If Buccaneers miss on Baker Mayfield, could Justin Fields be an option?

In the days leading up to free agency, reports have surfaced that Chicago is interested in Mayfield, which may lead to Fields' departure from the Windy City
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As the start of NFL free agency is just days away, more and more speculation has circulated around what will happen with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback situation.

Quarterback questions are not exclusive to the Bucs, as a handful of teams around the league are trying to figure out what their plan will be when free agency opens on March 13th.

Re-signing Mayfield is an obvious goal for the Bucs, one that the front office has highlighted, and for good reason. Last offseason, Tampa Bay signed Mayfield to a one-year, $4.5 million contract, and the move paid dividends.

In his first season as a Buccaneer, Mayfield completed 64.3 percent of his passes for 4,044 passing yards, 28 touchdowns, ten interceptions, and a 94.6 passer rating, and earned his second Pro Bowl nod and won the 2023 Most Improved Player of the Year Award.

Due to Mayfield's breakout season, he's being viewed as a top free agent option this offseason, and several teams have already shown interest. Last week, rumors began surfacing that the Falcons are "very interested" in signing Mayfield, while the Vikings and Patriots have also been named as other potential suitors.

Tampa Bay will no doubt have competition for Mayfield if he hits the open market, but if they lose out on him there could be a decent backup option to consider.

Should Buccaneers pursue Justin Fields if they fumble away Baker Mayfield?

Longtime Buccaneers writer Luke Easterling tossed out an interesting hypothetical that is starting to catch on. If the Bears end up going with Caleb Williams at No. 1, and the Buccaneers somehow misfire on bringing back Baker, then Justin Fields could be an interesting replacement option for the future.

"Fields has been inconsistent since the Bears selected him in the first round a few years ago, but he hasn't had much to work with for much of that time," Easterling wrote. "His coaching, play-calling, and supporting cast have had a significant impact on his lack of development, and he's also shown flashes of brilliance that prove there's still plenty of upside there."

It's a far-out idea, but it makes sense if the Bucs find themselves in the nightmare scenario of losing Baker. Fields could be a true plug-and-play starter next season and beyond, and wouldn't be the first former first-round pick that Tampa Bay was able to revive.

In his first three seasons in Chicago, Fields has completed 60.3% of his passes for 6,674 passing yards, 16 touchdowns, nine interceptions, and an 82.3 passer rating. On the ground, Fields has recorded 356 rushing attempts, 2,220 rushing yards, 14 touchdowns, and 6.2 yards per attempt.

At last check, the price on Fields was relatively reasonable, too. Experts predict that his value might max out at a second-round pick, and anything lower than that feels like a steal for the type of upside Fields has. It would also become critical that the Bucs find a way to block him from heading to Atlanta, assuming Mayfield doesn't end up there. With two years of team control left on his contract, the Bucs could see if they can do for Fields what they did for Mayfield and still end up coming out of this with a franchise quarterback.

Ideally Baker comes back. The offense is built around him and the moves the team has made feel designed around his return. From Mike Evans signing a new contract to the team hiring Liam Coen as offensive coordinator, to the relationship that has been built between quarterback and front office -- it all lines up for things continuing as they are.

Nothing can be taken for granted, though, and assumptions aren't guaruntees. Until the ink is dry on his contract, the Bucs have to keep all options open, and it's at least comforting to know that there might be paths forward if the worst-case scenario plays out.

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