Position Group: Quarterback
Players*: Tom Brady, Blaine Gabbert, Kyle Trask
(* QB Ryan Griffin was on the Buccaneers' practice squad in 2021 but his contract expired at the end of the season and he has not been re-signed.)
2021 Evaluation: The Buccaneers' quarterback position was phenomenally successful in 2021 because the one man who took 97% of that position's snaps was nearly the league MVP.
That man was Tom Brady, of course, and he finished second in the 2021 MVP voting to Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers. This was the expected outcome after the same Associated Press voters had Rodgers and Brady as one-two on the All-Pro team at quarterback. That marked the 10th time that Brady, a three-time league MVP, has drawn MVP votes in his career, and he was also selected for his NFL-record 15th Pro Bowl.
Remarkably, the 44-year-old Brady showed no signs of slowing down in his 22nd NFL season. He started all 19 games, postseason included, and finished most of them, in the process setting a new NFL record with 485 regular-season completions. Brady also led the NFL in 2021 in pass attempts (719, second-most in league history), passing yards (5,316, third-most) and touchdown passes (43). Brady's final passer rating of 102.1 was the second-best in Buccaneers history, behind only his own mark of 102.2 the season before.
Brady guided the Buccaneers to their first NFC South title since 2007 and into the Divisional Round of the playoffs, though the team ultimately came up short in its effort to win a second consecutive Super Bowl. The Bucs did tie for the best regular-season record in the NFL (13-4), however, and even in their final loss Brady engineered a stunning 24-point comeback in the second half to tie the Los Angeles Rams with 42 seconds left in regulation.
On his way to Super Bowl MVP honors in 2020, Brady broke nearly every Buccaneer passing record within Bruce Arians' aggressive downfield passing game, belying any thoughts of waning arm strength. In 2021, opposing defenses approached Brady and the Bucs differently, mostly running schemes designed to limit those downfield plays. In response, Brady adopted much more of a quick passing game and produced even bigger numbers than the year before. On throws that were released less than 2.5 seconds after the snap, the ageless passer led all NFL quarterbacks in completions (292), yards (2,421) and touchdown passes (23).
Brady's franchise-record 5,316 passing yards in 2021 allowed him to join Drew Brees as the only quarterbacks in NFL history with multiple 5,000-yard seasons. Brady threw for three or more touchdowns in eight regular-season games during the season, four or more six times and five or more twice. That pushed his career totals to 101 games with three-plus TD passes and 66 games with three-plus TD passes and no interceptions, both NFL records.
Blaine Gabbert spent the entire season as Brady's primary backup, getting the 44 offensive snaps that the starter didn't take. Gabbert threw just 11 passes, completing seven for 67 yards. Rookie Kyle Trask, a second-round pick in the 2021 draft, was inactive for each contest. Ryan Griffin, who has been with the Buccaneers since being claimed off waivers from the Saints in September of 2015, spent the season on Tampa Bay's practice squad.
2022 Outlook: The Buccaneers' 2022 outlook at quarterback changed dramatically this past Sunday.
Before the weekend, it appeared as if the team would be searching for a new starter under center, as Brady announced after the Bucs' final game and before the Super Bowl that he was not going to make "the competitive commitment" to play in the NFL any longer. However, after 40 days of apparent retirement, Brady realized he was ready to make that commitment and announced that he had "unfinished business" and was coming back for a 23rd NFL season in Tampa.
Prior to Brady's decision to return, General Manager Jason Licht said the Bucs would "leave the light on" for him but would otherwise "go down every avenue" in search of the team's next starter. That could have included re-signing Blaine Gabbert, the 12th-year veteran who has been Brady's primary backup the past two years, and in fact that could still happen. Gabbert, who has signed a one-year deal with the Bucs in each of the past three offseasons, has a deep knowledge of Bruce Arians' offense that no other veteran signee would have on Day One in Tampa. Arians worked with Gabbert in Arizona in 2017, clearly has confidence in him and has previously referred to him as one of the most underrated players in the league. Gabbert started five games for Arians' Cardinals in 2017, winning two of them, but has logged just three starts since, all for Tennessee in 2018.
The Buccaneers also would have given Trask a shot to win the job in a post-Brady landscape, but now the young passer will go back to learning from an impressive group of mentors with a shot at eventually being Brady's successor.
"We're very excited about the development of Kyle, where he has come from in the last year and what he has done – just being able to sit behind Tom, Blaine and Ryan, as well, in that room with Clyde [Christensen], Tom Moore and B.A."
For now, however, the Buccaneers are obviously in great shape at the game's most important position in 2022. Brady has shown absolutely no signs of slowing down as he navigates his mid-40s and has already done far more past the age of 40 than any other quarterback in NFL history. Not only has Brady put up league-leading numbers in his first two years as a Buccaneer - and led the team to its first two postseason appearances in more than a decade - but he has shown an amazing ability to adapt to a new offense and various defensive strategies to stop him.
For instance, since taking over the Bucs' offense in 2020 Brady has led the NFL in completions (132) and touchdowns (39) on vertical routes, eliminating any discussion of declining arm strength. However, in 2021 opposing defenses frequently took the approach of using two high safeties to try to allow fewer big plays. As a result, Brady began thriving in a quick passing game, leading the NFL in completions (292), yards (2,421) and touchdowns (23) on passes that took less than 2.5 seconds from snap to release. Whatever approach the Buccaneers take on offense in 2022, Brady seems certain to make it work and should go into the season as a prime competitor for Most Valuable Player once again.