Will the 2023 Bucs conjure up memories of 2009?

Tampa Bay may be headed for some lean times, paying for that Super Bowl 55 run.
Raheem Morris endured cost cutting by the owners during his short head coaching stint with the Bucs.
Raheem Morris endured cost cutting by the owners during his short head coaching stint with the Bucs. [ Times (2009) ]
Published Jan. 21|Updated Jan. 21

TAMPA — Tom Brady is undecided about whether to play next season, and the changes to the Bucs coaching staff may increase the chance he returns to Tampa Bay.

Brady and head coach Todd Bowles privately complained often this season about the predictability of Byron Leftwich’s offense and the lack of commitment to a running game.

Bowles would talk about how he changed his defensive scheme every two years to prevent teams from becoming too familiar with it. But he felt teams had caught on to what the Bucs offense was calling.

Tampa Bay was last in rushing yardage and attempts. The problem was underscored by the fewest rushing yards in a game in league history (3 on six carries) in a 41-31 loss to the Chiefs.

Hire the right offensive coordinator, who is more creative and determined to not have Brady lead the league in pass attempts the way he has the past two seasons, and maybe the GOAT can be convinced to run it back with the Bucs next year.

On the other hand, the Bucs’ bloody Thursday firings or retiring of nine assistants — including Leftwich — could wind up going another direction.

The Bucs are $54.45 million over the projected salary cap for 2023, the second-worst space of any team in the league. They also have pushed a lot of the money spent on free agents during the Brady days to future years.

It’s the inevitable bill pay that the Bucs also experienced several years after winning Super Bowl 37 following the 2002 season.

Back then, coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen spent about six years chasing another championship ring with free agents galore. Then came the opportunity of three uncapped years where teams had no floor or ceiling when it came to spending on player costs due to a clause in the collective bargaining agreement with the players association.

The Glazer family, which owns the Bucs, had more than $250 million of debt after their purchase of Manchester United.

They fired Gruden and Allen and named Raheem Morris head coach and Mark Dominik general manager in January 2009. For a different reason, they decided not to spend money on free agents. They released players such as Derrick Brooks, Warrick Dunn and Cato June to lower payroll and create opportunity for younger players.

Morris went 3-13 his first season, then lightning struck his second. Led by Josh Freeman and a softer schedule, the Bucs improved to 10-6 but narrowly missed the playoffs.

Morris and his staff pleaded for Dominik to buttress the roster with veteran free agents. But there was one more uncapped season, and the Bucs didn’t invest in free agency. Tampa Bay started 4-2, lost 10 in a row and Morris was fired.

You have to wonder if Brady either retires or signs with another NFL team whether the Bucs will begin trying to get their salary-cap situation in order.

You will hear a lot about building through the draft (which team doesn’t?) and developing young players such as quarterback Kyle Trask, guard Luke Goedeke and defensive tackle Logan Hall.

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As for Thursday’s firings, there could be a few positions that won’t be filled for cost-cutting reasons. That includes place-kickers coach Chris Boniol, assistant defensive line coach Lori Locust and senior offensive assistant Rick Christophel. Other jobs may be consolidated. A new offensive coordinator may also want to coach quarterbacks.

Former coach Bruce Arians had one of the largest coaching staffs in the NFL, and this is an opportunity to scale that back.

Is the offensive coordinator job attractive?

If Brady elects to not play in Tampa next season, how desirable is Leftwich’s old job?

There was a purging of numerous coordinators around the league this week. The Chargers fired offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi following their collapse to the Jaguars in the AFC wild-card game. The Browns fired defensive coordinator Joe Woods. The Titans fired offensive coordinator Todd Downing. Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees retired.

So far, five teams need to hire a head coach: Texans, Cardinals, Colts, Broncos and Panthers.

Given those options, can the Bucs attract a good offensive coordinator candidate if the quarterback position is unsettled and Bowles is perceived to be a lame duck head coach?

Alabama offensive coordinator and former Texans and Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien appears headed back to the Patriots, although he would be a great fit for Brady. As of late this week, the Bucs had not contacted Georgia offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Todd Monken.

Bucs bits

Look for Bowles to promote assistant receivers coach Thad Lewis. A former quarterback at Duke, Lewis played for seven NFL teams and Arians considered him a rising star he wanted to groom as an offensive coordinator. ... Another name to watch is Karl Dorrell, who coached with Bowles with the Dolphins and Jets, and has tutored receivers and quarterbacks.

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