After a premature report circulated during Conference Championship weekend, Tom Brady officially announced his retirement from the NFL earlier this week after an illustrious 22-year career. After one Super Bowl win and back-to-back playoff appearances, Brady’s retirement leaves a question mark at the starting quarterback position for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers heading in to the 2022-23 NFL season.

Kyle Trask, who the Buccaneers drafted in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft, is the incumbent option at the moment, but Bruce Arians and Tampa Bay have decisions to make. Do the Buccaneers remain in win-now mode, and go for a third straight playoff berth and compete for Super Bowl 57? Or, as roster turnover continues and less players from Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl 55 run remain on the roster, should the Buccaneers focus on the future?

Many Buccaneers fans would love to plug in another future Hall of Fame signal-caller in Brady’s spot, but that gambit is much easier said than done. Tampa Bay doesn’t exactly have the firepower to make a blockbuster trade for an established franchise quarterback. At the same time, options in both free agency and the 2022 NFL Draft look thin for teams that need to find a new starter immediately.

Where does that leave the Buccaneers? While this isn’t the most optimal offseason to be searching for a new quarterback, there are still options out there with starting experience. While these passers aren’t as flashy as a Brady or an Aaron Rodgers, a savvy veteran quarterback could potentially thrive behind the Buccaneers defense, offensive line, and offensive arsenal.

Here are five realistic options (as well as three pipe dreams) for the Buccaneers starting quarterback in Week 1 of the 2022-23 NFL season.

Unrealistic Options

Photo: Sports Illustrated
  • Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers: While the ultra-talented Aaron Rodgers has publically hinted at an exit from Green Bay multiple times now, the three-time MVP is still under contract for two more seasons with the Packers. Tampa Bay doesn’t have the ammo to trade for Rodgers unless they want to give up other worldly draft capital, mortgaging their future for years to come for a shot at short-term glory. I’m not sure this potential trade will ever get to a formal talk between the two teams, but the Packers would have every reason to be disinterested, especially as a fellow top contender in the same conference.
  • Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson’s situation is pretty similar to that of Rodgers. While not as public, rumors have swirled that Wilson has been growing frustrated in Seattle, especially after this year’s disappointing 7-10 finish. But just like Rodgers, Wilson is under contract for another two seasons, and would likely have to pay a king’s ransom to pry the quarterback away from the only team he’s ever played for. Wilson would potentially be even more valuable than Rodgers, as a successful marriage with Bruce Arians offense could lead to up to a decade of success in a best-case scenario, where as acquiring Rodgers would likely be a two-to-three year rental.
  • Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans: Deshaun Watson has been immensely fun to watch in his young career, and could improve the quarterback situation of all but maybe five or six teams in the NFL. But until I hear otherwise, I’m assuming Watson will be away from the NFL indefinitely amidst the former Houston Texans quarterback’s ongoing sexual misconduct charges. I’m only including Watson because I’ve seen some chatter for it, and wanted to shut it down as a non-option. Landing Wilson or Rodgers is exponentially more likely than the Buccaneers getting anywhere close to Watson this offseason.

Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers

Photo: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

As far as realistic options go, Jimmy Garoppolo seems to check all the boxes. The 30-year-old former New England Patriots backup quarterback (once thought to be Brady’s heir apparent) has been made available for trade by the San Francisco 49ers following an NFC Championship Game loss. Garoppolo has just one year left on his current contract, and while it’s a bit pricy for what the Buccaneers would be getting at $24.2 million, it would also mean a potential trade wouldn’t be as expensive. Purely speculating, I believe Tampa Bay could assemble a package for Garoppolo without giving up a first round pick.

At this point in his career, the jury is still out on where Garoppolo stands as an NFL quarterback. While he isn’t exactly up there with the NFL’s top passers like Rodgers, Mahomes, Herbert, Allen, etc., there has to be at least ten teams that improve if they had Jimmy G as their quarterback. At worst, Garoppolo can be a high-end game manager. At best, the quarterback that once held a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl can make big-time throws in high stakes situations to get his team deep in to the postseason.

While there’s due to be some roster turnover, a Garoppolo-led Buccaneers team would likely be the favorite to win the NFC South, and if things went smoothly, Tampa Bay could absolutely remain in the Super Bowl mix for another year. And that’s the beauty of Garoppolo’s contract: if the year goes well, Tampa Bay can re-sign him, and if things go south, cutting ties would be painless.

In terms of risk, reward, and potential results, this would probably be the route I would prioritize if I were making the decision, unless San Francisco’s asking price was ridiculous. While the remaining options on this list wouldn’t require giving anything up in the trade, none of them have the playoff experience, consistency, or ceiling that Garoppolo could potentially bring to the table.

Teddy Bridgewater, Denver Broncos

Photo: Broncos Wire/USA Today

Teddy Bridgewater has been with four teams in his seven-year NFL career, and if there’s anything he’s proved, it’s that he is always a reliable option as a starting quarterback. In Minnesota in 2015, Bridgewater led the Vikings to an 11-5 record and playoff berth. As a backup to Drew Brees in New Orleans, Bridgewater went a perfect 5-0 in 2019. Bridgewater’s 2020 stint with the Panthers wasn’t as successful, with a 4-11 record, but Bridgewater bounced back in 2021, leading a seemingly rebuilding Denver Broncos team to a 7-7 record before a concussion ended his season prematurely.

Bridgewater is another of what I would call a “high-end game manager.” Sometimes the term is used as a backhanded compliment, but Bridgewater plays the role to perfection. Bridgewater consistently combines high completion percentages with low interception results for positive results. Where the veteran falls short is downfield passing and big plays, although Bridgewater did throw a career-high 18 touchdown passes with the Broncos over 14 starts.

Some would call Bridgewater a “low-risk, low-reward passer,” but I would elaborate and call the free agent a “very low-risk, medium-reward passer.” Tampa Bay’s offense already incorporated lots of short-to-intermediate passing, complementing Brady’s skillset, so Bridgewater could step right in and thrive. The offense may miss Brady’s ability to keep the defense honest with his ability to throw the ball deep, but Bridgewater would be able to keep the Buccaneers in the playoff field next season behind Tampa Bay’s offensive line, defense, and weapons.

Kyle Trask, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Photo: Bucs Wire/USA Today

Of course, the Buccaneers don’t necessarily go outside the organization to find their starting quarterback for the 2022-23 season. As things stand right now, 2021 second-round pick and former Florida Gators quarterback Kyle Trask is the next man up on the depth chart.

In his senior season at Florida, Trask passed for 4,283 yards, 43 touchdowns, and just eight interceptions over 12 games with a 68.9% completion rate. The sturdy 6-foot-5-inch, 235-pound quarterback has drawn comparisons to Ben Roethlisberger, but with a little more mobility.

Trask has a high ceiling, and was taken in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft for a reason. The Buccaneers always needed an exit plan, knowing their time with Brady would be short-lived, and now Trask has had a year to learn and adapt to the NFL behind the most accomplished quarterback to ever play the position.

What Trask doesn’t have is NFL playing experience, something every other quarterback on this list doesn’t have (spoilers, I don’t see Tampa Bay starting a quarterback from this year’s draft class in Week 1.) There could be some growing pains if Trask is named the Week 1 starter, but luckily, the Buccaneers have both a 17-game season and a relatively weak-looking division on their side.

Ultimately, Trask might not be the best “win-now” option, but he should at least have a chance to win the job in training camp (assuming Rodgers, Wilson, or heck, even Brady himself end up on the roster.) But starting the former Gator in his second year in the league would be far from admitting defeat. The Buccaneers would be a fringe playoff team with their current roster and Trask as their starting quarterback, finishing 9-8 or more 8-9 and sneaking in to the playoffs with a weak NFC South division win or a seventh seed-type situation like what the Philadelphia Eagles fell in to this season.

Marcus Mariota, Las Vegas Raiders

Photo: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

For the past two seasons, Marcus Mariota has been considered one of the most reliable backup quarterback options in the league, and the 28-year-old former Tennessee Titans quarterback could get another chance at a starting job as he enters free agency this offseason. Mariota spent the last two seasons with the Las Vegas Raiders, serving as both a backup to Derek Carr and occasionally, a change of pace weapon for the offense.

Mariota doesn’t have the biggest arm in the league, but does have four-and-a-half seasons of starting experience with the Titans. Mariota’s long-passing game is probably weaker than any other player on this list, with a career average of 7.2 yards per attempt, dipping as low as 6.2 yards per attempt over 15 games in 2017. In the right scheme, Mariota can get out quick, accurate passes (with a career-high 68.9% completion percentage in his last full season in Tennessee,) but holds just a 62.8% career completion rate.

Mariota can both extend and make plays with his legs, with 6.0 yards per attempt and 13 touchdowns over his career. Mariota scored two touchdowns on 22 carries during his time with Las Vegas.

Mariota is a serviceable NFL quarterback, but even in comparison to Bridgewater and Garoppolo, he’s simply not as talented as a passer. It would certainly be a culture shock to go from Brady to Mariota, but in the right scenario, the former Oregon quarterback could do alright in Tampa Bay in 2022.

While “alright” is a pretty low ceiling, there are still perks to exploring the option of adding Mariota to the roster. Mariota is coming off a $1.75 million base salary with the Raiders last season, and would conceivably cost about the same in free agency this offseason. The Buccaneers could sign Mariota for cheap with no promise of a starting position, and have him compete alongside Kyler Trask and perhaps a rookie or another veteran in training camp.

It’s not the flashiest move, and even as far as game manager-type quarterbacks go, there’s better options out there. But if Tampa Bay isn’t deadset on competing for a Super Bowl in 2022-23, Mariota could be a stopgap while the team either prepares Trask for the role or waits to see what options are available next offseason.

Jameis Winston, New Orleans Saints

Photo: Steph Chambers/Getty Images

I already know what you’re thinking: why is Jameis Winston listed as realistic option and not an unrealistic one? Winston spent five polarizing seasons in Tampa Bay, culminating in a 2019-20 campaign that saw the former Florida State quarterback lead the league in both passing yards an interceptions. The Buccaneers finished 7-9 that season, their first under head coach Bruce Arians, but if Winston could have cut his interceptions down from 30 to “only” 20-25, there’s a solid chance the Buccaneers could have made the playoffs.

Look, I don’t personally know the behind-the-scenes semantics surrounding Winston’s tenure with and exit from Tampa Bay. I’m not sure Winston would want to come back, I’m not sure Arians would welcome Winston back. But in a year with few viable quarterback options in either the draft or free agency, Winston is absolutely an option the Buccaneers at least have to discuss internally.

Winston’s seven games in New Orleans were exponentially better than his play in Tampa Bay. The 6-foot-4-inch quarterback posted a 5-2 record and threw 14 touchdowns against just three interceptions. Of course, the Saints offensive system was different, and Winston threw a lot more safe and short passes. He still only completed 59% of his passes, but not turning the ball over is a very important step in Winston’s development.

But assuming Winston’s growth was at least somewhat personal and not just a result of Sean Payton’s game plan, Winston could return to Tampa Bay a more mature passer while still retaining the ability to make big throws down the field.

While other teams, including the Saints themselves, might be interested in Winston’s services, he should come on the relatively cheap side. New Orleans paid Winston a base salary of just $1 million with a cap hit of $2.5 million in 2021, and even if his asking prices rises this year, he would still be very affordable for a quarterback just two seasons removed from leading the league in passing yards.

Still, Winston is high-risk, high-reward as your team’s starting quarterback. I could see the Buccaneers crumble and regress to a 5-12 or 6-11 team if Winston comes back and returns to his old, interception-throwing ways. But in a best-case scenario, I think the Buccaneers could win the NFC next season with Winston at the helm.

Statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference

Cap numbers and contract information courtesy of Spotrac.com

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