Speculation about Brady’s football future ramped up only hours before Tampa Bay’s shocking NFC Divisional Round loss. Although the seven-time Super Bowl champion has said throughout the years he hoped to play until turning 45 (when he’d become the oldest starting quarterback in NFL history) or even 50 years old, there now appears to be a realistic chance he could retire at 44.
In fairness to Brady, football fans have spent nearly a decade wondering when he’ll finally retire. Although the three-time NFL MVP is arguably irreplaceable given his resume and recent play, the Buccaneers might nonetheless need to find his successor in the coming months.
For this list, we evaluated possible choices based on realism — something tells us neither Josh Allen nor Patrick Mahomes is arriving via trade — and the Buccaneers’ 2022 expectations. Although the roster has numerous older players who could depart regardless of Brady’s next step, the likes of Pro Bowl receiver Mike Evans and All-Pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs make a full-fledged rebuild unrealistic right now. We will also not be listing full trade packages for any players who the Buccaneers cannot acquire via free agency.
Based on consideration of the aforementioned prerequisites, the best potential successors stack up as follows:
6. Drew Lock, Denver Broncos (trade)
Although Lock is still yet to live up to his billing as a second-round draft pick, the 25-year-old nonetheless makes sense as a low-risk, high-reward target. The Missouri product completed 59.3% of his passes for 4,740 yards, 25 touchdowns, and 20 interceptions across 24 games and 21 starts with the Broncos. He also rushed for 285 yards and five touchdowns on four yards per carry.
Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians previously earned rave reviews for his work with Pittsburgh Steelers legend Ben Roethlisberger and former Indianapolis Colts star Andrew Luck. Could Lock, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract, be next?
5. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers (trade)
Now things are getting interesting. Rodgers’ long-term future in Green Bay has always been uncertain, and he only threw fuel on the fire when he said he didn’t want to stick around for a rebuild. The three-time MVP has two years left on his deal and, when he’s not asked to go on Pat McAfee’s show or play a postseason game, remains one of the NFL’s most reliable quarterbacks.
There are two significant problems here, and neither involves the $27.5 million Rodgers is owed next season. First, would the Packers really want to trade their star quarterback to another NFC team? It doesn’t help that Tampa Bay is currently scheduled to host Green Bay at some point next year.
The other notable issue is Rodgers’ vaccination status. Arians is a three-time cancer survivor who reportedly told players in 2020 not to do anything that could endanger the health of him or 83-year-old offensive consultant Tom Moore. The veteran offensive mind vowed to shoot any offenders in the kneecap, although that didn’t stop Antonio Brown from returning to the fray.
If Rodgers remains unvaccinated, and he has given no reason to believe he intends to get vaccinated, could that steer the Buccaneers in another direction? It’s certainly worth monitoring in the coming months.
4. Blaine Gabbert/Kyle Trask, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (both already on roster)
In theory, Arians and the Buccaneers could opt to add another backup quarterback and hold a competition between Gabbert and Trask next season. Gabbert, who turned 32 in October, owns a career 50-47 TD-INT ratio and has only thrown 27 passes in two seasons with the Buccaneers. Trask, a second-round pick in 2021, didn’t take a snap in his rookie season.
Although Gabbert is scheduled to hit free agency, the idea of competing for a starting job could keep him in Tampa Bay. Sorry for the thought, Buccaneers fans. Trask, for those unfamiliar, threw 68 touchdowns against 15 interceptions in his final two seasons at the University of Florida.
This isn’t an ideal situation, but it could set the Buccaneers up for a run at whoever is on the 2023 quarterback market.
3. Gardner Minshew, Philadelphia Eagles (trade)
Did you know that Minshew has only thrown 12 interceptions against 41 interceptions in 27 career games? That ratio should certainly appeal to Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich — or, whoever replaces Leftwich if he takes a head coaching job, but that’s another conversation.
Although Trevor Lawrence’s arrival in Jacksonville doomed the 2019 sixth-round pick’s fate with the Jaguars, he played well in limited action with the Eagles this year. Minshew is entering the final year of his rookie contract, and he’ll play the entire 2022 season at 26 years old. There are far worse options to start at quarterback next year, and if Minshew doesn’t work out, the Buccaneers won’t have a long-term financial commitment.
2. Teddy Bridgewater, Denver Broncos (free agent)
Way back in 2018, the New York Jets signed Teddy Bridgewater to a one-year deal before trading him during the preseason. Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles was the Jets’ head coach at the time, and if he doesn’t earn another head coaching opportunity, he at least has a pre-existing relationship with the Louisville product.
Bridgewater posted a 68.1 completion percentage, 6,785 yards, 33 touchdowns, and 18 interceptions over the last two seasons. He doesn’t turn 30 until Nov. 10 and could benefit from Arians’ tutelage, especially if the Buccaneers bring injured receiver Chris Godwin back in 2022.
1. Derek Carr, Las Vegas Raiders
After nearly a decade together, Carr and the Raiders could part ways in the coming months. The three-time Pro Bowler will hit free agency in 2023, and the Raiders are currently searching for both a new general manager and head coach. The next regime could decide to maximize his value and trade him to a quarterback-needy team this spring.
Carr and the Buccaneers make perfect sense for one another. The Fresno State product would arrive with a history of durability and experience, both of which could keep Tampa Bay in playoff contention next year. Finances could create an issue, especially because Carr is owed $19.8 million next year, but he checks every box the Buccaneers should have regarding Brady’s potential successor.
It would certainly be ironic if Brady, who arguably began his legacy with a controversial victory over the Raiders in the 2001 NFL Playoffs, was replaced with one of the greatest quarterbacks in Silver and Black history.