Every team in the NFL builds with one goal in mind: to win the Super Bowl. Teams build to eventually have a window of opportunity where they have legitimate championship equity. When that opportunity arises, they must be prepared to walk a delicate balance between maximizing their championship equity in the short term, which comes at the cost of the future health of their franchise, and maintaining the long-term health of their franchise.
This is why a team like the Buffalo Bills and the Kansas City Chiefs can never go “all-in” with Josh Allen or Patrick Mahomes at quarterback; yes, those teams would be maximizing their championship equity in the short term, but they would be doing their franchise quarterbacks a disservice in future seasons. They must walk the balance between contending now and contending in the future.
No such conundrum exists for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Despite their 2-2 start, the Buccaneers are well-positioned to make a legitimate run at the NFC championship, and therefore a Super Bowl, in what is likely their final year with Tom Brady at quarterback.
Tampa Bay’s moves this offseason (and last) have been that of an “all-in” team, pushing money into the future with voidable years on almost every single contract they signed and restructuring veterans just to be cap-compliant on their new deals. Even peripheral moves for this year, such as trading a fourth-round pick in the 2023 draft to move into the fourth round for cornerback Zyon McCollum, a needed depth piece in the secondary, lend valuable insight into Tampa Bay’s mindset: yes, they are “all in.”
And they should double down.
This will likely be Tampa Bay’s final year of Super Bowl contention in the foreseeable future. If Brady doesn’t retire, the smart money should be on him bolting to a new team; he undoubtedly sees the writing on the wall for this Buccaneers team, just as he saw the potential in it when he arrived in 2020.
Tampa Bay is facing a free-agent period in which they project to be $45 million over the salary cap, with only three defensive backs currently under contract for next season (Carlton Davis, McCollum, and Antoine Winfield Jr.). They will have no obvious answer at quarterback under contract. Their best linebacker and the heart of their defense, Lavonte David, will also hit free agency. Almost every rotational defensive lineman they have—Akiem Hicks, William Gholston, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Anthony Nelson, and Carl Nassib—will be a free agent.
In other words, no matter what, Tampa Bay is overleveraged. The bills will come due on their “all-in” approach after this season. With their 2-2 start to the season, they face a choice; they can continue to go all-in, or they can make a half-hearted effort to walk that balance of preparing for life after Brady. They have done the latter before, selecting perpetual healthy scratch Kyle Trask in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft over a litany of players who could have helped the 2021 and 2022 teams in their title chases.
Doubling down on their all-in approach would require aggressive general managing from Jason Licht and the front office. It would require an honest assessment of their roster and a willingness to plug holes, even non-obvious holes, with players teams make available on the trade market and are currently available on the free-agent market.
One obvious name that has been connected to Tampa Bay is Odell Beckham Jr. Beckham doesn’t necessarily fill a “need” on the Buccaneers’ roster; Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Russell Gage, and Julio Jones are a more than formidable quartet. However, Godwin, Gage, and Jones have struggled with injuries this season and last year’s version of Beckham is a no-brainer upgrade on Gage and Jones—Jones simply cannot be relied upon to stay healthy.
If Beckham, who has expressed strong admiration for and interest in playing with Brady in the past, is interested in Tampa Bay (and his tender embrace of Brady in New Orleans would suggest so), the front office should not think twice about bringing him in.
As of right now, the trade market has yet to truly come into focus around the league. With 23 teams sitting at 2-2 or better, it is difficult to say which teams may become sellers at the trade deadline. However, two positions Tampa Bay should not hesitate to target that are currently problem areas on their team are offensive line depth and tight ends. Two players who have been rumored in trades in those areas are Isaiah Wynn and Mike Gesicki.
The Patriots benched Wynn during last week’s loss to the Packers, and he hasn’t seemed long for New England since skipping the offseason program. If Tampa Bay made a move for Wynn, there’s a chance he wouldn’t even start over incumbent left guard Luke Goedeke. However, Wynn would provide valuable depth at four of the five offensive line spots, a clear and immediate upgrade over swing tackle Josh Wells and top interior backup Nick Leverett. The Buccaneers saw last year how important quality offensive line depth can be when Wells was forced to start a playoff game after Tristan Wirfs suffered a high ankle sprain.
Gesicki stands out as a particularly natural fit. Miscast in Mike McDaniel’s scheme in Miami, he has been rumored to be available at the right price. While he leaves a lot (read: everything) to be desired as a blocker, his lack of prowess in that area actually makes him similar to Tampa Bay’s current starter at the position, Cameron Brate. However, Gesicki has shown himself to be a dynamic receiver throughout his career, something the likes of Brate, Cade Otton, and Ko Kieft cannot claim. The Buccaneers have gotten essentially nothing out of their tight ends as receivers this season and Gesicki would bring an added element to the offense they lost with Rob Gronkowski’s retirement.
More trade opportunities will reveal themselves over the course of the next month as teams begin to sputter. It will be up to Licht and Tampa Bay’s front office to seize those opportunities when the moments arise.
Tampa Bay likely would have made it out of what most pundits considered a brutal beginning of their schedule 3-1 had it not been for Mike Evans’ suspension in their Week 3 matchup against the Green Bay Packers. Their defense, even after an abysmal showing on Sunday against the Chiefs, ranks fifth in DVOA. This team is good, and as it gets healthier, it will only get better. As opportunities arise to improve, be it Beckham, Wynn, Gesicki, or players who are completely off the radar as of now (like Beckham and Von Miller were for the Los Angeles Rams at this time last year), the mentality in Tampa Bay’s front office should be no different than it was this offseason: all-in.
- Dec 01, 2022
- Dec 01, 2022