The Tampa Bay Bucs have become the common man’s punching bag in 2023. Ask anyone from your buddy who’s a casual NFL fan to a pundit on a major sports network, the Buccaneers are going to be one of the worst teams in the National Football League this season.
Tampa Bay is labeled with losing as if they’ve already lost. Most who anticipate Tampa Bay having a terrible season provide a few consistent reasons behind their argument. These are the mainstream narratives the Buccaneers will have to overcome in 2023.
“The Bucs have no quarterback.”
If you haven’t heard, the greatest quarterback of all time is now a minority owner of a different NFL franchise. So— he retired, again. This time the Buccaneers have lost Tom Brady for good. Number 12 isn’t coming back to bring Tampa Bay on another run to championship glory. That means the franchise is in transition. Needing to find a new quarterback to lead their team moving forward, the Bucs have turned to an open competition.
Competing, the Bucs have former Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield. Who, Despite being drafted number one overall in 2018 and resurrecting an otherwise morbid organization, has been categorized as damaged goods and a bust. Mayfield is up against the homegrown (or ungrown, hence the problem) prospect, Kyle Trask. Trask was drafted in the second round of the 2021 NFL draft. The last time Kyle Trask has seen any significant on-field action he was lighting up defenses in the SEC. In his senior season, Trask threw for 43 touchdowns and only eight interceptions.
The 2020 college football season is long since forgotten, as is the 2020 NFL season, leaving most people with the recency bias that Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask are busts who have accomplished little to nothing as quarterbacks.
“Tampa Bay lost all their players.”
This one has some merit to it. Some. The Buccaneers did have a large quantity of players on their roster last year who will no longer suit up for Tampa Bay on game days. There is a fairly large asterisk here though. The Buccaneers lost some big-name players, but not necessarily big-name production. Name recognition and on-field performance aren’t always a match.
A pessimistic outlook would be the Bucs lost their stars, conversely an optimist might argue the team has trimmed the fat. The theme of Tampa’s offseason has been out with old, in with the new. Some personnel changes from last year to now, will be the absence of Leonard Fournette, Cameron Brate, Donovan Smith, Mike Edwards, Logan Ryan, Keanu Neal, Scott(y) Miller, William Gholston, Julio Jones, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Akiem Hicks and of course the aforementioned Tom Brady.
The list is long, but not every player on the list is as impactful as their name suggests. Setting aside Tom Brady, the biggest name on the list is Leonard Fournette. ‘Playoff Lenny’ was underachieving Lenny last season. He plotted his way to a disappointing 3.5 yards per rush and just three touchdowns. Losing that production will likely prove not all that tough to replace. Most, who are familiar with his rookie campaign, expect Rachaad White to step in and fill any void left by the former number four overall pick.
Beyond Leonard Fournette, names like Cameron Brate, Julio Jones, and Scott(y) Miller sound like they may be challenging to replace. In reality, they all tallied under 300 yards receiving last year. Julio Jones is the only one of the three who even found the endzone during Tampa’s offensively challenged season. Simultaneously, the Buccaneers have added to these positions via the draft so naturally as old production leaves, new production enters.
On defense Jason Licht did what he needed to do this offseason. Littered with free agents ready to walk, the Bucs managed to re-sign both Jamel Dean and Lavonte David. Players did leave, but getting back the heartbeat of their defense and retaining their starting cornerback were crucial moves in order to keep the team competitive on Sundays. Tampa also found a way to keep Anthony Nelson around. While Nelson has never broken out as an elite edge defender he has progressed during his tenure in Tampa Bay and recorded 10.5 sacks in rotational duty over the last two years.
“Todd Bowles is on the hot seat.”
This is the narrative that I can’t disapprove, it remains to be seen. Better yet, only Todd Bowles has the ability to change it. The Bucs head man may be facing a make-or-break year. His performance as a head coach last year was inconclusive. Many of his decisions and strategic tactics were questioned, but he did coach his team to an NFC South title, earning a postseason invite. If expectations weren’t so mountainous for Tampa Bay, with Tom Brady as their quarterback, that represents a decent first year for a head coach.
Bowles does have a track record as a head coach in the National Football League and it isn’t the best, which can make last year’s playoff season feel like a team that was dragged by the greatness of their quarterback and surrounding talent, in spite of their coach. This year the deck is cleared. The 2023 Tampa Bay Buccaneers are Todd Bowles’ team. He did not take over awkwardly mid-offseason, it is his job, and his staff.
If the Buccaneers fail to meet expectations this season, there is a chance Bowles has coached his last game in Tampa Bay. 2023 is Todd Bowles’ chance to rewrite his own personal narrative. Is he a great defensive coordinator, who isn’t fit to be a head coach? Or is he just a good all-around coach, who wasn’t given a fair shot with the New York Jets?
What doesn’t get discussed is that the Buccaneers do have a good deal of talented pieces left on their roster. Tampa has a healthy group of offensive skill players and a retooled offensive line that hopefully won’t be limping into the season for the second consecutive year. On defense, the Bucs still have a good deal of the same starters retained from their Super Bowl victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. That day Tampa Bay’s defense put out as dominate a performance as any defense in recent memory. While their level of play may not resemble what it was that day in Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers defense should be able to round itself back into form in 2023.
For more Bucs coverage follow us on Twitter:
...Also on YouTube: