The Tampa Bay Buccaneers appear to be zeroing in on Baker Mayfield as a top free agent target, but how well does he fit in?
Update: The Buccaneers and Baker Mayfield agreed to a one-year, $8.5M deal on Wednesday.
It appears that the plan for how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will enter the post-Tom Brady era is starting to come into focus.
According to NFL insiders Ian Rapoport and Mike Garafolo, the Bucs are planning on targeting Baker Mayfield once free agency begins this week.
“When free agency begins, the Bucs are expected to target ex-Rams QB Baker Mayfield as a potential starting QB option,” Rapoport reported. “This could be competition for Kyle Trask, their former 2nd-round pick, who the team likes a lot as Tampa Bay plots life without Tom Brady.”
Mayfield isn’t the top quarterback on the market, and is expected to have other suitors, but it seems like the wheels are turning in Tampa already for a reason.
“Buccaneers are looking for a veteran free agent QB at the right price,” Garafolo added. “They have a few guys they’ll check in on but Baker Mayfield could wind up making the most sense from a fit and financial standpoint.”
Don’t let the snarky comments about this on social media deter from the fact that is actually a low-key brilliant idea by the Bucs front office. Mayfield fits with the Bucs more than the easy low-hanging fruit jokes imply.
Buccaneers rumors: Baker Mayfield is a perfect free agent fit
Right now Kyle Trask is the only quarterback under contract for the Bucs, but the team needs to figure out whether or not he’s the guy who can be the franchise’s future.
Mayfield is the perfect competition for Trask for a number of different reasons.
If Trask loses the starting job to Mayfield in training camp, that answers some big questions about his future right off the bat. This would allow the Bucs front office to proceed into the season knowing it needs to find a quarterback in the 2024 offseason, a can begin assessing whether that’s an impending free agent or a draft prospect.
Caleb Williams is the fist name that comes to mind, but the Bucs would be able to spend the entire college season scouting the top quarterbacks in the country knowing they’re drafting one. It would also put the front office in a position to begin thinking about how to trade high enough in the draft order to select a top quarterback — assuming the team doesn’t lose its way into a top pick naturally.
That’s the other thing; the Bucs can have their cake and eat it too.
If Mayfield is the starter, he allows the organization to at least feign competitiveness and stave off any talk of tanking. Todd Bowles and his staff are coaching to make the playoffs, not earn a high draft pick that they might not be around to use next offseason. Mayfield, while not a perfect quarterback, makes the team as competitive as possible.
Think about what Dave Canales did for Geno Smith last season with the Seahawks, and imagine if he’s able to tap into even a little bit of that with Mayfield. We’re talking about a former No. 1 overall pick, who showed some flashes of the guy Cleveland thought it was getting while Mayfield was with Sean McVay in Los Angeles.
Mayfield is talented, there’s no question about it, and the question is whether Canales can extract the right levels of it. He showed he could do it by helping Smith revive his career into a $150 million deal, and it’s hard to see Mayfield not looking at that and wanting the same for himself.
Easier said than done, sure, but it could inspire the Bucs to be far more competitive in 2023 than anyone is assuming they’ll be.
That’s where the front office having a year to plan on how to trade up comes into play. Assume that a naturally high draft pick is a bonus, as the Bucs will be able to say they at least tried with Mayfield and let the chips fall where they may. If the team is in contention to win the NFC South or earn a Wild Card berth with Mayfield under center, plus the front office has a plan to trade up regardless of the Bucs draft pick, that’s the best of both worlds.
Mayfield has a fire the Bucs locker room could feed off as well. We all made jokes about him head butting his helmeted teammates, but right now that’s more gusto than anything we’ve seen out of the Tampa Bay locker room. Coming out of the Tom Brady era the Bucs are going to need to re-establish a culture, and while Mayfield won’t have creative control over that culture he could help begin to change it into something it currently isn’t.
It’s not the way anyone thought the Bucs would enter a new era after the last three years, but Baker Mayfield is a much better fit for the team than he’ll be given credit.