TAMPA — The Bucs are considered a strong contender for quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Although the team has yet to make an offer (the negotiating period began at noon Monday), Tampa Bay is among a few teams that can provide Mayfield something he covets: a legitimate chance to win a starting job on an offense that still has plenty of good weapons.
Receivers Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Russell Gage, who took a pay cut to remain with the team on Sunday, all return along with running back Rachaad White.
Mayfield’s agent, Tom Mills, is expected to begin fielding offers for the first overall pick out of Oklahoma in the 2018 draft.
The Bucs have established a priority list of quarterbacks available in free agency to compete with Kyle Trask, the only player under contract at that position. It begins with Mayfield but also includes Browns free agent Jacoby Brissett, who also has drawn some interest from the Cardinals. Kyler Murray sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament Dec. 12 against the Patriots and is not expected to be ready for the start of the 2023 season.
Mayfield turns 28 in April and is shopping for his fourth team in six seasons. His best year came during his third season in Cleveland when he led the Browns to an 11-5 record and a win over the Steelers in the AFC wild-card game. In five seasons, Mayfield went 29-30 with the Browns and is 31-38 overall.
Last season, Mayfield went 1-5 with the Panthers but head coach Matt Rhule was fired after a 1-4 start. Then came a sell-off by the Panthers of several of their star players, such as running back Christian McCaffrey, who was traded to the 49ers.
Mayfield was released Dec. 5 and signed with the Rams. Although he was with the club for only 48 hours, Mayfield overcame a 16-3 deficit in the final four minutes to lead the Rams to two touchdowns and a stunning 17-16 win over Raiders.
The Bucs would likely have to structure a very incentive-laden, prove-it deal for Mayfield. As of Monday, they were $2.1 million under the salary cap, according to Overthecap.com, but that figure will increase when the release of Cameron Brate and Leonard Fournette becomes official; the new league year begins Wednesday at 4 p.m.
Tampa Bay is also preparing to part ways with guard Shaq Mason if they are unable to trade him, according to multiple reports. Mason is due $8.5 million in the final year of his deal.
Finding a replacement for Tom Brady is the Bucs’ biggest priority in the offseason. Although they drafted Trask in the second round out of Florida in 2021, he has only appeared on one game, going 3 of 9 passing for 23 yards in the regular-season finale at Atlanta.
Mayfield would seem a good fit for the new offense under coordinator Dave Canales, one that includes a lot of bootlegs, waggles and movement out of the pocket by the quarterback.
The Bucs may have trouble retaining many of their own free agents, including linebacker Lavonte David. But they believe they can still be competitive in the NFC South.
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On Monday, defensive tackle Rakeem-Nunez Roches used social media to say goodbye to Bucs fans. Minutes later, multiple reports confirmed Nunez-Roches had agreed to a contract with the Giants.
The Saints added Raiders free-agent quarterback Derek Carr and the Panthers traded with the Bears for the first overall pick, where they are expected to draft a quarterback.
But Mayfield has pedigree and production. He has passed for 16,288 yards with 102 touchdowns and 64 interceptions during his career. In fact, his numbers are very comparable to another second act when Drew Brees moved from San Diego to New Orleans.
This story will be updated.
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