How far behind are the Bucs compared to the rest of the NFC South?
This is the real question and the one that is causing anxiety in the wake of Carolina’s trade. There was already a sense of insecurity in Tampa Bay after losing Tom Brady and now both the Saints and Panthers have closed the quarterback gap.
In less than a month the Bucs have gone from the best team in the NFC South to the third-best team in the NFL’s worst division. Add to that the fact that there’s no concrete plan at quarterback, which is juxtaposed against two rivals locking in very clear paths forward at the position. Derek Carr will be in New Orleans for at least four years and the Panthers will spend the duration with a top prospect on a cheap rookie contract.
Both of those situations are far more attractive than where the Bucs are, which is an obvious cause for concern. Even Atlanta seems to be in a better position, although the gap there is much closer.
Remember that this is a slow burn, though, and the Bucs shouldn’t be expected to come out of the Tom Brady Era sustaining the same level of success the team has just experienced. Some of that is due to the team fumbling the bag, but most of it is the team needing to take its medicine and pay the bill for the last three seasons.
Don’t be a prisoner of the moment, though, as there’s a path forward for Bucs as well. Starting Kyle Trask to see if he has what it takes to be the guy is an obvious first step, a situation that continues to become less and less pressurized. The Bucs don’t need to figure out their future quarterback this season; if it ends up being Trask then that’s great, but if not then the question can be deferred to next season.
Assume the Saints will be the best team in the South for the next few years, due to them having the most stable quarterback situation. Next is Carolina, but only if they stick the landing with the No. 1 pick. Atlanta is a wild card, but until they figure out their own quarterback situation they shouldn’t be considered too much of a concern.
That means the Bucs don’t need to have a true plan locked in until 2024, which is when the team can draft someone like Caleb Williams, sign a free agent with more cap space than it has now, or start building around Trask. Nobody should drag their feet at One Buc Place, but the future is not as bleak or as daunting as it seems.