TAMPA — Todd Bowles went to the University of Oklahoma looking for a franchise quarterback in 2018 while coach of the Jets, who owned the No. 3 overall pick in the NFL draft.
He loved what he saw in Baker Mayfield, who gave the Heisman stiff-arm to the entire field and went No. 1 to the Browns.
“I did like (Mayfield) coming out,” Bowles told reporters at the NFL’s annual meeting in Arizona on Tuesday.
“We kind of hit it off mentally from that standpoint. You liked his moxie. You liked his leadership skills. You liked the way he could get out and throw on the run some. You liked the fact he won in several places where he’s gone and you liked that leadership about him. So you liked the naturalness about him and I think it will be great for him to come in and compete with Kyle (Trask). They’re two different types of quarterbacks and I think we can win with either one.
“It gives us competition. It gives us another warrior. It gives us a guy who has gone to the playoffs before. A least you have a proven guy and someone who can compete with Kyle that will make sure we haven’t taken dips too low. I think when you lose the greatest quarterback of all time (Tom Brady), everybody just assumes you’re going to be bad. At least that’s the narrative. But it takes a team to win a Super Bowl and it also takes a team to play ballgames.”
Mayfield would appear to have a substantial advantage over Trask, the former Florida star and the Bucs’ second-round pick in 2021 who has spent the past two seasons as the team’s No. 3 quarterback.
But Mayfield’s impression on Bowles was instant. While the timing wasn’t right for the Jets ― they wound up taking Southern California’s Sam Darnold two picks later ― Bowles believes the Bucs may benefit from some of Mayfield’s early struggles.
“He had natural leadership skills. It’s not overblown,” Bowles said. “Guys naturally gravitate towards him. He has an excitement he brings toward the game and he’s hungry.”
However, Bowles continues to insist that it will be a true quarterback competition. Trask has only appeared in one NFL game, going 3-of-9 for 23 yards in a loss at Atlanta in the regular-season finale. Mayfield, meanwhile, is with his fourth team since last July and has passed for 16,288 yards with 102 touchdowns and 64 interceptions.
In his third season, he led the Browns to an 11-6 record and win over Pittsburgh in the AFC wild-card round.
Bowles said he has not spoken to Trask since the signing of Mayfield to a one-year contract (with a $4 million base salary) that could be worth as much as $8.5 million.
“He understands he has a chance to start,” Bowles said of Trask. “He’s working his tail off. Me and Kyle have a very good relationship. We’ve been honest since Day 1 since he’s come in there and I look forward to seeing what he does.
“Those of us who see him every day, Kyle does more work on the side away from the cameras. Every time I look up and come to the office, he’s out there working by himself and trying to get better. I think that’s No. 1 for a quarterback to have is inner drive. ... He can read defenses. He can process very quickly, and he can run an offense ... so I look forward to him to come out this year and really show us what he can do.”
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While replacing Brady dominated much of the discussion with reporters Tuesday, Bowles pushed back on the perception that the Bucs aren’t going to be a very relevant team this season as they begin to move on from their iconic quarterback and the salary cap mess he left behind.
But Bowles said he was energized by the notion that the Bucs are being counted out simply because Brady retired again Feb. 1.
“I feel very energized because it’s the unknown and we do have good players on our team, so I look forward to those guys stepping up and making the difference,” Bowles said.
Bowles also indicated the Bucs weren’t done adding players through free agency and said they still have an interest in re-signing free agents such as defensive tackles Akiem Hicks and/or Will Gholston, and safety Logan Ryan. He said he plans to move Antoine Winfield Jr. back to free safety rather than have him split time as the slot cornerback, a move he hopes will produce more interceptions.
“I’m going to try and keep him (at free safety) and let him concentrate on that because he is a ballhawk and we need more turnovers so I’d like to leave him there,” Bowles said.
Bowles also likes the upside of cornerback Zyon McCollum, who struggled as a rookie when he suffered a hamstring injury during joint preseason workouts with the Titans.
“As the game slows down for him, I look for him to be a big piece for us going forward,” Bowles said.
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