2024 Bucs offseason preview: Quarterback

No Buccaneers offseason would be complete without some degree of quarterback drama. Years of Tom Brady’s “will-he-won’t-he” retirement speculation have just transformed into a question of whether the Bucs can retain Baker Mayfield and for what price. Leading the Bucs to a division title and a wild card win, Mayfield rehabilitated his reputation in Tampa Bay and proved himself a legitimate NFL starter.

Last offseason, Tampa Bay signed Mayfield for a song, a mere $4 million plus incentives. Despite the under-the-floor expectations, Mayfield ended up being the best quarterback in the NFC South, leading the pack in EPA per play (0.131) by a wide margin and finishing top-10 among all quarterbacks. Mayfield was among the best quarterbacks on third down, ranking fifth in EPA per play (0.220).

Given how well he performed last year, Mayfield is in line for another starting job. For Tampa Bay, he is likely their best and only real option for 2024. With their first pick in the 2024 draft not coming until the 26th-overall selection, the Bucs will be far out of range for the top quarterback prospects. In free agency, Mayfield is second perhaps only to Kirk Cousins, who will likely command a much larger contract.

Mayfield has expressed willingness to return to Tampa Bay but has caveated that desire with his expectations for the Bucs’ 2024 offseason moves, including a Mike Evans return and a strong replacement for offensive coordinator Dave Canales. The latter may already be fulfilled with the hiring of Liam Coen, who was Mayfield’s offensive coordinator during his brief stint with the Los Angeles Rams in 2022.

The trick to re-signing Mayfield will be his price. While the Bucs do have $36 million in cap space this offseason, they also have several additional key free agents including Evans, Antoine Winfield Jr. and Lavonte David. Ideally, the Bucs would be able to negotiate a deal closer to Seahawks QB Geno Smith’s three-year, $75 million deal than Giants QB Daniel Jones’ four-year, $160 million contract.

If Mayfield does move on, the Bucs’ in-house options are limited. 2021 second-round pick Kyle Trask failed to beat Mayfield for the starting job last year and three years into his NFL career has yet to start a game. Veteran John Wolford is a capable backup but is not really a starting option.

Former Bucs head coach Bruce Arians, now a senior advisor to general manager Jason Licht, has indicated that he is a fan of Washington Huskies QB Michael Penix Jr. The Heisman runner-up was one of the best quarterbacks in college football last season and could be a Day 2 pick, still in range for the Bucs.

All things considered, it is likely that Mayfield will stay with Tampa Bay. Neither party is flush with alternatives, and their 2023 success could be reproduced. While Tampa Bay may add a rookie, their best bet to secure a starter is to run it back with Mayfield.

Story originally appeared on Buccaneers Wire