Adaptable Baker Mayfield still wants to remain as Bucs’ quarterback

TAMPA — If there’s anything constant in Baker Mayfield’s career, it’s change.

His mobility is not an issue. He’s gone from Texas Tech to Oklahoma to the Browns, Panthers, Rams and Bucs — four NFL teams in less than two years.

But the latest stop altered the trajectory of his career, which is why Mayfield really is focused on remaining with the Bucs.

“I leaned on a lot of people here,” Mayfield said following last weekend’s division-round loss to the Lions. “I learned I could do that. I’ve had a lot of people that helped me throughout the year and just made it special. So, you go through stuff — where I was at in my life, not just football — and this place helped me out. So, I’m thankful.”

That gratitude should survive the loss of offensive coordinator Dave Canales, who was hired as the Carolina Panthers’ head coach on Thursday.

Continuity wins in the NFL, but it comes in a lot of forms. For Mayfield, keeping a player such as veteran wide receiver Mike Evans would be more important than the voice in his helmet calling plays.

Mayfield said as much following the game in Detroit.

“I love this group. I said that all year, and that’s authentic,” Mayfield said. “I mean that. So, it would mean a lot for me to be back and for one or two pieces to get brought back and keep this together.

“To get into Year 2 in the system, you can make huge strides, so I would love that. Obviously, who knows how it’s going to play out, but I can’t say enough about this organization.”

Consider how adaptable Mayfield has been to different coaches and offensive systems throughout his career. In six NFL seasons, he’s played for eight head coaches and seven offensive coordinators.

Despite all that, Mayfield is coming off his best season as a pro, having passed for 4,044 yards and 28 touchdowns with a 64.3 completion percentage, all career highs.

He led the Bucs to a third consecutive NFC South title and fourth straight playoff appearance, the longest current streak in the NFC.

Is losing Canales to the Panthers a factor in re-signing Mayfield?

Not as big as you would think.

Mayfield is craving franchise stability, and the Bucs have it at the two most important positions: head coach and general manager.

Todd Bowles was viewed as a possible lame duck head coach entering the 2023 season. But after the Bucs’ strong finish and playoff win over the Eagles, his job is on pretty strong footing.

“Unbelievable guy,” Mayfield said. “People say whatever they want on the outside, but that guy is even-keeled. ... He’s got some jabs that he throws in. Really witty guy, fiery passion. He doesn’t wear it on his sleeves like I do, but I respect him. He’s a great guy, and I enjoyed working with him.”

Jason Licht is one of the longest-tenured general managers in the NFL. He and Bowles should have an easier time attracting offensive coordinator candidates. Already, they plan to interview former Chargers and Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, ex-Eagles offensive coordinator Brian Johnson, Rams quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Zac Robinson, and former Bills offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey.

Canales’ positivity was a big factor in Mayfield’s turnaround. But it’s not like the Bucs’ first-time play-caller is irreplaceable.

In 11 of the Bucs’ 17 regular-season games, Tampa Bay scored 21 points or fewer. For all of Mayfield’s improvement, the Bucs were 20th in scoring offense, 32nd in rushing offense, 17th in passing offense and 23rd in total offense.

The biggest factor in Mayfield’s decision to return to the Bucs will be financial.

He played for a way-below-market contract of $4 million in 2023, earning enough performance bonuses that nearly doubled that figure. How much will it cost the Bucs to keep Mayfield? Spotrac estimates his free-agent value at four years, $108,512,500. That’s north of the three-year, $75 million contract signed by the SeahawksGeno Smith in March.

The contracts for Mayfield and Evans are written so they void 23 days before the end of the league year, which works out to be Feb. 19. If the Bucs want to avoid bigger hits on the salary cap from dead money existing from older deals, it would be helpful to sign Mayfield and/or Evans before Feb. 19.

Again, getting back Evans, who is coming off a 10th straight season of 1,000 or more receiving yards, would be bigger to Mayfield than losing Canales.

Even so, Mayfield is adaptable. Maybe a little unpredictable, but he’s not foolish. For him, stability still lives between the walls of the Bucs’ training facility.

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