TAMPA — He was No. 1 on a depth chart that never existed.
The quarterback of seasons yet to come. For a month or two, Kyle Trask had an unimpeded view of the career he had long imagined.
And then the Bucs turned the channel.
By signing Baker Mayfield to a one-year deal, the presumption is that Tampa Bay is not sold on Trask’s ability to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. And if the Bucs aren’t willing to give him a chance while in the midst of retooling their roster, what does that say about his prospects for the future?
Of course, the official line is that the Bucs still believe in Trask. That he will compete with Mayfield for the starting job in training camp. And I’m sure there is a scenario where Trask somehow ends up in the huddle for Tampa Bay’s season opener.
But you do not sign Mayfield if you’re convinced Trask is the franchise’s best long-term hope. You do not invite doubt. You do not question faith. You do not give players and fans any sign that you are less than certain Trask is the answer to your quarterbacking questions.
If you believe in Trask, then you sign Gardner Minshew for depth. Or Mason Rudolph. Or some other non-threatening veteran who can be a sounding board and a safety net for a young quarterback.
You do not sign the guy who still has UNTAPPED POTENTIAL tattooed on his helmet.
Signing Mayfield is a sign that the Bucs believe they can still compete for a playoff spot in the mediocre NFC South despite their very obvious salary-cap restraints. And that’s fine. Maybe they can.
But where do you go from here? If Mayfield performs well and the Bucs have a winning season, there will be pressure to re-sign him to a multi-year deal. And if Mayfield performs poorly and the Bucs go 5-12, are you really going to sell Trask as the answer in 2024?
I’m not saying that signing Mayfield was a mistake. They got a quarterback with pedigree at a reasonable price. The point is that the Mayfield signing leads to some undeniable implications about Trask’s future.
And don’t tell me that Trask is simply too young. At 25, he’s roughly the same age as Jalen Hurts. Justin Herbert. Trevor Lawrence and Tua Tagovailoa. Lamar Jackson and Daniel Jones. Talented quarterbacks no longer have to wait their turn in the NFL. Of the 19 quarterbacks selected in the 2021-22 drafts, 15 have already started at least one NFL game. Trask is the highest pick yet to have started.
Sure, he wasn’t going to beat out Tom Brady the past two years. But the path was completely clear for him in 2023 and the Bucs decided to steer down another road. Or, at least that’s the way it looks today.
Now, maybe I’m being too presumptuous. Maybe I’m jumping the gun.
After all, Trask has been in this situation before. This is the kid who did not start his final three years of high school ball in Texas. The recruit who had to impress University of Florida coaches in summer camps just to earn a scholarship offer. The quarterback who sat behind Feleipe Franks for two years in Gainesville before emerging as a Heisman Trophy candidate.
He’s not mobile and isn’t going to thrill you with his arm strength, but he’s got good pocket presence and obviously performed well under the lights at Florida. He went from a virtual nobody at the start of the 2019 season to the second round of the NFL draft by the spring of 2021.
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So what’s happened since then?
Trask was No. 3 on the depth chart as a rookie, but that was hardly noticeable for a team coming off the Super Bowl. The first sign that there might have been reason for concern was when he failed to beat out Blaine Gabbert as Brady’s backup last season. It’s one thing to sit behind history’s most accomplished quarterback for two years, but it’s a little different when you’re also stuck behind a guy with a 13-35 career record in the NFL.
You could argue that Trask has not had the opportunity to show what he can do. That, as people like to say, he does not yet have film. Except that’s not entirely true. The Bucs videotape every practice, and they’ve had an eye on him for two years. They have a pretty good idea of what he can do.
And they chose to pursue Mayfield while losing their own free agents at other positions.
The plan/hope was that Trask would spend a year or two learning at the knee of Brady and then be ready to take over when the time was right. Well, that time would appear to be now. And the Bucs would appear to have their doubts.
And Trask looks like the quarterback of a future we may never see.
John Romano can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.
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