It wasn’t quite the way the Tampa Bay Buccaneers thought the season would end. After making easy work of the Philadelphia Eagles in the Wild Card Round, they faced a rematch with the Los Angeles Rams.
Unfortunately, the Rams were able to get revenge on Tom Brady and the Buccaneers, bringing up questions about the legend’s future in the NFL. Despite a furious 24-point comeback from the Buccaneers, Matt Gay sent LA to the NFC title game with a game-winning 30-yard field goal after Cooper Kupp delivered a 44-yard reception with the clock ticking down.
It was a wild finish and an unfortunate end to the Buccaneers season. Now, where do they go from here?
Biggest offseason questions
That is the biggest question for any team in the NFL. After two decades under center between the New Patriots and the Buccaneers, Brady’s future is reportedly up in the air.
Will Brady call it a career? Will he come back for one more shot at Super Bowl victory No. 8?
If he retires, the Buccaneers will be left in panic mode as they search for another signal-caller to take over for the GOAT.
We will get into other questions next, but Brady is the biggest question mark surrounding this team. After tossing the bag at him after he left the Patriots, he delivered a Super Bowl victory to the organization — at home, nonetheless.
Everything else will be a domino effect depending on Brady’s decision. Does he play one more year at the age of 45? Or does he walk away with a sour taste on his tongue after losing to the Rams?
Nobody knows, but Ian Rapoport’s latest hints that retirement is a possibility, and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich didn’t disregard that either.
Top free-agency decisions
Key free agents: Chris Godwin (WR), Ryan Jensen (C), Jason Pierre-Paul (EDGE), Rob Gronkowski (TE), Carlton Davis (CB), Alex Cappa (OG), Ndamukong Suh (DT), Leonard Fournette (RB), Ronald Jones II (RB), O.J. Howard (TE)
The Buccaneers have a ton of pending free agents, with most of them being on the offensive side of the ball. Chris Godwin was dominant before tearing his ACL, and questions remain whether or not he re-signs with Tampa Bay or not.
An argument could be made that Godwin’s untimely injury means a return to Tampa Bay is likely, especially if teams shy away from throwing a big contract at him.
Ryan Jensen needs to be back, and Leonard Fournette should be back on another short-term deal. Ronald Jones’ time in Tampa Bay looks to be over after an underwhelming career, and who knows what Rob Gronkowski does.
Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh would love to be back in Tampa Bay, but who knows what the market will look like — and what the Buccaneers cap situation will be.
The Buccaneers have a lot to figure out as far as their free agents go, but Brady’s decision will prevent them from making any moves for the time being. If Brady does retire, the Buccaneers need to search far and wide for a quarterback and decide their best options.
2022 NFL Draft needs and potential targets
Top picks: first round (own), second round (own), third round (own)
Draft needs: RB, DT, WR, CB, TE
The Buccaneers’ draft questions — much like free agency — depend on #12.
Either way, Tampa Bay should target Nevada quarterback Carson Strong in the first round. Even if Brady comes back, they need to think about the future. Strong isn’t the most mobile quarterback, but he has a strong arm and could benefit from watching Brady for one more year if he comes back.
A cornerback is also possible, perhaps somebody like Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner from Cincinnati.
The running back position remains a mystery, but Jones is likely done and Fournette might not be back in Tampa Bay. That would leave only Ke’Shawn Vaughn, and the Buccaneers would need to look elsewhere.
Kenneth Walker III from Michigan State and Breece Hall from Iowa State would be excellent choices for Tampa Bay. Even if Fournette stays, they need another option and could land these guys in the second round.
Cornerback and tight end are other areas of need, and this draft class has a lot of cornerbacks available. As far as a tight end, if Gronkowski and OJ Howard leave, Tampa Bay probably brings in a free agent to hold down the position for the time being.
Free agency will be telling to show what Tampa Bay does in the NFL Draft, and if Godwin leaves, then another wide receiver should be headed to Florida — perhaps somebody in the later rounds.
1 player on each side of the ball who must step up in 2022
On offense, this is too easy: Tyler Johnson.
The Buccaneers selected him in the fifth round of the 2020 NFL Draft and he has not looked good so far in his career. Antonio Brown left, Godwin got injured, and Johnson suddenly became an important part of this offense.
But, he registered just 36 catches for 360 yards and zero touchdowns in the regular season and has been off with Brady time and time again. If Godwin leaves — and Gronkowski — Tampa Bay would need Johnson to step up even more.
The player on defense that needs to step up is Vita Vea. Yes, the Buccaneers’ nose tackle is a bully on the defensive line and is one of the best at his position.
So, why does he need to step up?
Suh might not be back, and Pierre-Paul is also a free agent. On top of that, Vea just signed a four-year extension worth over $70 million.
That is a ton of money, and while Vea is one of the best there is, he needs to continue to produce at a high level, especially with this much money being thrown his way.
There are many questions in Tampa Bay as their quest for a second straight Super Bowl was cut short.
Stats Courtesy of Pro Football Reference