NFC South Reporter
Change, and potentially a lot of it, seems inevitable for the Bucs in the next couple of months.
It starts with quarterback Tom Brady, who may have played his last game in Tampa, and maybe or not in the NFL, in the disappointing 31-14 loss to the Cowboys.
It could also include offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, although a report that he is expected to be fired appears to be at least premature, with head coach Todd Bowles saying Tuesday afternoon that no decision has been made on the future of Leftwich.
“I don’t have an evaluation right now,” Bowles said of Leftwich and his other assistants. “I’m evaluating players. We’ll meet as a coaching staff later in the week, and I’ll meet with individual coaches and the staff, which we do every year, and we’ll do those evaluations then.”
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And beyond those two, the next few months will almost certainly bring significant change in free agency, with limited cap space and 25 free agents, including captain and longtime lineman Lavonte David, as well as three 2019 draft picks in the defensive secondary.
David is the longest-tenured Bucs player, having completed his 11th season under five coaches and going from years without a playoff berth to the current three-year postseason streak. He’s also 32 and a free agent at a position that’s less forgiving than many.
“Of course. You never know what could happen,” he said when asked if he thought Monday would be his last game in Tampa. “I’m not too worried. It’s not up to me. I’ll take the offseason, just reflect, get my body right, see what I do from there.”
The same will go for four 2019 draft picks: corners Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean, safety Mike Edwards and outside linebacker Anthony Nelson, who have played four years in Bowles’ defense but are now conditions to test the free agent market. , potentially with demand exceeding the Bucs’ ability to keep them in the city. Most of the defensive line is made up of free agents, as well as wide receiver Julio Jones and veterans on both sides of the ball.
“I’d like to come back, but you’ve got to look at the best opportunity,” said Dean, who was limited to special teams play Monday while the coaches went with Murphy-Bunting at cornerback, citing the injury and ailing finger Dean’s foot during the week as factors.
The Bucs are about $43 million over the projected salary cap right now, which will require restructuring if not cuts and other moves to put them in a position to keep the best of their free agents. Tackle Donovan Smith, who took a step back this year and has a non-guaranteed salary of $15 million through 2023, could be among the cap-related cuts.
Bowles offered encouraging news on Tuesday about the health of wide receiver Russell Gage, who was injured late in Monday’s game and left the field while immobilized. Bowles said he was expected to be released from a Tampa hospital Tuesday afternoon, and while Gage suffered a concussion, he has no serious neck injuries and has full movement and sensation throughout the limbs
“I appreciate all the texts, calls, thoughts and prayers you all have expressed to my family and I,” Gage wrote on Twitter Tuesday afternoon. “Just wanted to let you know I’m doing great and in high spirits! Thanks!”
The Bucs held end-of-season interviews with players on Tuesday as they bid them farewell for the offseason. Bowles said that while the offseason work will be voluntary for the next few months until minicamp in June, he expected to have high levels of attendance from players who appreciate the importance of working together.
“The off-season is voluntary, but at the same time it creates camaraderie, generates chemistry and creates culture,” he said. “When you have an offseason and everybody has their own personal trainer and you come back, you’re not really together at that point.”
Tampa Bay took a big step back offensively, going from 61 touchdowns in 2021 to 31 this season to nearly cut scoring production in half; as a team, they scored 198 fewer points in 2022 for the second-largest single-season drop in NFL history. The Bucs finished with the worst running attack in the league, and Bowles said that shouldn’t be attributed to just the blocking or their running backs.
“I think any time you’re worse in the league, it’s a combination of everything,” Bowles said. “There’s nothing you can point to, to say we weren’t good in the run game. We just weren’t good in the run game. We’ll look at tape and reevaluate and make decisions going forward. what did we have such a bad thing.”
Bowles took over as head coach in late March, leaving Bruce Arians’ coaching staff to inherit, and if there are changes to be made, it makes sense to make them early, before the main replacements are in place taken by other teams. their own new technical teams. Brady, who retired and then changed his mind 40 days later last spring, has said he wants to take time to make his decision this time, ideally before Tampa Bay’s tough decisions before of free agency in March.
The Bucs finished 8-9, giving Brady a losing record for the first time in his 21 years as the starting quarterback, and the consolation of winning the NFC South was quickly overshadowed by Monday’s emphatic early exit by the playoffs The 2023 Bucs could have a very different identity if Brady retires or plays elsewhere, but they’ll have the expectation to compete for a division title, if nothing else, despite all the change ahead.
“No one likes that feeling, top to bottom, so we want to fix it and do whatever it takes so we can easily make the playoffs and make some noise in the playoffs instead of just barely making it.” the former Pro Bowler said. outside linebacker Shaq Barrett, who missed half the season after tearing his Achilles tendon. “We are a team. One person does not make the team. We have to rally around each other.”
Greg Auman is the NFC South reporter for FOX Sports, 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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