NFC South Reporter
TAMPA, Fla. — After four weeks of close competition, Baker Mayfield was announced Tuesday as the Bucs’ starting quarterback, with the former No. 1 pick getting the nod over third-year pro Kyle Trask.
“Baker’s our starting quarterback. Kyle’s No. 2,” said coach Todd Bowles, who had carefully split practice reps evenly between the two, giving each one start in the first two preseason games. “There’s a lot that goes into it. I can’t sit up here and give you every detail. We go through minicamp, training camp, OTAs and we love everything Kyle’s done. He’s gotten leaps-and-bounds better than in the spring and he’s continuing to get better and we’re excited about him. Baker’s our guy right now, experience-wise and understanding the playbook just a little bit better.”
For the 28-year-old Mayfield, with his fourth team in 14 months, it’s a chance to reestablish himself as an NFL starter. After four years as the Browns’ starter, leading the team to the playoffs in 2020, he was traded to the Panthers last summer. He got Carolina’s Week 1 nod, but after five starts the Panthers were 1-4 and had fired coach Matt Rhule. Mayfield started only one more game and was released, landing with the Rams for five games before signing with the Bucs this spring.
“Now I’ve got to lead like I know how,” said Mayfield, who signed with the Bucs on a modest one-year, $4 million deal, in part because of the opportunity to compete for the starting job. “The real thing is right around the corner. It’s an exciting time.”
Either quarterback would have a difficult task, taking over for a legend in Tom Brady, who retired this spring after three seasons in Tampa, including a Super Bowl and back-to-back division titles. This will be a substantially younger Bucs team, and outside expectations are much lower for Tampa Bay, even in an NFC South where no team posted a winning record last season.
Bowles told the quarterbacks Tuesday morning, before their first practice since an exhibition win at the Jets on Saturday. Trask started that game and threw for 218 yards and a touchdown, and Mayfield was held out, even after backup John Wolford left the game with a neck injury in the third quarter. That suggested the Bucs were protecting Mayfield from injury like you would a starter, but Bowles had insisted after the game the competition was ongoing and he had no timetable to announce a starter.
“The ultimate goal is always to be playing,” Mayfield said. “When you look at the big picture, it’s one of the things you have to check off the box. Now’s the time to really ramp it up and go from here, to start winning ballgames that count.”
Mayfield has a considerable edge in experience over Trask, who threw only nine passes in a single appearance in two seasons as a backup behind Brady, almost always inactive as the team’s No. 3 quarterback. He competed well in the past month, limiting his mistakes and turnovers in practice. In the first preseason game against Pittsburgh, Mayfield had a touchdown and no interceptions, while Trask had an interception and no touchdowns.
The two have talked about how the competition has helped them both, and Mayfield had praise for all three quarterbacks, showing his support and recalling a quote from Panthers offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo: “No cannibalism.”
“Our QB room has been playing extremely well this camp, between John and Kyle, everybody pushing each other,” Mayfield said. “I can’t say enough about those guys in that room that we have as a whole. The chemistry’s great.”
Much like a year ago in Carolina, Mayfield will feel an urgency to play well from the start. The Bucs’ first four games — at the Vikings, vs. the Bears and Eagles, then at the Saints — come before an early Week 5 bye, which would give the team a chance to reset with a new starter if the first month doesn’t go well.
Tampa Bay’s offense took a big step back in 2022, even with Brady, scoring 14 fewer points a game than in 2021. The Bucs hired a new offensive coordinator and first-time playcaller in longtime Seahawks assistant Dave Canales, so much will be new about the offense around Mayfield, though he’ll be able to count on two Pro Bowl receivers in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. The Bucs’ hope is that Mayfield can have a career resurgence, much like Seattle’s Geno Smith did with Canales last year, making the Pro Bowl and leading the Seahawks to the playoffs.
The past four weeks have prepared both quarterbacks for the year ahead, but it’s Mayfield who has earned the first crack at taking over for a legend in Tampa.
“It’s always great to have competition,” Bowles said. “You want to pump up both guys and make sure they’re competing hard and learning everything, doing what they’ve got to do. You don’t want to ever give anybody a job. Every year at every position, you have to come in and earn your spot. It’s no different this year with quarterbacks and a new coordinator, learning the system.”
Mayfield came to Tampa with confidence but said getting the starting nod is a huge opportunity, so he’ll make the most of the chance now ahead of him.
“To earn the job, it’s an unbelievable feeling,” he said. “You never want to take those for granted. I’m one of 32 guys that can say they’re a starting quarterback in the NFL, so it’s a special honor. I’m living out a dream, but now’s not the time to be satisfied.”
Greg Auman is FOX Sports’ NFC South reporter, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.
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