In macro terms, the NFL’s annual meetings in Palm Beach yielded encouraging progress on significant fronts.
Meantime, a succession plan allowing Bruce Arians to retire as Bucs coach, and veteran defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to replace him, secretly was being finalized. But that plan wouldn’t surface publicly until Wednesday evening.
Prior to that, in Palm Beach, general manager Jason Licht and co-owner Joel Glazer each addressed reporters for fewer than 10 minutes. During the 3½-day event, the team announced no trades or signings outside of long-snapper Zach Triner.
But the executives (and other league types) still offered some sound bites and news items worth further dissection. Here are the some final takeaways from the sessions, as they pertain to Tampa Bay.
1. Baker Mayfield buzz persists
When given the opportunity to extinguish the chatter connecting the Bucs to Baker Mayfield, Licht hedged — again.
As it stands, 2021 second-round pick Kyle Trask and veteran backup Ryan Griffin are the only Tom Brady backups under contract, though Licht said re-signing veteran Blaine Gabbert is “still a possibility, based on how he embraced the role of assisting Trask as a rookie.
But with each passing day, Cleveland’s trade leverage with Mayfield dissipates (it already has signed Jacoby Brissett to back up new starter Deshaun Watson), increasing the chance the team may have to eat his $18.85 million salary and cut him. Could the Bucs be waiting for that scenario to play out?
“Don’t want to talk about players on other teams,” Licht said. “We’re always looking and exploring every avenue, every player that becomes available. We feel good about where we’re at, though, so I’ll just say that.”
2. Look for competition at kicker
At least two certainties manifested themselves each week last season: Brady would start at quarterback, and practice-squad kicker Jose Borregales would be protected.
A fixture on the weekly protected list (which keeps practice-squad guys from being poached by another team), the 2020 Lou Groza Award winner evidently will compete in training camp with veteran Ryan Succop, who finished 23rd in the NFL in field-goal percentage (25-of-30, 83.3 percent) and missed a 48-yarder in the 30-27 playoff loss to the Rams.
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“You want a competition at every position, so there’s going to be competition there,” Licht said. “(Succop) has done a great job for us. I don’t see any reason he wouldn’t continue to do a great job. We have a lot of faith in him.”
3. Jameis isn’t going away
After joining the mass courtship for Deshaun Watson, the Saints agreed to terms on a new two-year deal with Jameis Winston a couple of weeks back. If Winston’s rehab from the ACL he tore against Tampa Bay on Halloween night remains on schedule, the Bucs likely will twice face their former quarterback, who has a fan in first-year Saints coach Dennis Allen.
In the seven games he started before his season-ending injury, Winston went 5-2 with 14 touchdowns and three interceptions — 27 fewer than he tossed in 16 games in his final season in Tampa.
“I feel like we saw a lot of really good things out of Jameis in the first seven weeks last year,” said Allen, formerly the Saints’ longtime defensive coordinator.
“He’s had two ... seasons in the offense, so I felt like as the season kind of wore on last year he got more and more comfortable with what we were asking him to do, and I see that process continuing this year and I feel good about where he’s at.
“I’m excited about working with him. I think he brings an element of throwing the ball down the field that maybe we didn’t quite have as much in years past ... and he did a great job of protecting the football.”
4. They’re comfortable with their cap status
Though they’ve mildly mortgaged the future in an effort to win a second Super Bowl in three years, Licht said the Bucs’ navigation of the salary cap “definitely has” gone to plan.
With the draft looming and some prominent free agents (i.e., tight end Rob Gronkowski) still unsigned, the Bucs currently find themselves about $8 million under the cap (per spotrac.com). Some of the re-signed veterans (i.e., center Ryan Jensen, receiver Chris Godwin) had void years added to their new deals that allow signing-bonus money to be prorated, lessening the players’ 2022 cap figures while burdening future caps.
But such is the long-term cost of trying to win immediately.
“We feel good about it,” Licht said. “We’re trying to win, so we’re in good position right now to do that, and we’ll keep looking.”
5. The Bucs are stoked about Germany game
While the logistics naturally will pose a stout challenge, the Bucs clearly are thrilled about the chance to break new ground for the NFL by playing the league’s first game (against an opponent yet to be named) in Germany this fall.
Slated for nine home games in 2022 (in the 17-game schedule), the Bucs instead will have eight home contests at Raymond James Stadium, in addition to the game at FC Bayern Munich Stadium. Chief operating officer Brian Ford confirmed the team has designated the home game against Green Bay as a “protected” game, meaning the Bucs-Packers showdown can’t be moved to Germany.
“We’re excited. We’re the first team to ever play in Germany,” Glazer said.
“It’s new ground for the National Football League. ... Things have changed since we went to the 17-game schedule, so everybody’s going to be playing overseas once every eight years. But to be the first to do something in new territory, it’s exciting. And I know when I talk to fans, they’re excited to see us in Germany and we’ve got fans over in Germany.”
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