The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have found themself in a spot where no pirate wants to be: no man’s land. A weirdly competitive 24-18 loss to the Bills has the Bucs sitting at 3-4 on a three-game losing streak, which cast doubt on their entire season if they weren’t playing in the NFC South, where they're only a half-game back.
The prognosis around this team coming into the season made them out to be one of the worst in the league, but they have a core group of veteran talent that has kept them from totally bottoming out. Hindsight is 20/20, but it’s hard not to wonder where this team would be if they were a bit more aggressive in adding quarterback talent.
Baker Mayfield has been Baker Mayfield. Some ups, some downs, but just mostly not good enough for the Bucs to be as competitive as they want to be this year. Mayfield’s success this year has largely been buoyed by his performance on third down and against pressure, two areas of play that are naturally prone to fluctuations throughout the season. According to Ben Baldwin of RBSDM.com, Mayfield ranks 22nd in success rate (43.1%) on his dropbacks among the 29 quarterbacks to register at least 128 plays on the season.
To be fair to Mayfield, that’s probably around the level of production that should be expected from him at this point in his career. He’s just a stopgap player or a bridge quarterback, but right now Tampa Bay’s bridge doesn’t really lead to anywhere. In the current landscape of the NFC South, Mayfield could lead this Buccaneers roster to an eight- or nine-win season and have them in contention for a division title. The Buccaneers still have a respectable unit on defense and receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin leading the way on offense — barring injuries, this team can only be so bad.
Thursday's loss was the type that makes people go “what’s next?” for the Buccaneers. It’s hard to say that they should blow up the roster and tank considering they still control their own destiny, but they do look like a directionless ship right now. They saw the importance of a top-flight quarterback during the brief Tom Brady era; they could have had their next franchise quarterback if they were willing to be a little looser with their draft capital. The No. 3 pick from the Cardinals was for sale in the 2023 NFL Draft, and instead of being aggressive and handing the keys to Anthony Richardson, they decided to just play it safe and tread water.
Their strategy would have made sense if they had a promising young quarterback to eventually turn the keys over to, but they don’t really have that. No. 2 QB Kyle Trask wasn’t even seen as a legitimate backup option over Blaine Gabbert during the Brady run and lost the camp battle to Mayfield. They just ended up giving Mayfield the keys to a car that still had some tread on the tires. Being able to hold Josh Allen and the Bills to just 24 points shows that this team still has some juice to it and they might have wasted what could have been a quality season by being complacent at quarterback.
Still, they could have done worse than Mayfield as well. He’s not the worst quarterback in the league and is capable of having the Bucs look like a respectable team, but it’s hard not to think about what could have been possible for this team with some bravery this past offseason.