Next, team owners and representatives will gather in Palm Beach for the Annual League Meeting, commonly referred to as the owners' meetings. One of the things they will do over four days in South Florida is discuss proposals for rules changes, as they do every year. You can expect the issue of overtime rules to be the most prominent discussion.
The last time the NFL made a change in its overtime procedure was in 2017, when the extra period was shortened from 15 minutes to 10. The current system, in which each team is guaranteed at least one possession unless the team with the ball first scores a touchdown, has been in place for the postseason since 2010 and for the regular season since 2012. Here's a neat little rundown I found of overtime rule changes and how some other proposals have fared in the last decade-plus.
Some of the proposals that have failed would have been pretty drastic changes, and probably pretty darn entertaining, too. Last year, for instance, the Ravens and Eagles proposed something called a "spot and choose" concept in which the team that won the coin toss could make one of two decisions first: Whether to start on offense or defense or where to spot the ball for the first possession. Then the other team gets to make whatever choice is left. I'm not sure I really like it, but I wouldn't mind seeing how it played out strategically once or twice. Maybe the next XFL can try it. Unsurprisingly, this proposal did not come close to passing.
This year, three teams have submitted overtime rule change proposals, and this time around they're going the simple route. The Colts and Eagles each simply suggested that each team is guaranteed a possession in overtime. The Titans asked for the same thing but with a minor twist: The team with the first possession wins if it scores a touchdown and a two-point conversion. In addition, the NFL's Competition Committee might make overtime rule change proposals of its own next week.
How would the Buccaneers' brass vote on these ideas? We'll have to wait and see. Considering recent results, if they vote based on their own experiences, they might be in favor of the change.
Since the current rule was adopted for the regular season in 2012, the Buccaneers have played 10 overtime games and are 4-6 overall in those contests. However, three of those six losses have been of the touchdown-on-the-first-possession variety. Tampa Bay has only benefitted from that rule once, when Dallas Clark caught a 15-yard touchdown pass to end the first possession of overtime against Carolina in 2012. That was, by the way, the first overtime touchdown in Buccaneers franchise history (not counting the preseason). Little trivia footnote on Clark's brief time in Tampa.
Here's how each of those 10 overtime games since 2012 have ended:
2012 at CAR, TB wins 27-21…TD on first possession of overtime
2013 at SEA, SEA wins 27-24…FG on second possession of overtime
2014 at NO, NO wins 37-31…TD on first possession of overtime
2014 vs. MIN, MIN wins 19-13…Pick-six on first play of overtime
2015 at ATL, TB wins 23-20…FG on first possession of overtime, defensive stop
2016 vs. OAK, OAK wins 30-24…TD on fifth possession of overtime
2017 at GB, GB wins 26-20…TD on first possession of overtime
2018 vs. CLE, TB wins 26-23…FG on fifth possession of overtime*
2019 at SEA, SEA wins 40-34…TD on first possession of overtime
2021 vs. BUF, TB wins 33-27…TD on second possession of overtime
(* Cleveland actually won the toss and got the ball first, and each team failed to score on its first two possessions, but the Bucs got the fifth possession after a muffed punt, setting up the game-winning field goal.)
Most of the angst that drives concerted efforts to change overtime rules comes from prominent games that had deeply unsatisfying endings. In this case, that was the Chiefs-Bills game in the Divisional Round of last year's playoffs. Superstar quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen put on an incredible show, with a combined six touchdown passes and no interceptions in regulation, leading to a 36-36 tie. Mahomes got another shot in overtime and threw his third touchdown pass to cap the first possession in the period; Allen never touched the ball again.
The postseason spotlight and unsatisfying finishes have driven other rule changes in the past. The Saints' 26-23 loss to the Rams in the 2018 NFC Championship Game turned on a blatant pass interference near the Rams' goal line that wasn't called, and that led to the ill-fated and short-lived idea to make pass interference calls (and non-calls) reviewable. That probably wasn't a good idea in the first place, but a simple change to overtime rules to make them at least feel more fair might be.
And now on to your questions.
A reminder that you can send questions to me anytime you want on Twitter (@ScottSBucs) and they're easier to find if you include the hashtag #SSMailbagBucs. We are also now soliciting questions each week on our Instagram page; look for that story on Wednesdays. As always, if you want to get a longer question into the mailbag and would prefer to email your question, you can do so to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Will the Bucs get the maximum amount of primetime games again this season?
-ssgower (via Instagram)
I think there is a very good chance they will, yes.
The maximum number of primetime games a team can be assigned in the original release of the schedule is five. It is possible for that number to go as high as seven with late-season flexing of games into and out of prime time, but I believe this question is aimed at the original schedule.
The Buccaneers, as defending Super Bowl champions, did get the maximum number of primetime assignments in 2021, but so did nine other teams, which is a really high number of that type of list. In 2020, there were seven teams that got five primetime contests out of the gate, including the Buccaneers. In 2019, there were six. I could go on, but as you'll see that's probably all the sample size we'll need.
That's a total of 23 teams. Of those 23, 18 made it to the playoffs the previous year. Thirteen of the 23 made it at least to the Divisional Round. All three defending Super Bowl champions made the list, as did all three Super Bowl runners-up. Some teams still had some lingering Super Bowl shine from two seasons prior, like the 2020 Rams and the 2021 49ers.
The five exceptions, those that were not playoff teams the previous year, are pretty easy to explain. The 2020 Buccaneers had just stunned the NFL by signing Tom Brady away from the Patriots, and that was easily one of the two or three biggest stories of the season. The 2021 49ers had dipped to 6-10 in 2020 but had dealt with a massive number of injuries and were still considered strong contenders after making the Super Bowl in 2019. The 2020 Rams still had Sean McVay and Aaron Donald, a year removed from being in the Super Bowl (and they would get five more in 2021 after making the Divisional Round in 2020 and then trading for Matthew Stafford).
The others include the 2020 and 2021 Cowboys, and they are the Cowboys. The 2019 Steelers made it on the list after missing the playoffs with a 9-6-1 record the year before but they are the Steelers. I think we know that the league is always going to consider the Cowboys and Steelers big draws no matter what happened the year before.
So everything that has made the Buccaneers attractive enough to get the maximum primetime exposure the past two seasons is very much still in place. They made it to the Divisional Round in 2021, only bowing out in a spectacularly thrilling 23-20 last-second loss to the eventual-champion Rams. They still have that Super Bowl shine from the 2020 season and have managed to keep most of the core of that team together. They tied for the NFL's best record in the regular season last year.
Oh, and the Buccaneers still have Tom Brady, after it looked for about 40 days that they would not. That alone is probably good enough for the maximum of five. The only thing that would give me slight pause is that Tampa Bay is also going to be playing in the first-ever regular season game in Germany next season. That will not be a prime-time game, in the U.S. at least, but it might be viewed as a similar marquee placement. That's a minor concern, though. I still think the answer to the original question here will be yes.
How likely is it that the Bucs trade up or down in the first round of the draft this year?
-joeyperz (via Instagram)
I think with Jason Licht at the helm you can never call that possibility unlikely. The Buccaneers have traded out of their original first-round spot in three of the last six drafts.
In 2016, Tampa Bay traded down two spots to number 11 before selecting cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, picking up a high fourth-rounder in the process.
In 2018, Licht pried two extra second-round picks from Buffalo to move from number seven down to the 12th spot, as the Bills were trying to get their hands on quarterback Josh Allen. That worked out well for everybody, as Allen has turned into a franchise quarterback and the Bucs still got Pro Bowl defensive lineman Vita Vea after moving down. The first of those two second-rounders was used on cornerback M.J. Stewart, which didn't really work out in the end, but the second (after another minor trade down) produced cornerback Carlton Davis.
And in 2020, with Tristan Wirfs tantalizingly within reach but the Bucs worried about another team swooping in ahead of them to grab the last blue-chip tackle on most boards, Licht deemed it worthwhile to send a fourth-round pick to San Francisco to move up from the 14th slot to number 13. Wirfs is already an All-Pro in the NFL, so the Bucs definitely feel good about that move.
The most analogous situation to where Licht and the Buccaneers are drafting this year is actually last year's draft. The Bucs were picking 32nd and last in the opening round after winning Super Bowl LV. After an incredible run before and during free agency that saw them lock all 22 of those Super Bowl starters plus just about every key contributor in for a run at another title, the Bucs went into the 2021 draft without any glaring needs. They truly could afford to go with the best player available on their board. In the end, that was outside linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, who did also fill a bit of a need in an edge-rush group that was top-heavy with veteran talent but not very deep.
This time the Buccaneers are picking 27th in the first round after losing in the Divisional Round the year before. This offseason has gone quite well so far, too, with Brady coming back and other free agents following suit. There have been a couple of losses in free agency – Jordan Whitehead, Alex Cappa and O.J. Howard – but the Bucs have still managed to keep from developing any depth chart holes that are too deep or tricky. The closest thing to that might be defensive line, if Ndamukong Suh doesn't return, or tight end, if Rob Gronkowski fails to rejoin his buddy Tom.
So I would say that Licht and company are somewhat back in a place where they can consider a lot of different positions and go with the best player available. And to me, that sounds like a recipe for a possible trade down, not up. If you are not constricted to one or two positions, you're probably going to have a decent number of players you like almost equally well at the 27th slot. That gives you the possibility of trading down a relatively small amount and feeling confident that one or two of those players you're considering at 27 will still be there.
Even if the return isn't overwhelming – like the fourth-rounder the Bucs got for moving down two spots in 2016 – it would still be worth it given the team's relative lack of draft assets on Day Three. The Bucs have their own picks in each of the first four rounds but then aren't scheduled to choose again until late in the seventh round.
That current collection of draft picks is also why I think the Bucs aren't nearly as likely to trade up in this draft. Licht simply doesn't have a ton of draft capital with which to work, unless he were to dip into picks in future drafts. There would probably have to be a prospect sticking out really high on the Bucs' draft board as the 27th pick approached for them to go that route and jump up a bit to get him.
At 27, the Buccaneers could be in a good position to deal with a team that wants to move up from the second round into the bottom of the first to draft a potential quarterback of the future. Think of the Ravens' blueprint in 2018, when they gave up two second-round picks and change to move up 20 spots and grab quarterback Lamar Jackson with the last pick of the first round. The reason teams would rather take a QB in the first round than the second is that first-round picks carry with them that fifth-year team option on their rookie contracts.
Say the Falcons, who just traded away franchise QB Matt Ryan but then signed their likely 2022 starter in Marcus Mariota, choose to pick up, say, a receiver or a corner with the eighth overall pick rather than a potentially long-term replacement for Ryan. Now the Falcons are lurking again at pick number 43 in the second round and they have an extra third-rounder to work with from that trade with Indianapolis. If some guys like Matt Corral, Desmond Ridder or Sam Howell are still available. It might be tempting to move up and get that quarterback of the future after all, and with one extra year of control.
Will the Bucs go after any more WRs in free agency or the draft?
-patrick.d28 (via Instagram)
With the draft you never know, because the Bucs' roster is complete enough that, as I was noting above, they have a little freedom to pick at positions that might not be of immediate need. Tampa Bay didn't have a severe need at receiver in 2020 when they drafted Tyler Johnson in the fifth round, for example, but they thought it was good value in a deep class. This year's receiver class is, once again, quite deep, so there could be some good options in the middle rounds.
That said, the depth chart looks pretty full to me right now. You still have Chris Godwin and Mike Evans at the top as starters, and both are under contract through at least 2023. Godwin could conceivably miss a little time at the beginning of the season as he completes his return from a torn ACL, but I don't think it will be much.
The underrated signing of Russell Gage in the early days of free agency gives the Bucs a proven producer for their three-receiver formations, which they generally use more than 50% of the time. Assuming he wins the lion's share of that job, Gage is essentially a third starter, and he has racked up nearly 800 yards plus four touchdowns in each of the last two seasons in Atlanta.
Then there is a pretty good amount of depth in the likes of Johnson, Scotty Miller, Cyril Grayson and Jaelon Darden. Johnson hasn't had a ton of opportunities in his first two seasons but has produced at times when given a chance, and he's another option out of the slot. Miller got lost in the shuffle a bit last year but still has blazing speed and showed he could be a source of a reasonable number of big plays in 2020. Grayson was something of a revelation late last season when everyone got hurt and will surely get a chance to prove he can continue to be an impact player. And Darden is a 2021 fourth-round pick who could at least be in line for the kick return jobs.
The Bucs don't have a huge amount of cap space and had to restructure some existing contracts in order to make some of the signings and re-signings they've already done. They also still have a few more players on their own list of unrestricted free agents, like defensive lineman Will Gholston, that they probably want to get back in the fold. I just don't think there's much space left to spend in outside free agency, and since they've already used a chunk of that space to sign one receiver I doubt they would do so again.