TAMPA, Fla. -- A day after the season ended, Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Todd Bowles knew change could come quickly.
The Bucs’ 31-14 wild-card playoff loss to the Dallas Cowboys marked the start of the offseason and served as a dose of reality that quarterback Tom Brady’s run with an organization with Super Bowl aspirations could soon be coming to a close.
“You never want to rebuild -- you’re always reloading, no matter if you have new guys or not," Bowles said. "You want guys to come in and play and compete for you to win the division.”
The Bucs will have to do that with a new signal-caller after Brady’s heartfelt announcement that he's retiring "for good" on Wednesday following 20 seasons with the New England Patriots and three with the Bucs.
Brady made the Bucs relevant for the first time in over a decade and delivered the franchise a Super Bowl victory following the 2020 season. He added to his impressive list of accolades and helped them win NFC South titles in 2021 and 2022 -- marking the first time in franchise history the Bucs had won back-to-back division championships.
“You can’t get another Tom Brady anywhere,” outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett said. “No matter how hard you try. No matter how many years, I don’t think anybody will ever do what Tom did.”
The Bucs will also look a little different on the sideline after parting ways with offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich and several other members of the offensive staff last month.
This will give Bowles the flexibility to mold a quarterback and staff to his liking in his second year as coach. The Bucs have interviewed seven candidates for their offensive coordinator position already.
Here’s a look at how Brady's retirement impacts the team and what's next.
What’s the salary cap situation with Brady’s retirement?
The Bucs are set to be $55.314 million over the newly adjusted $224.8 million salary cap, according to Roster Management System. Brady will account for $35.104 million in dead cap money, but the Bucs can maneuver some money to free up space. The likeliest scenario is the Bucs designate him as a post-June 1 retirement, meaning they will take on a $10.776 million salary cap hit for the 2023 season and absorb the remainder of the cap hit in 2024.
Brady might be the first domino to fall, but Tampa also has 24 players set to become unrestricted free agents this offseason, including inside linebacker and longtime defensive captain Lavonte David, cornerbacks Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting and safety Mike Edwards.
What’s their current situation at QB?
The Bucs have one quarterback under contract for 2023: Kyle Trask. Trask was the third-string quarterback in 2022 and active for only one game. Their backup quarterback for the past three years, Blaine Gabbert, is set to become an unrestricted free agent.
While Trask is generally well-liked inside the Bucs building, he was characterized by now-retired quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen as a more methodical learner, although once he absorbs the information, he retains it and doesn’t have to be told twice. That might factor into how quickly the Bucs believe he can learn a new playbook.
Trask was active for two games over the past two seasons and saw regular-season action at the end of the Bucs’ Week 18 loss to the Atlanta Falcons when Brady was pulled in the second quarter because the Bucs already had the division locked up and couldn't improve, or worsen, their playoff position.
"Since he’s been here, every time I look out my window, he’s out there working on his own,” Bowles said of Trask. “He has the greatest resolve and toughness and inner strength almost [more] than any person I’ve seen. A young guy coming out -- he prepares every day. When his time comes, he’s going to be ready.”
Bowles is extremely fond of Gabbert too, saying after the season ended, “Blaine is a heady player. He’s extremely smart. I think he helps out a great deal on both sides of the ball. He understands what the game is about. [He’s a] competitor. I love what he does for us in practice -- getting us looks. I love how he helps Tom out. [He’s a] tough guy. He’s one of my favorite players.”
The feeling of some in the organization is Gabbert is a player whose career might have gone much differently had he come into the league in a more stable situation. From 2011 to 2017, Gabbert had seven different offensive coordinators. Former Bucs coach Bruce Arians -- who also coached Gabbert when he was the lead man of the Arizona Cardinals -- believes marred his development.
What about free agency or a trade?
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers signed a three-year, $150.8 million contract in 2022 with two option years that would keep him under contract through the 2026 season. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Packers are open to trading him but only to a team in the AFC.
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, a pending free agent, would be extremely attractive for the Bucs despite failing to finish the season because of injury for the second consecutive year. But the most likely scenario is the Ravens will use the exclusive franchise tag on Jackson, which would cost them $45 million, but it allows the Ravens to set the terms for teams interested in acquiring Jackson.
Derek Carr announced he will not return to the Las Vegas Raiders, tweeting a farewell message after he was benched for the final two games of the season. The Raiders will try to trade him and if they cannot find a willing partner before Feb. 15, the third day of the 2023 league year when his $32.9 million base salary and $7.5 million for 2024 will become fully guaranteed, they’ll release him. The Raiders have yet to give Carr permission to seek a trade. Despite a 63-79 career record with one postseason appearance, the cost for the 31-year-old's services will be high in today's quarterback market.
Brady’s former understudy in New England, Jimmy Garoppolo, might be an option too. Garoppolo is 53-21 in his career and has played in a Super Bowl. But he played in a much different scheme with the San Francisco 49ers than what the Bucs have been operating and does have limitations, which is why Niners coach Kyle Shanahan said in his season-ending news conference that they would be content going into next year with Trey Lance and Brock Purdy competing for the starting job and doesn’t “see any scenario” of Garoppolo returning.
There is also Sam Darnold, whom Bowles drafted when he was the coach of the New York Jets in 2018. Darnold saw a bit of a resurgence with the Carolina Panthers as a starter for their final six games. Darnold went 4-2 and threw for 1,143 passing yards and seven touchdowns with three interceptions. He is set to become an unrestricted free agent.
What about the draft?
The Bucs have the 19th pick in April's NFL draft, which isn’t considered a great spot to land a top quarterback, although keep in mind -- Purdy was selected with the final pick in last year’s draft, and he nearly led the Niners to a Super Bowl. Brady was also a sixth-round pick in 2000.
In this year’s class, though, the top three quarterbacks are generally considered to be Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State's C.J. Stroud and Kentucky's Will Levis. There are several teams ahead of the Bucs that need quarterbacks, and it would be a shock if those three made it past No. 10.
Florida's Anthony Richardson may be available by the time the Bucs pick. He might have the highest ceiling in the draft, but he’s generally considered a raw and inconsistent prospect. Then there’s Hendon Hooker out of Tennessee, who led the Vols to a No. 1 ranking at one point in the season. Hooker missed the last two games of the season after tearing the ACL in his left knee against South Carolina on Nov. 19. There’s no guarantee Hooker would be ready for training camp or Week 1, although his recovery is expected to last about nine months.
Outside of QB, how does the Bucs roster stack up?
There's no way around it: The Bucs had the league’s worst rushing attack in 2022.
The offensive line should be improved, though, if center Ryan Jensen can recover from a torn ACL, MCL and PCL, a damaged meniscus and a knee fracture that caused him to miss the entire regular season and offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs can continue to build on his second straight Pro Bowl season.
General manager Jason Licht and his staff have also established themselves as being "player friendly." Even in tight cap situations, which they’ve had the last two years, the agents of players they’ve negotiated with have said they felt respected throughout the process and were presented with fair offers.
Having a winning culture matters when attracting free-agent quarterbacks too, especially aging ones who don’t have a lot of time to absorb the growing pains of a team still learning how to win.