We're less than a week away from the start of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers season, and pundits are emptying the hot take tank while they still have time.
In case you hadn't already heard, the Buccaneers showing up Week 1 in Minnesota is one of the bravest acts a team has ever made since they stand such little chance of being competitive this season. The way the Bucs have been talked about since Tom Brady retired would make you think they're a Pop Warner team that has been allowed to play in the NFL as some generous act of charity.
Most of this hinges on the fact that folks aren't comfortable admitting they don't know enough about the Bucs to have an informed opinion. While any metion of the Bucs this offseason has been overwhelmingly negative, most of it is surface-level analysis.
Specifically, the signing of Baker Mayfield has made it easy to bash the Bucs and dismiss them as the biggest losers of a season that hasn't even started yet. From Peter King to Collin Cowherd, everyone seems to be down on the Bucs this year.
Add Stephen A. Smith to the list, because why not?
Stephen A. Smith lays into Baker Mayfield and the Bucs
In one of his latest rants on First Take, Stephen A. Smith took aim at the Buccaneers and specifically Baker Mayfield.
"I mean we’re just supposed to believe the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have better times on the horizon because Baker Mayfield is succeeding Tom Brady. Are you kidding me? One winning record in five years [for Mayfield]," Smith said. "I’m not sold on them. I’m not sold on them at all."
While Smith mentioned Todd Bowles as a potential factor -- as though reading from a Greatest Hits list of pre-packaged talking points about the Bucs -- it's clear he's yet another pundit hyperfocused on the optics of Mayfield succeeding Tom Brady.
"I’m not trying to say he’s some scrub; I know he can play. But c’mon, y’all, it’s a precipitous dropoff. Not to mention the fact that they had the worst rushing attack last year in football. Why should I believe it’s going to be any better this year," Smith ranted. "When you look at Baker Mayfield succeeding Tom Brady, I’m sorry. I think about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and I say, ‘Oh please. You’re not going anywhere.’ Even with Mike Evans as your all-world receiver.”
This is hardly an original take, and we've lost track of the number of times it's been lazily reheated when someone needs to come up with something to say about the Bucs. When Baker signed back in March, every Twitter comedian had the same jokes and every armchair analyst was quick to foam at the mouth over the optics of the Bucs going from Brady to Baker.
It's true in the most reductive sense that Baker is replacing Brady, but that's where the comparisons end. Nobody is who can be taken seriously is expecting Mayfield tor simply step into Brady's shoes as though the Bucs are some kind of assembly line and not miss a beat. There's a fair amount of risk in this upcoming season, but it's all calculated.
Baker gives the Bucs the best chance to compete, and does so with the same chip-on-his-shoulder attitude the entire team is embracing. This is not the same team that competed for a Super Bowl the last three seasons, but it's also not a team full of spare parts. There are plent of things that could go wrong but almost just as many that can go right.
The Bucs hired Dave Canales to run the offense and Skip Peete to fix the run game, both of whom come from massively successful systems where they were among the chief reasons for that. Canales helped take a Seahawks offense to the playoffs that was supposed to bottom out in the first year without Russell Wilson.
Canales' role in that was making it happen with Geno Smith -- someone who completely revived his career and won Comeback Player of the Year. The same can be said about Peete, who is coming from Dallas where he coached Tony Pollard into a leadback position with the Cowboys while making him a dynamic duo with Ezekiel Elliott.
It's easy for the uninitiated to grasp for the lowest hanging fruit and bash Baker while dismissing the Bucs as a lost cause. Anyone who knows what they're talking about, though, should have Canales and Peete at the top of every talking point as equally critical factors in the team's success this season.