Tampa Bay Buccaneers Are NFL's Most Intriguing QB Landing Spot This Offseason

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistFebruary 11, 2020

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 24: Head coach Bruce Arians of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looks on prior to a game against the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on November 24, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

You might have heard about the looming 2020 quarterback carousel—the one that's expected to turn with so much speed and intrigue that it just might detach from its platform, fly into the carnival parking lot and crush a Toyota Camry. 

Said carousel could contain the most decorated player in NFL history (Tom Brady); the league's most prolific all-time passer (Drew Brees); the reigning passing-yardage leader (Jameis Winston); the reigning passer-rating leader (Ryan Tannehill); a former MVP (Cam Newton); an eight-time Pro Bowler (Philip Rivers); a 26-year-old two-time Pro Bowler and former Offensive Rookie of the Year (Dak Prescott); a 27-year-old former Pro Bowler (Teddy Bridgewater); and the No. 2 overall pick of the 2015 draft (Marcus Mariota).       

Potential carousel riders include all of those quarterbacks' teamsthe New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans, Carolina Panthers, Los Angeles Chargers and Dallas Cowboys.

There are also the Chicago Bears (who could use a signal-caller to push Mitchell Trubisky), Indianapolis Colts (who could look for an upgrade on Jacoby Brissett), Las Vegas Raiders (who might not be satisfied with Derek Carr), Miami Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals (both of whom are seeking franchise quarterbacks but might stick to April's draft). 

The Patriots have a monopoly on mystique, the Saints are a Super Bowl contender and the Colts and Cowboys have tremendous supporting casts. But, strangely, none of those teams can offer a prospective quarterback as much as the oft-overlooked Buccaneers. 

Not all of the aforementioned veteran signal-callers will become available next month, but those who do should make Tampa Bay a priority. Because while the Bucs aren't as popular or as historically successful as most of their NFL counterparts, they ought to have a lot going for them in the eyes of a free-agent quarterback. 


The quarterback whisperer

It starts with head coach Bruce Arians, who is a quarterback sage. 

The two-time Coach of the Year was Peyton Manning's quarterbacks coach during the first three seasons of Manning's career in Indy. He spent eight years grooming and developing Ben Roethlisberger for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He played a pivotal role in launching Andrew Luck's career with the Colts in 2012. He got a career year out of a 35-year-old Carson Palmer with the Arizona Cardinals in 2015. And while the mistake-prone Winston might be a lost cause following an interception-plagued walk year in Tampa, he still led the league in passing yards and the NFC in passing touchdowns under Arians' tutelage. 

Quarterbacks are simply at their best with Arians by their side.

Those on the 2020 market will look at Palmer. They'll see that he went just 29-47 with an 83.2 passer rating in the six seasons before he joined Arizona in 2013. And then they'll see that in five years with Arians, he went 38-21-1 with a 91.1 rating despite supposedly being beyond his prime. That run featured a Pro Bowl 2015 campaign he led the NFL with an 8.7 yards-per-attempt average as the Cards went 13-3. He and Brady were co-MVP runners-up. 

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 18:  Head Coach Bruce Arians of the of the Arizona Cardinals and Carson Palmer #3 look on before the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on October 18, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Ge
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

That has to be pretty convincing. 

Ditto for the fact that Arians is a winner. When he took over, the Cardinals hadn't had a winning season since 2009, and they were coming off a 5-11 campaign. He and Palmer immediately won double-digit games in three consecutive seasons. 

And while Arians didn't experience similarly immediate success in Tampa last season, the Bucs caught fire down the stretch. They went on a four-game winning streak in November and December, lost in regulation just once in the final six weeks and lost by more than one score just once after their Week 7 bye. 

With the Panthers and Atlanta Falcons both coming off consecutive losing seasons and Carolina and New Orleans dealing with uncertainty at quarterback, the Bucs are well-positioned to explode in 2020.


The 1-2 threat 

There's little doubt they have it in them. Whoever quarterbacks Tampa Bay will be working with the best wide receiver duo in the NFL in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, both of whom caught 65-plus passes for more than 1,100 yards and eight or more touchdowns despite missing a combined five games in 2019. 

CINCINNATI, OH - OCTOBER 28:  Mike Evans #13 and Chris Godwin #12 of the Tampa Bay Bucccaneers celebrate a touchdown during their game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on October 28, 2018 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Bengals defeated the B
John Grieshop/Getty Images

Evans, 26, and Godwin, 23, were two of just four qualified players to average more than 85 receiving yards per game, along with Michael Thomas and Julio Jones. Both Evans and Godwin made the Pro Bowl. 

The Tampa Bay offense also has a promising young running back in Ronald Jones II, who at the age of 22 compiled 225 yards on 30 touches in the final two weeks of the 2019 regular season. It has a talented tight end duo in O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate. And it has a strong offensive line featuring a potential franchise left tackle (Donovan Smith), a reliable young left guard (Ali Marpet, 26) and a center (Ryan Jensen) who was named to Pro Football Focus' All-Pro second team


The future is bright

And they can get better. According to Spotrac, nobody in the NFC is projected to enter the offseason with more salary-cap space than Tampa Bay, who might even get a hometown discount from reigning sack king/impending free-agent Shaquil Barrett. 

Even with Barrett and a new quarterback on board at a combined rate of about $50 million per year, the Bucs can take care of other key in-house free agents and add another asset or two. 

Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

In New England, a new quarterback would be throwing to a mediocre pass-catching corps while trying to fill Brady's clown-sized shoes. Tennessee doesn't have a legendary head coach or a star-studded receiving corps. Carolina appears to be on the verge of a rebuild after an exodus. The Chargers, Cowboys, Bears, Colts, Raiders, Dolphins and Bengals lack the weapons and coaches that the Bucs have, and most, if not all, of those squads appear to be further from contending than Tampa Bay. 

With head coach Sean Payton, Thomas and running back Alvin Kamara, New Orleans is an attractive destination, but Brees' leftover shoes would also be freakishly large. The Saints also aren't likely to be on the market because Brees has a huge cap number whether he retires or not, and they have some control over impending restricted free agent Taysom Hill. 

Maybe the Bucs will re-sign or tag Winston, in which case they too will be absent from the quarterback carousel. In that case, Winston might be the biggest winner of the 2020 offseason. Because whoever signs on to quarterback these Buccaneers will be perfectly positioned to prosper. 


So, who?

If indeed the Bucs wind up with the pick of the free-agent quarterback litter, who should they sign? The list should probably start with three quarterbacks within the same division. 

1. Brees: He's 41, but stealing him from New Orleans would be too damn sweet to pass up. And it's not as though he's toast. Brees is coming off the highest-rated season of his NFL career. However, he has stated he'll either return to the Saints or retire, so this probably isn't realistic. 

2. Newton: If the Panthers release Newton and start from scratch with a new regime and a new-look core, the Bucs would have to prioritize the uniquely talented 2015 MVP. Imagine his potential with Arians. But as with Brees, they'd have to double down by using at least a Day 2 draft pick on a potential quarterback of the future. Brees would only be a bridge, and Newton comes with tremendous risk after his last two seasons were derailed by injury. 

SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 27: Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers looks on from the sidelines against the San Francisco 49ers during an NFL football game at Levi's Stadium on October 27, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Hen
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

3. Bridgewater: Brees' backup, and the Bucs' most realistic target, has a perfect combination of upside and pedigree. He's only 27, he's won 22 of his 34 career starts and he has a 2015 Pro Bowl nod on his resume from his last season as a full-time starter. Bridgewater has his limitations as a playmaker, but Arians could get the most out of the 2014 first-round pick.  

4. Prescott: If he were to hit the open market, Prescott would probably be more expensive than anyone else on this list. That won't likely happen, but if it did, he'd have to be grouped with the top three targets. The price and commitment might just be too large considering other options. 

5. Brady: It would be worth seeing what the ageless six-time Super Bowl champion could do with a significantly stronger supporting cast. If Tampa does this, though, it might want to use that No. 14 overall pick to land Brady's successor. This might only last one year. 

6. Tannehill: This would have a Palmer-like feel to it. The 2012 top-10 pick and 2019 Comeback Player of the Year is coming off a breakout campaign and could elevate his game in the Bucs offense. He also comes with a good combination of upside and accomplishments. 

7. Winston: You couldn't fault Arians for giving it one more year with a talented, still-young quarterback like Winston. Still, this is a loaded market, and the guy's thrown 88 interceptions in five NFL seasons. 

8. Rivers: Maybe Arians could squeeze a little more out of Rivers, who relocated his family to Florida this year. But the 38-year-old's numbers plummeted in 2019. 

9. Mariota: He was benched for Tannehill in 2019 and hasn't been any better than Winston. Might as well just franchise-tag Jameis if this is Tampa's only other option. 


Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012. Follow him on Twitter. Or don't. It's entirely your choice.


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