With Brady moving on, Bucs aim to use draft to stay relevant
By FRED GOODALL
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Winning without Tom Brady will be a challenge.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers concede as much, although general manager Jason Licht insists losing the seven-time Super Bowl champion to retirement this offseason hasn’t impacted the team’s commitment to remaining competitive.
With Brady no longer in the picture, the Bucs have parted ways with high-profile veterans such as Leonard Fournette, Julio Jones and Giovani Bernard acquired to help the quarterback be successful over the past three years.
Former Browns, Panthers and Rams quarterback Baker Mayfield was signed in free agency to compete for Brady’s old job.
Meanwhile. Licht and coach Todd Bowles feel they’ve given the defense a chance to stay relevant by re-signing linebacker and long-time team captain Lavonte David and convincing cornerback Jamel Dean, to stay, too, with a four-year, $52 million contract.
Next up is finding additional help in this month’s NFL draft, beginning with the 19th pick in the first round.
“If you walk through the halls, our scouts and our coaches, people are all-in. We’re trying to win,” Licht said, rejecting the notion that the Bucs have altered the aggressive, Super Bowl-or-bust approach taken to surrounding Brady with talent the past three seasons.
“We’re trying to bring in the best players that we can,” the GM added. “It’s no different than we have in the past.”
A tight salary cap situation is one of the reasons the Bucs haven’t been more active in free agency. Another is the roster is hardly devoid of talent with offensive holdovers such as Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Tristan Wirfs, as well as young defensive standouts Dean, Vita Vea and Devin White, still on board.
“When you lose the greatest quarterback of all time, I think everyone assumes you’re going to be bad. At least that’s the narrative,” Bowles said the NFL owners meetings last month.
“You lose the aura. He deserves every accolade he gets ... but you don't lose the team you have. You change it," Bowles added. "It's different because you don't have Tom Brady, but no one else has Tom Brady either. So you bring in the necessary pieces to still help you compete and make sure the team is playing good ball.”
White, who was the fifth selection in the 2019 draft and became an immediate starter as a rookie, has expressed unhappiness over the lack of progress toward a new contract and requested a trade.
Licht said this month that the Bucs have “no intention” of moving the linebacker, who’s scheduled to earn about $11.7 million in 2023.
Barring a trade, the Bucs have the 19th pick after repeating as NFC South campions with an 8-9 record and losing at home to Dallas in the opening round of the playoffs. It’s the earliest Tampa Bay has been slated to pick since the team selected offensive tackle Wirfs 13th overall in 2020.
Veteran left tackle Donovan Smith was released in a cost-saving move this offseason. And while Wirfs likely will move from right tackle to replace Smith on the left side, bolstering depth on the offensive line will be a priority in the draft.
There are needs in the secondary, too, after losing cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting and safety Mike Edwards in free agency. An edge pass rusher would be a welcome addition, too, with linebacker Shaquil Barrett coming off an Achilles injury that sidelined him much of last season.
Mayfield will compete with third-year pro Kyle Trask to be the starting quarterback. The Bucs invested a second-round pick in Trask two years ago, so they aren’t likely to take another QB in the early rounds.
Linebacker and interior defensive line are considered strengths, too, although Licht stresses the team needs to build depth.
“If they can play early, that’s great. But we’re not trying to pinpoint one particular thing (like): ‘This guy will be able to start Week 1,’ as opposed to, ‘This guy is going to become greater - a better player - in two years,’” the GM said. “We’re still going to look for what’s best for the future.”
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Updated April 20, 2023