TAKING STOCK: 2022 TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
We had seen this story before. Tom Brady had led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back from a 27-3 second half deficit to tie the contest in the final minutes. With just 42 seconds on the clock and all the momentum in their favor, Brady and the Bucs watched Matthew Stafford complete two monster passes to Cooper Kupp and the Los Angeles Rams ended Tampa Bay’s season with a 30 yard field goal from Matt Gay.
And, for a while, it appeared it had ended Tom Brady’s career as well. The undisputed Greatest of all Time at the position seemingly called it a career and the Bucs were in a tailspin, once more without a quarterback on a team with a win-now roster.
That lasted about a month.
But, hey nothing else serious would happen I thought as I was writing this. But before it could even run, Bruce Arians stepped down as head coach, retiring for the second time, joined the Bucs front office and Todd Bowles was named the new head coach.
Life comes at you fast.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
2021-22 Record: 13-4, first place NFC South
Playoffs: Lost 30-27 to the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Divisional Round
The good news for the Buccaneers and the bad news for everyone else is that Brady, after attending one of his kid’s youth soccer games, decided that retirement wasn’t for him. He returns and immediately put Tampa back in contention.
With Brady back in the fold, the Bucs’ free agents began falling into line. Chris Godwin signed a long term deal and running back Leonard Fournette was locked down on a three year contract. Wideout Breshad Perriman will be back too along with center Ryan Jenson and cornerback Carlton Davis. Ali Marpet retired and, so far at least, has remained there, so the Bucs re-signed his back up Aaron Stinnie.
As for Bowles, this is his second stint as a head coach, his first coming with the New York Jets. In his time as Tampa’s defensive coordinator, his units have ranked in the Top 10 in DVOA for the last three seasons. He was obviously the natural, and hand picked, choice to succeed Arians.
While Tampa locked in its offensive players, they’ve let defensive stars Jason Pierre-Paul, Ndamukong Suh and safety Jordan Whitehead walk. Brady will also miss out on the services of right guard Alex Cappa, who joined the AFC Champion Cincinnati Bengals.
Like most of the better teams, after re-signing their own guys, Tampa has grown silent in free agency. Kyle Trask is set to back up Brady and I think the Bucs need to keep it that way.
Tight with the salary cap (even though it’s fake), the Buccaneers will likely wait until after the draft to grab up some bargain free agents. They need help along the defensive line, especially in the interior. The addition of Logan Ryan helps mitigate the loss of Whitehead.
Russell Gage adds a weapon to take the “Antonio Brown” spot that will bring less production, but come with significantly less drama. As such, he will be a significant upgrade.
In my first and now completely defunct mock draft, I had Tampa Bay taking Jahan Dotson, wide receiver from Penn State at No. 27. With the addition of Gage in free agency, that’s probably off the table now. Instead, they’ll probably look at an edge rusher like Jermaine Johnson II from Florida State or an interior defensive lineman like Devonte Wyatt from Georgia.
At No. 60 in the second round, they could add a rookie wideout like David Bell out of Purdue or go offensive line with Max Mitchell from Louisiana. Jalen Wydermeyer, the 6-5 tight end out of Texas A&M is tempting pick at No. 91 in the third round.
Not only do the Buccaneers have a clear path to the NFC South title with Brady back, there are realistically only three potential NFC teams that could stop them from returning to the Super Bowl. The New Orleans Saints remain a problem in the regular season, but they have to make the playoffs to do anything to derail Tampa Bay. The Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons could find their way into a very weak Wild Card race, but I’d be shocked if either team kept it close against the Bucs in the regular season.
Follow Adam Greene on Twitter @TheFirstMan.