The 2023 offseason has arrived for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, ushering in a myriad of moves that sparks conversation in the football world. Most notably, Tampa Bay parted ways with Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich and several other assistant coaches. As the Bucs enter a transition phase, many permeating questions linger. Who will be under center in 2023 for the Bucs? Who will be the club's new offensive coordinator? What changes will be made to reinvigorate the team's run game and pass rush? Will Todd Bowles call defensive plays next season? The list is endless. Of course, until Tom Brady makes his final decision on retirement or suiting up for Year 24 – with the subsequent follow up of where – he will be the focal point of headlines.
As free agency looms, the Bucs have several big decisions to make under the salary cap. Set to hit the open market is quarterback Tom Brady, inside linebacker Lavonte David, cornerback Jamel Dean, safety Mike Edwards, cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting, outside linebacker Anthony Nelson, William Gholston and Akiem Hicks among others. As the frenzy begins in March, speculation will rise as to who the Bucs can afford to keep and who goes elsewhere? Every offseason unearths a plethora of discussions over various topics to occupy time until training camp begins.
After diving into various topics from the 2022 season including Offensive MVP, Defensive MVP, Most Impactful Rookie and Most Improved, Staff Writer Scott Smith and I will debate the Biggest Storyline of the 2023 Offseason. Since we are not allowed to repeat answers, order matters. Scott, what subject do you select?
Scott Smith: Who Is the Quarterback?
I actually think the biggest issue the Buccaneers will encounter in the months ahead is the state of their salary cap. According to Spotrac, Tampa Bay's current list of player contracts for 2023, along with dead cap implications from some expiring deals, has the team about $55 million over the cap if nothing changes between now and March 15. Of course, some things have to change by then because the Bucs have to be cap-compliant by that date. Furthermore, if they want to have any chance at retaining some of their pending free agents, they're going to have to do enough to create at least some significant space under the cap.
But the debate here is the biggest storyline, and I can't imagine there is going to be any Buccaneer topic more discussed and dissected than who is starting at quarterback for the team in 2023.
Obviously, that starts with Tom Brady's decision about what he wants to do and where he wants to be this coming fall. He could retire, re-sign with the Buccaneers or sign with another team, and only one of those three options provides any clarity for Tampa Bay. Until Brady makes a decision, that will be the main element of this story; if that decision does not involve his return to Tampa, then the discussion shifts into what the Bucs do to replace him.
Could they simply hand the reins to veteran Blaine Gabbert (who would have to be re-signed first as he's a pending free agent) or young Kyle Trask? Todd Bowles always speaks highly of Gabbert, as did Bruce Arians before him, but the 33-year-old passer hasn't started a game since 2018, which makes him somewhat of an unknown commodity despite his many years in the league. That goes double for Trask, who has only played in one regular-season game so far, in the meaningless 2022 regular-season finale, and that experience didn't really tell us anything?
If the Bucs look elsewhere for a Brady replacement, will they look to start over with a draft pick or to bring in an experienced veteran? Could they seek a trade for an established starter? All of these options are going to be debated frequently in the coming months, as will what the eventual decision means in terms of how serious of a contender the Bucs can be.
Brianna Dix: Who Is the Offensive Coordinator?
Hard to argue with you on that point, Scott. However, the person picked to become the Buccaneers' new offensive coordinator will impact who is under center and vice versa. The Bucs initiated a shift on their coaching staff last Thursday by parting ways with six assistants, including Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich. Leftwich served as Tampa Bay's offensive coordinator for four seasons (2019-22), the first three under Head Coach Bruce Arians. Arians stepped down from his role and into an advisory role in March. Todd Bowles, who had been the team's defensive coordinator for the previous three seasons, was promoted to head coach.
The Bucs averaged 405.9 total yards of offense (No. 2 overall), 307.6 passing yards, 98.4 rushing yards and 30.1 points per game in 2020-21 under Leftwich's direction. Those numbers steadily decreased this season, falling to 346.7 total yards of offense (No. 15 overall), 269.8 passing yards, and 76.9 rushing yards per game. A plethora of injuries to both the offensive line and skill positions hindered continuity and sparked a shuffling of personnel. The Bucs were never able to reach their full potential offensively, ushering in change during the offseason.
The lack of points scored was a repeated talking point as the Bucs' offense averaged just 18.4 per contest in 2022, which was among the worst in the league. Tampa Bay only scored more than 30 points twice during the regular season and one of those games resulted in a loss. There was no balance between the passing and running game as the Bucs often found themselves playing from behind in pass-heavy mode. Tom Brady averaged over 52 pass attempts per game during the last month of the season, including 66 attempts against the Cowboys in the Wild Card Round.
With a fresh slate this offseason, Todd Bowles will begin to assemble his coaching staff, with a big emphasis on the offensive play-caller. Across the NFL, there are many teams looking for an offensive coordinator. There are currently 11 offensive coordinator vacancies, after the Patriots hired Bill O'Brien and the Jets hired Nathaniel Hackett. Whether or not Tom Brady returns, the Bucs' offense is in need of revitalization. With the current long list of potential candidates circulating in the football world, the one who wins the gig in Tampa Bay will be tasked with helping the team rediscover its run game, downfield passing attack and cohesion along the offensive line. The club's new offensive coordinator will have an impact on the infusion of young talent added via April's draft and veterans selected by way of free agency. This will be the storyline to monitor moving forward.