
7. Ryan Tannehill
Tannehill is 49-49 as a starter in the NFL. Quarterback wins aren’t a stat (it’s always important to remember that), but his record is pretty indicative of what he’s been throughout his career: pretty average. He spent 2012-2018 with the Dolphins before entering 2019 as Marcus Mariota’s backup in Tennessee. However, he eventually took over and threw for 22 touchdowns and six interceptions while leading the Titans on a 7-3 run to the playoffs. He then game-managed his way to the AFC Championship Game—thanks in large part to the rushing prowess of Derrick Henry. Now, the soon-to-be 32-year-old finds himself a free agent once again. He is likely destined to remain with the Titans, as long as they don’t go out and sign someone else. As for potentially joining the Bucs, there just wouldn’t be a lot to feel about it. Even if he could be serviceable, he doesn’t seem like the face-of-the-franchise type that quarterbacks are usually expected to be.
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6. Derek Carr
Carr’s name is one that has been tossed out there a little bit more as of late. He’s been to three Pro Bowls and helped the Raiders to the playoffs in 2016 in what was a great year for him (3,937 yards and 28 touchdowns to six interceptions). He’s been safe with the football throughout his career, never having thrown more than 13 interceptions in a season while posting a 1.9% interception rate over his six seasons. The 2014 second-round pick, with the right weapons, could put up huge numbers. We saw that back when he had Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. So, the prospect of seeing him play with guys like Mike Evans and Chris Godwin is intriguing, which is why he would be an acquisition that could work wonders for Tampa Bay. The Bucs would have to trade for him, though if they were able to do so, his contract is inexpensive enough to be attractive as well. But name value and perception matter in these particular rankings, and it’s just hard to see an overwhelmingly excited reaction if he ends up a Buc. Of course, any disinterest would quickly disappear if he started winning games.
5. Teddy Bridgewater
Boy, Bridgewater has seemingly become just as polarizing among Bucs fans as Jameis Winston is. It seems to be one way or the other: you either love the idea of him in red and pewter or you hate it. The Bucs reportedly have interest in the 2014 first-round pick after a 2019 season in which he went 5-0 as Drew Brees’ backup in New Orleans. He threw for 1,384 yards and nine touchdowns to just two interceptions in those games, which proved he still has plenty left in the tank after that devastating non-contact knee injury he suffered in 2016. Bridgewater was exceptionally fun to watch during his college days at Louisville, but his NFL career has felt more subdued in terms of exciting play. He is a safer quarterback than a guy like Winston, who will sling the ball around the field all day long. But he has also shown that he is capable of doing what it takes to win. So, while his playing style might not bring much excitement to Tampa Bay, he could quickly make up for it by limiting mistakes and turnovers en route to victories.
4. Philip Rivers
Rivers, in some ways, is like Jameis Winston. He has a strong arm, a strong competitive attitude and a tendency to make mistakes with the football. Just see his 23-touchdown, 20-interception season in 2019. But over the course of his 16-year NFL career, the North Carolina State product has had some outstanding years. Just two years ago he threw for 4,308 yards and 32 touchdowns to just 12 interceptions while completing nearly 70% of his passes. He has been selected to eight Pro Bowls and has played in 11 playoff games (having made the playoffs six times total). There’s a lot of experience there with Rivers and, should he have anything left at the age of 38, he would be a ton of fun to watch in a Bucs uniform this fall. Seeing him link up with guys like Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and O.J. Howard would be a treat. Plus, Rivers has some name value that would open some eyes around the league if he chooses to finish his career in Tampa.
3. Matthew Stafford
Here’s that bonus name that just feels unlikely. Stafford is still under contract with the Lions, who more than likely won’t trade him, given the situation they’re in. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. And wow, would it be fun to watch him play in Tampa or what? Health might be a concern at this point, but that aside, Stafford’s ability matched up with the weapons the Bucs’ roster has would be something special. At 32 years old, the top pick in the 2009 NFL Draft would be an intriguing add. He has plenty of ability. After all, when Jameis Winston joined the exclusive 5,000-yard club in 2019, he joined Stafford in that group. And for those who question whether the former Georgia Bulldog has lost a step, he was having a spectacular season in 2019 (2,499 yards and 19 touchdowns to five interceptions in eight games) before he went down with an injury. If Tampa Bay somehow added him to the mix, it would be getting a Tampa-born guy with enough of a resume to get people excited for what’s to come.
2. Jameis Winston
Of course, all Bucs fans are familiar with the excitement that Winston can produce on a football field. He has set record upon record in his first five seasons with Tampa Bay, showing flashes of absolute brilliancy. The problem, as everyone knows, has been the turnovers that just haven’t gone away. But there’s a reason so many look at him as the most exciting quarterback in the league, and that’s because you never know what crazy thing—good or bad—he’s going to do next. Any given play can be spectacularly amazing or downright mind-boggling. Now, you don’t necessarily want your franchise quarterback to be as erratic as he has been over the years, but if he dials the bad back at least some, he’ll go on to have an incredible career. As controversial of a player as he’s been during his NFL career, anyone who says he isn’t a talented quarterback with a ton of potential is kidding themselves. Plus, the dude’s charisma is off the charts. He has everything it takes to be successful. Whether that’s in Tampa or elsewhere, we’ll have to see. If he does stick around, you can bet on excitement from the guy week in and week out, for better or for worse.
1. Tom Brady
The G.O.A.T. coming to finish his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? It doesn’t get any more exciting than that. Brady has been to nine Super Bowls and has won six of them. He’s put together a 20-year career with the Patriots that can’t be matched in terms of success. The guy just wins and wins a lot. And oftentimes, he does so without much around him. Imagine what he’d do with the guys on Tampa Bay’s offense. Add a right tackle and a pass-catching running back and you have the potential for an outstanding run for the next couple of seasons. Because even at 42 (soon to be 43), Brady can play. He, perhaps more than anyone, feels like a guy that can engineer the season that breaks the Bucs’ playoff drought. And, honestly, even if he doesn’t, it’s Tom Brady. Having him play in a Buccaneer uniform would be too surreal to even fathom, no? After 20 years in New England, seeing that guy come down to try to pull the Bucs out of the depths of the NFL would be ridiculously fun. What an exciting time that would be, regardless of how long it lasts.
So, there you have it, folks. Yell at me if you wish, but that’s how I’d rank the quarterback possibilities from least exciting to most exciting.