Bucs Season Ends with More Questions than Answers - Guide to Greater Tampa Bay
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Bucs Season Ends with More Questions than Answers

Bucs Season Ends with More Questions than Answers

Image courtesy of Buccaneers.com

It was a rollercoaster season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And just when Bucs fans thought the ride had ended, with Wednesday morning’s news came another sudden drop. From the man himself via his Instagram, Tom Brady is officially hanging them up… “for good.”

Many are wondering where things go from here after an early exit from their third consecutive playoff campaign and Tom Brady sailing off into retirement.

Who will be the next quarterback to lead the Bucs? Will they target a veteran free agent or look to draft their quarterback of the future in April? Can Todd Bowles right the ship and get the Bucs moving in the right direction? Who will lead the offense? Only time will tell.

Guide will break down where things stand now: the good, the bad and the question marks.

The Good

Right tackle Tristan Wirfs and free safety Antoine Winfield Jr. were stellar in 2022. The Bucs’ first two picks in the 2020 draft missed multiple games due to injuries. Still, both took massive steps forward in their third seasons.

On a chewed-up offensive line that faced the tall task of protecting the league’s biggest name and biggest target, Wirfs made the most of the challenge. The All-Pro tackle was selected to start in his second Pro Bowl in three seasons. At the age of 23, Wirfs looks like the best right tackle in the league.

On the flip side of the ball, Antoine Winfield Jr. put together a standout season of his own. Despite missing five games due to injuries, the 2020 second-rounder ranked second among all safeties, both as a tackler and as a pass rusher, and fifth defending the run, according to PFF.com.

Veteran wide receiver Mike Evans continued to dominate, putting up yet another 1,000-yard season. Evans set a record of seven consecutive 1,000-yard seasons to start a career back in 2020-21. He has since added to his own record with two more 1,000-yard seasons. This makes nine 1,000-yard seasons out of his nine years in the league.

Evans is now in the hunt for the all-time record for consecutive 1,000-yard seasons set by Hall of Famer Jerry Rice. Rice topped 1,000 receiving yards for 11 straight seasons from 1986 to 1996.

The 2022 season also saw the emergence of rookie running back Rachaad White. Not a lot was expected from the third-round rookie in his first season. After all, veteran running back Leonard “Playoff Lenny” Fournette was firmly entrenched as the lead back to start the season.

White averaged 3.7 yards per carry, which might not seem like much, but the rookie did it behind the aforementioned underperforming offensive line. He still averaged a better output per carry mark than Fournette. White also proved a reliable receiver out of the backfield, securing 50 of 58 targets.

The good news for Bucs fans: All will be back in 2023.

Image courtesy of Buccaneers.com.

The Bad

Todd Bowles’ first year as head coach left a lot to be desired. Offensive struggles stole the headlines, leading to the firing of offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich two days after the Bucs’ loss to Dallas in the Super Wildcard round. Five assistant coaches were also shown the door, and three others opted to retire.

It is hard to pinpoint exactly why an offense led by Tom Brady struggled so mightily. It is clear, though, the Bucs failed to find their rhythm or any semblance of consistency on offense while completely shying away from the run week after week.

The Bucs leaned too heavily on their passing game, frustrating armchair quarterbacks in third down and in red zone situations. In fact, the Bucs offense operated best in the no-huddle with Brady calling the shots, shining more light on Leftwich’s hit-or-miss play-calling.

The offense found itself in third down situations more often than 30 other teams in the league and only managed to convert just 37.4%, according to Pro Football Reference. In red zone situations, Brady and crew scored just 52% of the time.

See Also

Brady threw more passes than any other quarterback this season and any other season in league history, but he and his receivers seemed frequently out of sync. This resulted in an alarming number of under- and overthrown balls and the most drops in the league with 29. Meanwhile, the Bucs ranked dead last in rush attempts, and as a result, put up the fewest rushing yards and rushing touchdowns of any team.

The outcome of that imbalance? The Bucs ranked in the bottom third of the league in scoring, with an average of 18 points per game. They dropped from a 61-touchdown season in 2021 to just 31 in 2022.

Question Marks for the Future

The number one question heading into this offseason is who will start at quarterback for the Bucs now that Brady is officially retired? From this question alone, so many others spiral off of it. Do they splurge in free agency for a veteran quarterback or take their chances in April and try to draft their future signal-caller? Who will be Todd Bowles’ pick for offensive coordinator and how much will Bowles’ plan at quarterback impact that decision?

Brady’s cap hit would have cost the Bucs more than $35 million in dead cap space had he left the Bucs to join another team. Since he’s retired, that hit is instead spread out over the next two years. The team is also nearly $60 million over the projected 2023 salary cap.

A harsh reminder the Bucs are coming off their most successful three-year, consecutive playoff season run in franchise history. That type of success makes it difficult to afford to keep rosters together. That being said, the Bucs have already shown themselves to be savvy, win-now dealmakers when it comes to salary cap strategy.

No matter who takes over to lead the Bucs’ offense, the NFC South should remain soft. The Bucs should remain top contenders for the division title.

Bowles looks to be cemented in for at least one more season as head coach. Super Bowl-winning coach Bruce Arians remains in the mix as a senior football consultant for the team, providing consistency in what could be rough seas ahead as the Bucs look to keep the ship afloat with a new offensive coordinator and a new quarterback.

By Jordan Ogren.

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