Two years ago at the NFL Scouting Combine, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Bruce Arians noted the number of prominent veteran quarterbacks headed towards free agency and talked about his team looking at what was behind "Door Number Two" to address that position.
Arians and the Buccaneers' brain trust is back in Indianapolis this week for another Combine, which has returned in full force after being wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic last year. A lot happened between those two Indy jaunts, most prominently the Bucs opening that Door Number Two to find Tom Brady. Two playoff runs, one Super Bowl championship and 29 wins later, the Bucs are knocking on doors again.
Brady's decision to retire a month ago has Tampa Bay working through its options at the game's most important position again. In this case, Door Number Two might be on the Buccaneers' own house. Another thing that happened in the two years between Combines was the team's drafting of former Florida standout Kyle Trask in the second round of the 2021 draft. At the moment, Trask is the only quarterback on the Bucs' roster under contract for 2022.
Obviously, that won't remain true. It seems very plausible that the Buccaneers will re-sign veteran Blaine Gabbert, who has spent the past two seasons as Brady's primary backup and who has previous starting experience in Arians' offense. Arians wants to bring four quarterbacks to training camp, so there will be some other additions, as well. But Trask, who was inactive for every game in his rookie season and was obviously not going to unseat Brady, will get a real shot to win the job in 2022.
"Kyle's going to get a very great shot," said Arians. "He's earned his shot. Like I said, I really am impressed with the way he improved the things he needed to. When he was running the scout team, [he had] presence in the pocket, movement in the pocket, all those little things on and off the field that Tom taught him. Leaning out [his frame], getting a little quicker. So yeah, he can throw it; it's a matter of, does he turn it over?"
When the Bucs opened Door Number Two to find Brady in 2020, they let Door Number One close on Jameis Winston, the first-overall pick in the 2015 draft. Winston was the fifth quarterback the franchise has selected in the first round; in contrast, second-round picks at the position have been rare. Trask is just the second one of those in team history, and the first since Shaun King in 1999. It's a bit of a no-man's land for the position. Derek Carr has been a huge hit as a second-rounder for the Raiders and one could consider Andy Dalton and Jimmy Garoppolo as succcessful picks as well. Perhaps Jalen Hurts or Drew Lock will join them on the list. But there are also a lot of DeShone Kizers, Christian Hackenbergs, Geno Smiths, Brock Osweilers, John Becks and so on. The Bucs think Trask has a shot to rank among the second-round success stories.
"I definitely think he's got a chance," said General Manager Jason Licht. "He's shown all the signs that it's pointing that way, with his intelligence, his ability to pick up the offense, his work ethic, the way he absorbs information and retains information, and the way he throws the ball. This year, he's changed his body a little bit. He's surprising athletic out there, moreso than he was coming off his senior year at Florida."
The Bucs are also confident in Gabbert, and those two could end up as the main players in an open competition this coming summer. The team doesn't necessarily see a great opportunity for an upgrade elsewhere on the upcoming free agency market.
"Well, there are very few available unless they're via trade," said Arians. "Blaine Gabbert has been in this system for a long time now and his talent is more than enough, so if we go free agency-wise, we'll probably bring him back.
"I'd be very, very comfortable [with Trask or Gabbert] because they know what they're doing, and they've both shown they can do it. And with our defense, they know what we want out of our quarterback."
The mention of the trade option by Arians will prick up ears, but both he and Licht made it clear on Tuesday that they don't believe the trade market is going to be anywhere near as robust as the admittedly intriguing rumor mill would suggest. Yes, the Buccaneers are willing to swing big like they did two years ago with Brady, but the notable difference is that Brady came with no strings attached. He was a free agent. The Bucs didn't have to spend any draft picks to get him and, more to the point, they didn't have to convince some other team to join them on the trade dance floor.
"It's just really, really hard to swing a trade for a really good quarterback that you feel gives you a chance to win it, because why would the other team give up on him?" said Licht. "It shows you how fortunate we were two years ago to get Tom in free agency, for him to choose us, without giving up [draft] capital to do it. It's not so much the capital, it's the team willing to give up on their player, because where are they going to go."
Which is why giving Trask (and/or Gabbert and any other potential free agency pickups) a shot is a more realistic outcome than another home run swing for a star veteran. The Buccaneers knew that a Brady-hitting-free-agency scenario wasn't likely to happen often, and they at least partially prepared for Brady's departure by using that 2021 second-rounder on Trask.
"Well, we addressed it last year," said Arians. "We drafted Kyle Trask for a reason. He fits everything we want to do [at the] quarterback [position]. I really, really liked what I saw for a year, so I doubt drafting is an option. For all the other guys, it's going to be a trade. Well, you don't trade by yourself – you've got to have a partner, so that could be out of the question."