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FAB 1. The Bucs’ Free Agency Plan At Quarterback

A quick glance at the free agent quarterback landscape this year will tell you all you need to know about Tampa Bay’s QB plans in 2021. Barring any surprises, the Bucs will likely try to re-sign backup quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert and Ryan Griffin this offseason, as the team plans to add another year on to Tom Brady’s contract to lower his $28.375 million cap value this year.

Brady is set to receive a $10 million roster bonus in addition to his $15 million base salary, but he earned $3.375 million in incentives last year, which is why his cap value is $28.375 million instead of $25 million. The Bucs need to create some more cap space to sign not only Gabbert and Griffin, but starters like outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett, tight end Rob Gronkowski and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who will cost considerably more money.

Gabbert signed for the veteran league minimum last year worth $1.05 million with a $137,000 signing bonus. He only counted $887,500 against the cap in 2020. Griffin had a base salary of $945,000 but also earned $700,000 in per game roster bonus money and wound up with a $1.645 million cap value last year.

The Bucs are interested in re-signing Gabbert and Griffin for two reasons – affordability and experience in the system. With more experienced options available in free agency, such as Ryan Fitzpatrick, Andy Dalton, Jacoby Brissett and Tyrod Taylor, among others, those veterans all come with much higher price tags. And none of those players have any experience playing in Bruce Arians’ system.

Why is experience important in Arians’ system important? There are two main reasons this year.

The first is the fact that Brady underwent offseason knee surgery and won’t be ready to take the field again until the summer, which means he’ll likely miss OTAs and mini-camp – providing those take place this year as COVID-19 hasn’t gone away. Bringing in a new quarterback that doesn’t have any chemistry or rapport with Tampa Bay’s receivers, tight ends and backs would not allow the Bucs offense to continue to improve at the rate with which it could with knowledgeable QBs throwing the passes.

“I think he’s probably looking [at] somewhere around June, right now, from what I hear,” Arians said about Brady’s timetable to return to a practice environment. “His leadership – he doesn’t have to be out there throwing it anymore. He can be there standing and coach the [mess] out of them. Wherever they meet and workout – I’m hoping we have an offseason for the younger players. Tom doesn’t need it, but for the younger players – first, second-, and third-year players – we’ve missed two years of player development with where we’re at now. We don’t need to miss another one. For him he can learn as much sitting in my golf cart as he can out there throwing the ball. For me it’s just a matter of hopefully having those practices”

Bucs QBs Tom Brady, Ryan Griffin, Blaine Gabbert
Bucs QBs Tom Brady, Ryan Griffin, Blaine Gabbert – Photo by: USA Today

The second is that in the event that Brady were to get hurt in the 2021 season, a more experienced backup like Gabbert, who has spent three years in Arians’ system dating back to the 2017 season in Arizona, could step in and perform better than a newer quarterback. While Brady passed for 4,633 yards and a franchise-record 40 touchdowns in his first season in Arians’ offense, he’s also the greatest quarterback ever to play the game and had 20 years worth of NFL experience to draw from. Expecting a new quarterback to come in as the backup and have the same amount of success as Brady had would be far-fetched.

And if there isn’t an offseason or any preseason games like last year, having quarterbacks that have experience in Arians’ system would hold even more value to Tampa Bay.

Gabbert and Griffin are both 31 with Gabbert entering his 11th year in the league and Griffin entering his eighth year. Gabbert, a former first-round pick by Jacksonville over a decade ago, has far more playing time than Griffin does, along with a better skill set.

The Missouri product has played in 60 career games with 48 starts and a 13-35 record, including a 5-22 mark in Jacksonville in his first three seasons in the NFL. He’s completed 56.2 percent of his passes for 9,206 yards with 50 touchdowns and 47 interceptions.

Griffin, who has mostly been a third-string quarterback, has appeared in just two games in his entire career, completing 2-of-4 passes for 18 yards in the Colts game in 2019. Gabbert was Brady’s backup last year after missing the entire 2019 season due to shoulder surgery from a preseason injury.

Bucs GM Jason Licht and QB Blaine Gabbert
Bucs GM Jason Licht and QB Blaine Gabbert – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

“We have a lot of faith in Griff (Ryan Griffin), also, but Blaine knows this offense inside out,” Arians said last training camp in anointing Gabbert as Brady’s backup. “He made some great throws today and he’s pretty much entrenched in it.”

Griffin didn’t get the benefit of a preseason to change Arians’ mind, as he’s excelled in the month of August in past years. In 2018, Griffin passed for 518 yards while completing 68 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and no interceptions. In his first year in Arians’ offense, Griffin completed 65.9 percent of his passes for a league-high 743 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions in the 2019 preseason.

It will be interesting to see how much Gabbert is seeking and what the Bucs are willing to pay, as Marcus Mariota made $7.5 million in base salary last year as Derek Carr’s backup, and is scheduled to earn $10.625 million if he stays in Las Vegas for the 2021 season. Browns backup Case Keenum made $6 million in Cleveland, while Chase Daniel made $4.3 million as a backup in Detroit. Nick Foles made $4 million last year in Chicago as a part-time starter.

How much Gabbert gets if he’s re-signed will determine whether or not the Bucs can afford to keep Griffin. This is not a very deep draft at the quarterback position, and with Brady likely playing in Tampa Bay for two more years, it’s not critical to line up his heir apparent right now. Yet the Bucs might be interested in having a younger, cheaper quarterback on the 53-man roster when the regular season rolls around and it’s not just the Top 51 salaries that are counted towards the cap.

Alabama’s Mac Jones is getting first-round consideration, but would the Bucs spend the 32nd overall pick on him if he fell that far? Bucs general manager Jason Licht commented on the team’s “needs” a few weeks ago.

“We felt like we had a very strong team last year and I think last year proved that a lot of depth at key positions helped us get to our goal of winning the Super Bowl. Right now, as B.A. said, we’re trying to keep the core together. Then, if we can keep that core together, we can address other areas. We have to also address areas of future needs.

Bucs QBs Ryan Griffin and Tom Brady
Bucs QBs Ryan Griffin and Tom Brady – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

“We haven’t been in that position for a long time since I’ve been here, where if we are able to keep our core together, there is no immediate need that we’re going to be [addressing]. The picks that Bruce and I, and our staff, could either affect future needs or just be luxury picks that could help us. It leaves us in a position to take really good football players and not just direct our attention to one or two particular positions.”

Would a quarterback like Jones be a luxury pick at No. 32? Likely. Would Jones be considered a future need? Eventually, yes.

There are also a couple of other quarterbacks that would fit Arians’ system like Kyle Trask and Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond that could be mid-round picks that could make the roster as the third-string QB instead of spending around $1 million or more on Griffin.

It will be interesting to see how the quarterback position shapes up behind Brady this offseason, but the Bucs would like to have Griffin and Gabbert back – at the right price.

FAB 2. Is Gabbert The Future At The Bucs’ QB Position?

That headline is enough to make some of you cringe, I know. But no one is ready to anoint Blaine Gabbert as the heir apparent to Tom Brady.

Not just yet.

Like it or not, Gabbert has plenty of fans at One Buccaneer Place. Chief among them are general manager Jason Licht and head coach Bruce Arians, who by the way knows a thing or two about quarterbacks. After all, Arians is called “The Quarterback Whisperer.”

I’m not here to sell you on Gabbert being Brady’s eventual replacement in Tampa Bay. I’m here to explain why Licht and Arians are pretty high on Gabbert as a quarterback – one who the Bucs are targeting to re-sign in free agency if the price is right.