Perhaps this is the reverse of the “Brady Effect,” where we saw for three years players flooding to Tampa to play with the GOAT for heavily reduced contracts. Perhaps this is the result of an 8-9 season last year with Tom Brady. Or perhaps this is just another example of the disconnect between national media and local media.
Quite simply, the national pundits - who don’t have their finger on the pulse of every team across the league - despise who the 2023 Tampa Bay Buccaneers are shaping up to be.
Power rankings can be silly, but they give a talking point of the perception of the league from those putting them together. It’s kind of like pre-season college football rankings - no one really knows, but this is the general expectation of the teams.
For the 2023 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the expectation is simply this - you’re going to stink.
Dan Hanzus put together his post-free agency edition of power rankings where he had the Buccaneers ranked 24th. Then, following the draft, he did another where the Bucs slid all the way to 29th. Hanzus said;
“The Buccaneers are serious about this Baker Mayfield thing, huh? Tampa Bay chose not to address the quarterback position with its eight picks in the 2023 NFL Draft, setting up a summertime camp battle between Mayfield — the No. 1 overall pick-turned-journeyman — and former second-round choice Kyle Trask. It’s not a situation that inspires an enormous amount of confidence, but it’s worth remembering that Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are still around to help things along as much as they can. First-round pick Calijah Kancey continues a trend in Tampa Bay, becoming the third defensive tackle in six years to be selected with the Bucs’ top choice. They have a type.”
Okay, then. More on Dan in a minute.
Peter King also dropped some power rankings where he had the Bucs thirty-first. Yes, out of a possible thirty-two teams he only had the Arizona Cardinals ranked behind the Bucs. His only explanation?
“Well, the Super Bowl was still worth it.”
So, just to recap; two national writers have the Bucs as the worst team in the NFC South and both have them towards the bottom of the NFL. While Brady certainly made an impact, he was not the only player on the team.
Last year was a poor season from Brady, but a lot of that was beyond his control. Personal, off-field issues aside, Brady was dealing with an offensive coordinator who appeared in over his head without Bruce Arians watching over his shoulder, the loss of his center two days into training camp, the sudden retirement of his All-Pro caliber guard, the loss of another starting guard to an ACL tear in the final preseason game, an injury-riddled secondary, the loss of the best pass rusher on the team, the worst run game in the NFL thanks in large part to the regression of Leonard Fournette and the M*A*S*H* unit of an offensive line, the loss of Gronk, and a head coach that was thrust into a job just weeks before the NFL draft with no time to establish the staff he himself wanted.
Last time I checked, this team still had two incredible wide receivers and a third who never got to display the full arsenal of his talents due to multiple injuries. They still had one of the best linebacker duos in the league. They have a safety that was on the cusp of an All-Pro season before he was injured. They have the best nose tackle in the NFL.
This team is not void of talent. Not by a long shot. And the loss of Tom Brady does not equate to this being one of the worst teams in the league.
And that brings us back to Hanzus, who dropped the Bucs five spots because they’re “sticking with this Baker Mayfield” thing. Here’s the issue with that line of thinking;
Just because the Buccaneers didn’t do what Hanzus wanted them to at the quarterback position does not mean they did it wrong. People seem to forget that Mayfield was drafted to a Browns team that won zero games the year before. Within two seasons he had them above .500 and within three seasons he led them to their first playoff win in over two decades. Then, after playing through injury, he was made the sacrificial lamb for the front office to destroy the quarterback market in order to bring in Deshaun Watson - who has as many playoff wins as Mayfield does.
Mayfield was unceremoniously sent to a dumpster fire in Carolina as training camp was underway and had no chance under Matt Rhule to succeed. So they let him walk where he signed with the Rams on a Tuesday then led a comeback victory on national television 48 hours later - and he did so without the help of Aaron Donald or Cooper Kupp.
To put it mildly, Mayfield got absolutely hosed by the Browns and didn’t get a fair shake at anything in 2022. Now, he has a chance to play for an offensive coordinator that believes in him - remember, the Seahawks were interested in trading for Mayfield in the off-season - and can mold the offense around Mayfield’s strengths. He has a chance now to revitalize his career with legitimate talent around him in a division that is wide open.
Derek Carr may be the best quarterback in the division, but don’t kid yourself - Mayfield isn’t far behind and very easily could surpass Carr this season. Desmond Ridder is an unknown and let’s not crown rookie Bryce Young quite yet. While he certainly shows a lot of talent, the NFL is a different world.
At the end of the day, the Buccaneers still have a talented roster with minimal depth - so injuries could once again rear their ugly heads and derail a lot of things. But let’s not act like their starters can’t stand up to anyone in the division and most of the teams in a weak NFC. To discount the roster because Tom Brady walked away is a disservice to players like Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Devin White, Lavonte David, Tristan Wirfs, Vita Vea, Carlton Davis, Antoine Winfield Jr., Shaq Barrett, and Ryan Jensen. It shows a lack of understanding as to why 2022 went down the way that it did and - to be frank - it shows laziness at not taking the time to understand the situation they’re in now.
I’m not one to say that things printed in May become bulletin board material in September - but a roster built around a lot of players just two years removed from hoisting a Lombardi Trophy should take some of this personally. Brady didn’t do it on his own and he sure didn’t take all the talent with him when he left.
For more on this and all things Tampa Bay Buccaneers, check out James Yarcho and David Harrison on the Locked On Bucs Podcast five days a week!