Mid-Tier Wild Card Options
Key Factor: These quarterbacks are a bunch of things, but top billing goes to affordable and combustible. That’s the risk the Bucs are likely going to have to take this offseason in finding a veteran quarterback who will help them compete. These guys have the upside to help the Bucs compete in 2023, but don’t leap off the page as consistent game-changers and are guys who aren’t particularly exciting but might get the job done. Another name for this tier could be the ‘Sure, Why Not?’ tier.
8. Gardner Minshew
Minshew could fit into a few different categories, and almost went into the Avoid At All Costs tier, but there’s some potential upside to appreciate. Specifically, Minshew has shown in the past that he can be a functional starting quarterback as he fully displayed in Jacksonville. We are four years removed from peak Minshew Mania, but he was really good during that sting with the Jags. Minshew threw for 3,271 yards, 21 touchdowns, and only six interceptions in 14 games as a starter for a very bad team.
Critics can point to nothing burger he’s served up in the time since, but that’s where Dave Canales enters the chat. It’s not unfair to say Canales landed the Bucs OC job largely because of what he did last season reviving the career of Geno Smith. Imagine him doing that again but this time by giving the world a dusting of Minshew Magic as we saw back in 2019. It’s asking a lot, but we know Minshew has the ability to be a good quarterback, and while he struggled with the Eagles last season when given the starting role, it might be worth seeing if Canales can bring out the best in him with the worst-case being the Bucs end up a losing team with a high draft pick — which is where they’re projected to be anyway. Best case is Minshew does what Geno did and the Bucs are a playoff contender next season.
7. Baker Mayfield
There’s a lot of crossover between Gardner Minshew and Baker Mayfield. They’re almost the same guy, which is more of an indictment of Mayfield given he’s a former No. 1 overall pick and Minshew was drafted on Day 3. Entering this offseason, however, you’d have to squint to see the differences between them.
What the Bucs would be betting on is Canales getting Baker back to the guy Cleveland had in the first part of his career. Mayfield was never an MVP candidate, but the early part of his career with the Browns offered a lot of promise that he’s since failed to deliver on. After flaming out in Carolina, Baker started to show signs of life with Sean McVay, finishing the year with a completion percentage index of 95, and coming close to matching stats he put up in seven games with the Panthers in just five with Los Angeles. He’d likely come cheap, which is key, as Baker is projected to be a backup elsewhere in the league while the Bucs could give him a legitimate shot at winning the starting job in training camp.
Speaking of which, Baker vs. Kyle Trask isn’t exactly the sexiest quarterback battle but once you stomach it for what it is, the outcome goes a long way in telling the Bucs what they have in Trask.
Make no mistake, it’s a massive gamble but one that no one should feel dirty about if it’s the best option on the table.
6. Teddy Bridgewater
Remember when Teddy Bridgewater was almost the Bucs quarterback in 2020 before Tom Brady rolled into town? It’s completely unfair to Bridgewater to say Tampa Bay avoided a mistake in going with Brady over him because that was never a debate. Once Brady became an option, all others were rendered meaningless.
It could be, though, that the pairing was meant to be. Bridgewater hasn’t been electric since his early success in Minnesota, but he offers a bit more upside and less risk than Baker and Minshew. So many of these quarterback options hinge on Canales being able to repeat the success he had in developing Geno Smith into Comeback Player of the Year, but of all the guys available Bridgewater might be the best suited to make it happen.
Bridgewater seems to have always been dealt a tough hand in his career, which seems circumstantial rather than having to do with a lack of talent. Injuries ended his tenure with the Vikings, where he was a Pro Bowler. He finished as a Top-5 Comeback Player of the Year candidate in 2019 with the Saints, but wasn’t beating Drew Brees out for the starting job. Bridgewater parlayed his success with New Orleans into a starting role with the Panthers where he put up career-highs in completions, passing yards, touchdowns, and rushing yards but his ascension was stunted when Matt Rhule traded for Sam Darnold. He did his best with the Broncos but encountered bad injury luck and an even worse team, and suffered a similar injury fate with the Dolphins last year.
When Bridgewater has been on his game, he’s been fantastic. That’s what the Bucs would be betting on.
5. Andy Dalton
Ooof. It’s tough when we’re getting to the top of the barrel but it feels like the bottom is being scrapped. No disrespect to Dalton, but if he’s the best the Bucs can do this offseason it’s going to be a long year.
That being said, Dalton offers more upside than he’s probably being given credit. His stops in Chicago and New Orleans weren’t memorable by any stretch, but he didn’t leave a crater in his wake. What Dalton gave the Saints last year is pretty much what the Bucs can expect, which to be fair was a playoff-contending team that ran into some unlucky breaks. If Tampa Bay’s defense is back to what it was and the offense under Canales can shake off whatever weird hex that was placed on it last year, the Bucs could be a 9-win team next season. Dalton won’t be the reason the Bucs win many of those games but he might be the reason why they don’t lose more.