Skip to main content

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Let the Games Begin | S.S. Mailbag

This week, Bucs fans have questions about Trey Palmer's potential output as a rookie, the Bucs' plans at center in the wake of Ryan Jensen going to IR, and more


Last Tuesday, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Todd Bowles declared the competition for the team's starting quarterback assignment over, tabbing sixth-year veteran Baker Mayfield as the man for the job. Mayfield had been competing with third-year player Kyle Trask to be under center when the regular season begins in Minnesota on September 10.

Mayfield will be the first quarterback other than Tom Brady to start a regular season game for the Buccaneers since the start of 2020. Brady had three very successful years at the helm before finally retiring after his 23rd NFL campaign, a stretch that included his seventh Super Bowl championship and two division titles. Now it's Mayfield's turn.

The Buccaneers signed Brady as an unrestricted free agent in March of 2020 after he had played two decades in New England. Mayfield hasn't been in the NFL quite as long but he also arrived as an unrestricted free agent this past March. That means the Bucs have chosen the veteran free agent option at quarterback two times in a row.

That might not seem particularly remarkable, but it's actually a relatively rare occurrence in franchise history. In fact, this is just the sixth time that the Bucs' opening-day starting quarterback will be a veteran who was signed as a free agent earlier that same year. Who were the others and how did it go? Well, I'll tell ya.

All five previous occurrences came since the turn of the millennium. The first one was in 2001, when the Buccaneers brought in Brad Johnson, who had played seven previous seasons in Minnesota and Washington. Johnson replaced Shaun King, the 2020 starter, in the lineup and the Buccaneers went 9-7, earning a Wild Card berth but bowing out in the opening round of the playoffs in Philadelphia. That was actually pretty much exactly what the team did with King at the helm in 2020, too, but we all know there's more to this story. Johnson put together a Pro Bowl season in 2002 and helped the Buccaneers win their first Super Bowl championship.

The next time it happened was in 2007, when the Bucs imported former 49ers Pro Bowl passer Jeff Garcia, who had spent the previous three seasons in Cleveland, Detroit and Philadelphia, in that order. Garcia regained his Pro Bowl form, and while he missed three games due to injury during the season he went 8-5 as a starter and helped the Bucs win the NFC South. Unfortunately, another early playoff exit followed.

Two years later, the Bucs used a first-round pick on quarterback Josh Freeman but wanted to bring in a veteran to start the season so they could take a patient approach with the rookie. That veteran was Byron Leftwich, who would later return as the team's offensive coordinator during the Brady era. Tampa Bay lost its first three games with Leftwich at the helm, turned to 2008 fifth-round pick Josh Johnson for the next four contests, all losses, then finally gave the starting nod to Freeman. The team finished 3-13, though it would rebound to 10-6 the following season with Freeman starting every game.

In 2014, the Bucs hired Lovie Smith as their new head coach and Smith in turn brought in one of his former charges in Chicago, quarterback Josh McCown. McCown had started just five games in 2013 but had put together an impressive 13-1 touchdown-interception ratio. It didn't work out as well in Tampa, as the Bucs went 2-14 in 2014, a record that gave them the top pick in the 2015 draft, which they used to draft quarterback Jameis Winston. McCown only played one season for the Buccaneers, one of the nine teams roster him during his career.

And then there was Brady, whom we've already covered. All in all, a pretty decent group, and now Mayfield has a chance to make it even better.

Now on to your questions.

A reminder that you can send questions to me any time 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

Do you think Trey Palmer will have a breakout rookie season?

- @danny__loves__sports (via Instagram)

Depends upon your definition of "breakout."

Let me offer up a comparable situation. In 2017, the Buccaneers already had Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson as their primary starting receivers when they used a third-round pick on Penn State's Chris Godwin. Godwin played in all 16 games as a rookie but only made two starts and was on the field for less than 50% of the offensive snaps. He finished his rookie year with 34 catches for 525 and didn't score his first NFL touchdown until the Bucs' very last offensive play of the season. (Remember that? Jameis Winston's first read on that play was an out to Cam Brate on the sideline that could have set up a go-ahead field goal, but he played YOLO ball instead and went up top to Godwin for a 39-yard score.)

Does a 34-525-1 line count as a breakout for a rookie receiver? Not by Justin Jefferson/Ja'Marr Chase standards, of course, but they were certainly decent contributions from a third-round draft pick.

Palmer is a sixth-round pick, and was the 23rd receiver selected overall, compared to Godwin, who was 11th among wideouts in his year. As such, the bar for a successful rookie campaign might be a little lower. Palmer, however, has raised expectations regarding his ability to make an immediate impact by making a string of dazzling catches in the preseason games and displaying a completely unshakeable confidence. While Godwin was routinely praised during his early days with the team for carrying himself like a seasoned veteran, Palmer has drawn compliments not only for his athleticism but for how easily he has digested the playbook.

So how closely does Palmer's situation compare to Godwin's? The main difference, and it's a rather unfortunate one for the team as a whole and for one player in particular, is the season-ending knee injury Russell Gage suffered in a joint practice with the Jets. Gage was clearly running as the third receiver behind Godwin and Mike Evans, which would have led to fewer available snaps for any of the remaining receivers on the depth chart. Now, Palmer is clearly one of the top options to be that third guy, with only Deven Thompkins and undrafted rookie Rakim Jarrett fighting him for playing time.

Not only did Godwin's first Bucs team have Evans and Jackson, but Adam Humphries was in his prime as the slot receiver. So, as far as the opportunity goes, I'd say Palmer has a clearer path towards significant playing time as a rookie.

It may only be somewhat instructive to look at the numbers for Bucs receivers in recent seasons since a new offense has been installed by Dave Canales this year and it will likely be striving for more balance after the team finished second in passing and 32nd in rushing last year. Tampa Bay's total volume of passes is likely to come down some from the 751 it dialed up last year. Still, we can look at Godwin and Evans and see that they have averaged 6.7 and 4.8 catches per game, respectively, over the last four seasons.

I fully expect Evans and Godwin to remain firmly entrenched as the top two targets in the passing game. If they stay at around those averages, Godwin may top 100 catches again and Evans would be around 80 or so. The third receiver position was a bit of a mish-mash for the Bucs thanks to injuries to Gage and Julio Jones, but all of the wideouts behind the two starters combined for about 120 catches on the season. With only two other receivers vying for time with Palmer, could he end up getting say, three-fifths of that action? It's possible. So what if Palmer finished with around 70 receptions for, say, 900 yards. Would that be considered a breakout? I think so.

Is he capable of doing so? I don't think we have enough evidence yet to strongly say yes or no to that question. That said, I'm leaning towards thinking he can. He was extremely productive when he got his shot at Nebraska last year, and that's not exactly the most pass-happy program in the country. Before Gage's injury and Palmer's preseason display, I would have pegged his rookie season to be pretty similar to what Godwin produced in 2017. Now I'm thinking bigger.

Are we placing Pat O'Connor on the practice squad?! He was a great asset to our Defense!

- @lu_vazquez15 (via Instagram)

To be fair to Lu here, this question was sent to me yesterday, when the Bucs had only named 14 of their 16 practice squad players. They knew the other two spots were going to go to defensive lineman Patrick O'Connor and running back Patrick Laird, but were waiting to announce that until Thursday morning, when the two players came back to the building and signed their contracts. Hurricane Idalia forced the Bucs to cancel practice on Wednesday, or they surely would have signed them that day.

Anyway, the Bucs did announce those two signings on Thursday, so Lu probably already knows the answer by now. I'm glad this particular Bucs fan is fond of O'Connor's work on defense, but he has made most of his NFL hay on special teams. He played three games for the Bucs as a rookie in 2017, spent the next season on the practice squad and has since appeared in 54 more contests over the last four seasons. In that time, O'Connor's seasonal snap counts have ranged from 5% to 9% on defense. However, his special teams snap counts in that same span have ranged from 60% to 93%. That last figure, which he hit in 2021, is kind of low-key amazing. You pretty much have to be on every kick and coverage unit to hit that mark – punt and kickoff coverage, punt and kickoff return and placekicking. Most guys don't have the body type and skillset to warrant inclusion in all those different groups.

I would suspect that O'Connor was one of the Bucs' last cuts when they cut down to 53 players on Tuesday, because they know how valuable he can be in that phase of the game while also offering some positional flexibility on defense. But they went deeper than ever at outside linebacker, with six, and found a spot for rising first-year player Mike Greene among six down linemen, so it appears it was just a numbers game.

I'm guessing we still see O'Connor on the field on game day at some point this season. He can be elevated from the practice squad three times to play in games, and there's always a chance he gets promoted back to the active roster at some point, particularly if there are injuries at the position.

With Jensen out, can Hainsey do the job, or do the Bucs go shopping?

- @ceegbee (via Instagram)

I'll fill in the blanks in case any readers aren't aware of the situation. Ryan Jensen, the Bucs' Pro Bowl center, was placed on injured reserve earlier this week and will miss the entire season. There was optimism that Jensen would be ready to go at some point during training camp, but his injured knee did not respond as expected.

Jensen suffered a rather significant injury just two days into training camp a year ago and chose to go a non-surgical route to repair his knee. He missed the entire regular season but did come back to play in the postseason against a Dallas, a decision he insists did nothing to set back his recovery. He says all of his ligaments have healed fully but that he is still having problems with his knee's lateral compartment.

While Jensen was sidelined last year, Robert Hainsey, a third-round pick in 2021, took all the snaps at center. When it started to become apparent that Jensen was not going to be ready for the start of this season, the team looked primarily at Hainsey and Nick Leverett to take over the job, and it appears that Hainsey has held onto that assignment for now.

No, I do not think the Bucs will go shopping for another center. They feel comfortable enough with both Hainsey and Leverett and also believe Aaron Stinnie could fill in at that spot if needed. Hainsey certainly played well enough last year to deserve the confidence the coaches have in him, and he reportedly has developed a nice rapport with Baker Mayfield. He's also considered a good fit athletically for the Bucs' new-look rushing scheme, which will involve more lateral movement on wide and mid-zone runs.

Besides, is there a shop of Pro Bowl centers out there in which the Bucs can peruse the aisle right now? Spotrac lists the top four still-unsigned center options as Chase Roullier, Rodney Hudson, Ben Jones and Justin Britt. Roullier, Hudson and Britt also started four or fewer games last year, and while Jones was voted to the Pro Bowl last year he ended the season on injured reserve due to concussions. The Titans gave him the option of retiring or being released in March, and while he chose the latter it's not clear whether he will be resuming his playing career or not.

Y'all still haven't got a uniform schedule yet how come?

- @Denver_500 (via Instagram)

Because we want to keep you guessing, Denver!

No, seriously, it's true that the team has not announced which uniform combinations it will be wearing in each game this year (though it was required to submit that information to the NFL front office back in May). But you will be getting that information next week…for Week One.

As was also the case last year, the Buccaneers will be revealing their uniform combinations on a game-by-game basis, not all at once. You should expect to see that information on social media either Wednesday or Thursday of each game week. Isn't it more fun that way? You get 17 different little exciting moments than just one big information dump in August. That's the way I look at it, at least.

Related Content

Latest Headlines