Bucs begin the 2023 off-season with win after win
The Bucs faced a tough spot heading into the 2023 off-season. With more than 20 players going on to become unrestricted free agents, they were more than $55 million above the salary cap. They also faced the reality of having to leave seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady, who retired on February 1.
With the new league year kicking off at 4pm ET on Wednesday afternoon, Jason Licht, John Spytek and Mike Greenberg and the rest of the Bucs front office have done quite well, especially given the circumstances.
After making a flurry of moves to cut off a cap, Tampa Bay started its week off retaining No. 2 cornerback Jamel Dean, signing him to a four-year deal that averages $13 million a year. That is less than Carlton Davis III received just under $15 million per season last year. Tuesday slowed things down a bit, but Wednesday turned out to be a pretty big day for the Bucs.
First the Bucs re-signed outside linebacker Anthony Nelson, an important rotating piece in their defense, to a two-year contract. The money may feel a bit rich to some, but it’s clear the team has prioritized the 2019 fourth round pick. A solid, proven presence behind Shaq Barrett – who is recovering from a torn Achilles tendon – and Joe Tryon Shoyinka – who is looking for consistent production in year three – is valuable.
Then Tampa Bay inked former No. 1 overall, Baker chooses Mayfield to a one-year contract. He will be the veteran presence they’ve been looking for as they hold an open quarterback league to fill Brady’s spot. Mayfield, who is looking for a career revival, will battle it out with 2021 second-round pick Kyle Trask for the right to start in Tampa Bay as Brady’s successor.
And to top it off, reports emerged on Wednesday afternoon that a longtime captain and perennial Top 5 off-ball linebacker Lavonte David will return for another season. And the Bucs got him for $7 million (with incentives that could push the deal to $8 million), which is well below his projected market value of $12-$13 million per season.
Not to mention, retaining him is a major cultural win, as his leadership and status as a Buccaneer legend are important to the locker room and fans.
That’s quite a few days for a team trying to do its best to stay competitive while facing some of the ramifications that come with going all-in in a three-year Super Bowl span.
Bucs still has plenty of work to do – this team isn’t done yet
While it’s been a good week for the Bucs so far, their work is far from done. Yes, they’ve kept their top two defensive free agents and another one that’s probably in the Top 5 in that category, plus they’ve added a high upside signal caller to compete with Trask. But the grid is far from a finished project.
Tampa Bay still has a few job openings in the safety field. There are a number of openings in the defensive line. There are big questions about what the offensive line will look like. There’s little depth at wide receiver, and the backed-off and tight end chambers could use some depth, too.
The Bucs will certainly continue to manipulate the cap as best they can to create enough room for some more value gains on these positions. Then it’s time for Licht, Spytek and the scouting squad to shine. The 2023 NFL Draft is one of the most important in recent Bucs history as some entry-level talent must be acquired over the last weekend of April.
Do the last three days mean the Bucs are favorites to win a wide open NFC South? Not exactly.
How they fill out the rest of their roster and what comes out of the battle between Trask and Mayfield will determine that. How the other three teams in the division are doing their thing will also be a factor. Everything takes place on the field, of course.
But the front office is clearly on track to give the team a chance. That’s all you can really ask for.
So yeah, given the circumstances, it’s been a pretty good week for the Bucs so far.
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