For every club around the NFL during the bustling offseason, many questions occupy headlines as a new season looms. For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2023, the question that pervades is who will start at quarterback? Not only will there be a new face under center following the retirement of Tom Brady, but also a retooled offense/playbook under Offensive Coordinator Dave Canales. There will be competition at every position throughout the offseason workout program, with each unit being evaluated as turnover shifts the depth chart. Next up in the series, let's take a look at the quarterback position.
In March, the Buccaneers agreed to terms with sixth-year quarterback Baker Mayfield on a one-year contract, marking their first acquisition of free agency. Mayfield joins third-year man Kyle Trask to compete for the starting role under center for the Bucs in 2023. Both will vie to replace Tom Brady, who retired on February 1 after leading Tampa Bay to three straight playoff appearances and a victory in Super Bowl LV. Offensive Coordinator Dave Canales shed light on the factors that will make the determination come fall.
"I think philosophically for me, coming from Seattle, the best guy gets the job," Canales stated. "You saw it happen last year, firsthand. It was Geno Smith, it was Drew Lock, and it was a true competition. You had a guy who hadn't played in a long time, and you had a guy who had some pretty bad experiences in the recent past with Drew. For me, it's a win-win when you create a competition. Here's why: if you name a starter today, the backup guy starts thinking like a backup. But if you say, this is a competition, we're going to allow us to go into the preseason and let them show us that they can manage to get us into the right play, they can take care of the ball – that's going to be the determining factor, really, who takes care of the ball. The bonus is who pushes it down the field. If we can play great defense, run it, and take care of the ball – we're going to be a great team. The guy who can show that is going to win the job."
Baker Mayfield, who is 28, has an edge in experience, having passed for 16,288 yards and 102 touchdowns in six NFL seasons with the Browns, Panthers and Rams. In contrast, Kyle Trask, 25, has only been active for two games over a span of two seasons, appearing in the low-stakes regular-season finale at Atlanta last year in which he completed 3 of 9 passes for 23 yards. Even though both are starting from scratch in 2023, learning and adjusting to the new offense installed by coordinator Dave Canales, Trask has a lot of familiarity with the players in the Bucs' locker room and in the huddle. He has forged relationships with players on the Bucs' roster and soaked up information from Tom Brady.
Canales is implementing an offense in Tampa Bay similar to the one run by quarterback Geno Smith in Seattle last season, a run-based attack that complemented rookie running back Kenneth Walker. In 2022, Geno Smith took the league by storm under the tutelage of Canales, performing as a top-10-caliber quarterback. Smith had the best completion percentage in the NFL (69.8 percent), had the fourth most touchdowns thrown in the NFL (30), had the eighth-most passing yards (4,282) and tied for first in touchdown passes of 20-plus yards (13). Additionally, Walker rushed for 1,050 yards and nine touchdowns. Canales is excited about the potential of both Mayfield and Trask in his system.
"From Baker: what's cool about him is that he's got a ton of game experience. There's a lot of conversations happening about things that he did or saw or did in games. With Kyle, what's cool is – talking about being around Tom [Brady] for two years – you see his tempo and control in his drop[back] mimicking a guy that was the greatest of all time. It's like, okay, he's got a great starting point. If you were going to play behind somebody, who better than [that]? And that frame, that 6'5" frame. And honestly, the guys are both plenty smart enough to handle any of our alerts or our checks, getting us to the right types of plays – I've seen that.
"I've also seen two guys where I walk into the room in the mornings and they're already in there, they're talking, they've got their books out, they're watching a game. So, they're already cohesive in that nature. They just kind of are doing really well together. We just signed John Wolford, too, which is a huge get for me because he walks in and he's the smartest guy in the room on day one. He's really dialed in [and] excited about the opportunity. He just moved to Miami so it couldn't be a better situation for him and his wife. I'm excited for him to bring that value. He's played games and he really knows our system – there's a lot of good carryover from what they did at the Rams to what we were doing the last two years in Seattle."
Like the quarterback battle in Seattle at the outset of the 2022 season between Geno Smith and Drew Lock, Canales disclosed there is no rush in naming a starter. He wants both to develop a starting mindset that will breed confidence and production on the field, elevating the room.
Last week, the Bucs signed fourth-year quarterback John Wolford, who spent the last four seasons with the Los Angeles Rams and started three games in 2022, to add depth to the room. Wolford became a free agent when he was not extended a qualifying offer by the Rams at the start of free agency. Wolford adds experience to the unit and reunites with Mayfield. Wolford and Mayfield were teammates for a month last season in Los Angeles, after the latter was claimed off waivers from the Panthers. With Matthew Stafford sidelined by a neck injury, Wolford got the start in a Week 14 Thursday Night matchup against the Raiders but was pulled after one series due to his own neck issue. Mayfield, who had arrived in Los Angeles just two days prior to the contest, relieved Wolford of his duties and led the Rams to a stunning 17-16 victory.
Wolford started four games over his three seasons with the Rams, compiling a 2-2 record. After spending the 2019 season on the Rams' practice squad, he made the active roster in 2020 and made his debut in Week 17, helping the team secure a playoff berth. With starter Jared Goff out with a broken thumb suffered the previous week, Wolford was thrust into action, and completed 22 of 38 passes for 231 yards and added 56 yards on six carries as Los Angeles defeated the Arizona Cardinals, 18-7. He became the first quarterback ever to throw for 200-plus yards and run for 50-plus yards in his NFL debut. Overall, Wolford has played in seven regular-season games with four starts, completing 61 of 104 passes for 626 yards, one touchdown and five interceptions, while rushing for 87 yards during his NFL tenure.
*Position Group: Quarterback *
- Baker Mayfield
- Kyle Trask
- John Wolford