Lots of changes for the Bucs between 2022 and 2023 — but that doesn’t mean they won’t be competitive.
The 2022 season for the Tampa Bay Bucs was disappointing to say the least. Things started off with an injury to Ryan Jensen the second day of training camp and continued to get worse as the season progressed.
Yes, the Bucs won the division, but they did it at 8-9 and lost in the Wild Card Round of the postseason to the Dallas Cowboys. Then came the retirement of Tom Brady and the landscape of the Bucs organization changed overnight.
So what does the Bucs franchise look like heading into the 2023 season?
As with most places, it starts at the top — or, in this case, the coaching staff. Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich was fired after the Bucs’ offense was anemic in 2022. It seemed as though once Bruce Arians left the sideline, the offensive creativity and high-octane tempo went with him.
On the field, the biggest loss comes with the second retirement of Tom Brady, leaving a void at quarterback. After Brady, the Bucs saw a host of players leave, like Leonard Fournette, Mike Edwards, Scotty Miller, Blaine Gabbert, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Breshad Perriman, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Josh Wells, Keanu Neal, and Logan Ryan.
The Bucs also released left tackle Donovan Smith after his severely disappointing season and he found himself landing with the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, reuniting with Gabbert and Edwards.
Those players, in turn, had to be replaced and there was no position more important than quarterback and the Bucs looked to a player that they expressed interest in following Brady’s first, brief retirement — Baker Mayfield. Mayfield, whose injury in 2021 was just the excuse the Browns needed to ship him out of town, had a rough 2022 where he never really had a chance at success. Now, he looks to revive his career and stay in Tampa long term.
The Bucs also added running back Chase Edmonds, safety Ryan Neal, offensive lineman Matt Feiler, and defensive lineman Greg Gaines. That’s in addition to keeping some key players of their own in Jamel Dean and Lavonte David.
In the draft, the Bucs focused on adding speed to the defense while bolstering their offensive line. The Bucs added Calijah Kancey, YaYa Diaby, and SirVocea Dennis on defense while Cody Mauch was taken in the second round and is expected to start alongside Ryan Jensen.
As for the coaching, enter Dave Canales from the Seattle Seahawks as the new OC while Skip Peete was brought in from Dallas to try and revamp the league’s worst run game as the new running backs coach.
Upgrades and fits
The key cog in all of this is how Dave Canales fits with the players on offense and how Baker Mayfield fits with Canales’ offense. While there is still competition going on for the starting quarterback job, it appears as though it will be Mayfields’ job to lose. With a run-oriented attack and Rachaad White taking the reins as the lead back, Mayfield won’t have as much pressure on him as he did last season. That’ll allow him to utilize Mike Evans and Chris Godwin as one of the best receiver tandems in the league as well as second-year tight end Cade Otton who is looking to take a step forward as the top tight end.
The biggest thing the Bucs focused on adding this offseason was speed. Speed on defense — especially in the pass rush — was sorely lacking in 2022. The additions of guys like Calijah Kancey (whose status is up in the air after he was carted off the practice field with a calf strain on July 30), YaYa Diaby, and SirVocea Dennis infuse a lot of youth and speed to the front seven of Todd Bowles’ defense. The Bucs are hoping Shaq Barrett is back to 100% from his Achilles injury, but it may take a few weeks before that happens. In the meantime, players like Diaby, Anthony Nelson, Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, and Cam Gill have to be there to pick up the slack. Tryon-Shoyinka has a lot of eyes on him as he looks to take the next step in his development and learn how to finish plays.
Offensively, the speed comes in the form of Trey Palmer, Kaylon Geiger, and Deven Thompkins. All of these guys are fighting it out for the fourth wide receiver position behind Evans, Godwin, and Russell Gage. Gage dealt with a lot of injuries in 2022 so having him back fully healthy in 2023 will add a new wrinkle to what Dave Canales can do with the skill players in his offense.
Don’t tell me the odds…
There isn’t a lot of faith in the Brady-less Bucs for 2023 despite still having a large number of players who won the Super Bowl in 2021 and having plenty of Pro Bowl and All-Pro level players. The national media tries to make everyone believe the Bucs were a one-man show and that’s simply not true.
After being one of the Super Bowl favorites heading into last season, the Bucs are +8000 to win the Super Bowl this year — ahead of only the Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans, and Arizona Cardinals — according to our friends over at DraftKings. They’re +800 to win the NFC South — worst in the division — and +360 to make the playoffs.
The thing is, the Bucs know no one is giving them a chance and they’re using it to put a chip on their shoulder. Guys like Lavonte David, Mike Evans, and Chris Godwin know they’re more than just guys for Tom Brady to throw to, while someone like Baker Mayfield is out to prove not one, not two, but three teams wrong for giving up on him.
As Carlton Davis said, they’re going to surprise a lot of people and that defense is ready to “wreck s—-.” Putting some money on the Bucs to win the division or make the playoffs may not be as crazy as people want you to believe — and there’s no doubt they are out to prove this team can win.