Following a miserable 7-9 campaign in 2019, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers entered the offseason with plenty of question marks around their roster. Those questions were headlined by the quarterback position, with the option of re-signing starting Jameis Winston or looking elsewhere in free agency.
As it turned out, Jason Licht and Bruce Arians opted for the latter option, and on March 20th, signed future Hall of Famer Tom Brady. In the three ensuing seasons with Brady, the Buccaneers went 32-17, won two NFC South division titles, and defeated the Chiefs 31-9 in Super Bowl LVI to rise to the top of the NFL.
With Brady retiring last February, Tampa Bay entered the offseason with yet another looming question of who the team's franchise quarterback would be. Over one month later, the Bucs answered those questions by signing veteran Baker Mayfield.
While Brady led the Buccaneers to success over the past three years, Mayfield brought with him the baggage of having struggled to find consistency after a record-setting rookie season. After four up-and-down seasons in Cleveland, Mayfield had short stints with Carolina and Los Angeles in 2022.
In ten starts with the Panthers and Rams, Mayfield completed 60.0 percent of his passes for 2,163 passing yards, ten touchdowns, eight interceptions, and a 26.3 QBR, all career worsts. Mayfield's collective record of 2-8 marked a major fall from his third season when the 2018 No. 1 pick threw for 3,563 passing yards, 26 touchdowns, and eight interceptions to lead the Browns to an 11-5 record and the franchise's first playoff win since 1994.
Regardless of his previous struggles, Tampa Bay entered the 2023 season with Mayfield as the QB1 in a season highlighted by uncertainty. Under Dave Canales, Mayfield was excellent in his first season as a Buccaneer, completing 64.3 percent of his passes for 4,044 passing yards, 28 touchdowns, ten interceptions, and a 94.6 passer rating, and was named as the NFL's 2023 Most Improved Player of the Year.
Baker Mayfield deserved to win Most Improved Player
Overall, Mayfield ranked among league leaders in passing touchdowns (7th), passing yards (9th), completions (10th), and passer rating (12th), while also being one of two players to finish the year with 28+ passing touchdowns and ten-or-fewer interceptions.
Not only did Mayfield's 2023 season mark as the best of the sixth-year veteran's career, but also as one of the best in Buccaneers' franchise history. To clarify, Mayfield became the second player in Tampa Bay franchise history to throw for more than 4,000 yards, 25 or more touchdowns, and ten or fewer interceptions in a single season, joining Brady in 2022.
Despite starting the season with a 4-7 record and third in the division, Mayfield captained the Buccaneers to wins in six of their last seven games to finish with a 9-8 record and their third straight NFC South division title.
As the No. 4 seed, Tampa Bay hosted the defending NFC conference champions and No. 5 seed Philadelphia Eagles in the wild-card weekend finale. In just his third career playoff start, Mayfield threw for 337 passing yards, three touchdowns, zero interceptions, and a 119.8 passer rating to lead Tampa Bay to a 32-9 wild card win.
In the NFC Divisional Round, Mayfield found success against Detroit's stout secondary, compiling 349 passing yards, three touchdowns, and a 94.5 passer rating. However, Mayfield did throw two crucial interceptions, including the game-losing interception to seal the 23-31 loss and end the Buccaneers' magical 2023 season.
In addition to being named as the NFL's Most Improved Player of the Year, Mayfield was also announced as a finalist for The Associated Press' 2023 Comeback Player of the Year Award. Mayfield joins Joe Flacco, Damar Hamlin, Matthew Stafford, and Tua Tagovailoa as the finalists.