On Tuesday, the announcement finally came. Bucs quarterback Tom Brady is officially retiring – per his own social media accounts. There will be time to reflect on the immense impact Brady has had in just two years as a Buccaneer. What a player and what a leader. But the Bucs immediate future now hangs in the balance. Will this organization return to the cellar of the NFL? Or will the Bucs continue to build a contender following Brady’s retirement?

Make no mistake, the Bucs need another great quarterback to be a Super Bowl contender again. That’s not unique to Tampa Bay, as most teams need great quarterback play to contend for a world championship. But it’s especially true of Bruce Arians’ offensive system. The Bucs offense relies heavily on quarterbacks to be quick processors and make high degree-of-difficulty throws. Brady’s eliteness in both areas will be difficult to replicate this offseason.

Having said that, it’s crucial for people to know that the Bucs were heading in the right direction before Tom Brady arrived in Tampa Bay. And they were heading there at top speed.

General manager Jason Licht deserves credit for reeling in Brady, and for building the roster that attracted the star quarterback in the first place. Few general managers over the past 20 years have been as good at drafting premier talent, supplementing the roster in free agency and managing the cap for short and long term success. Licht has also surrounded himself with top-tier people in the front office, including John Spytek, Mike Greenberg, Mike Biehl, Rob McCartney, Jackie Davidson and others.

Bucs DBs Jamel Dean, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Jordan Whitehead and Antoine Winfield, Jr.

Bucs DBs Jamel Dean, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Jordan Whitehead and Antoine Winfield, Jr. – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Over the past few drafts, the Bucs have filled the roster with talented, quality players. In 2020, Tampa Bay nabbed two Pro Bowl players in right tackle Tristan Wirfs and safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. The year before, Licht flooded the defense with improvements, bringing in linebacker Devin White, cornerbacks Sean Murphy-Bunting and CB Jamel Dean and safety Mike Edwards.

While the jury is still out on White and Murphy-Bunting to a degree, the former’s peaks have shown the player he can be. Meanwhile, Dean and Edwards both took another leap this past season. Dean should start next season opposite Carlton Davis, while Edwards might align alongside Winfield.

In 2018, Licht found four quality starters in his first six picks. Nose tackle Vita Vea, cornerbacks Carlton Davis III, guard Alex Cappa and safety Jordan Whitehead have all been huge for the Bucs. Vea just signed a massive contract after his first Pro Bowl season, and Davis is a legit Top 10 cornerback. Whitehead could be a player the Bucs are now able to retain due to Brady retiring. We’ll see.

The 2017 draft could have been Licht’s finest hour, but the class has been decimated by injuries. Safety Justin Evans and linebacker Kendall Beckwith were both lost to career-ending injuries after promising starts. Tight end O.J. Howard has looked like an evolving stud at different points in his career, but injuries have zapped his talent. Still, receiver Chris Godwin in the third round has become one of the franchise’s all-time best steals.

Over the past five drafts, nobody has done it better than Licht. He and his staff have an exceptional eye for talent, and they work with the coaching staff to get players who fit the system. That’s a huge advantage the Bucs have over many NFL organizations, whose scouting departments and coaching staffs operate almost autonomously. Licht also understands what positions to value in the NFL – both lines, the secondary and difference-making weapons in the passing game. He’s also been vocal about learning from early career mistakes. That growth has been exemplified in his decisions over the past five years.

Tampa Bay has also provided a model to many teams on how to use free agency. Free agent signings like defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, outside linebacker Shaq Barrett and center Ryan Jensen transformed the Bucs roster, as did trading for outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul. Not only did running back Leonard Fournette work out in Tampa Bay, he also became a much better player. And then the Bucs waited out the market, re-signed him for cheap and got even better play out of him in 2021. That’s terrific front office work.

Bucs DTs Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea

Bucs DTs Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea – Photo by: USA Today

Simply put, the Bucs are run by one of the best front offices in the NFL. Their coaching staff isn’t flawless, but what staff is? Look at Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay screwing up call after call in the NFC Championship game.

The Bucs system works, and Byron Leftwich and Todd Bowles are better coordinators than most NFL teams have. Players respect and love playing for them. And now it looks like more likely than ever that both will be back next season.

There is no question the Bucs will take a step back in terms of their ceiling in 2022. Unless they find a way to grab Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson – and I don’t think either scenario is likely – Tampa Bay will probably be a tier below the top of the NFC this year.

But the NFC South is extremely weak, and the Bucs roster is still very good. Brady’s retirement will give them some more cap space to work with this offseason, and they are already in a good spot compared to many other contending teams. Godwin, Davis, Will Gholston and perhaps a few other key free agents will likely be retained. Tampa Bay’s roster will be good next year, and they have all their draft capital to make a move up for a quarterback when the right player comes along.

If Kyle Trask isn’t that guy, finding that next quarterback becomes everything for the Bucs front office. It could be this offseason, or it might be next. Both the draft and free agency are options. It might not show in 2022, but the Bucs can reload quickly and become a contender again. There are questions about almost every top roster and/or coaching staff in the NFC right now. And abundant questions in the NFC South.

Don’t write the Bucs eulogy yet.

The defending Super Bowl champs were on their way to the top before Brady. It won’t take long for them to get back on that trajectory moving forward.

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About the Author: Jon Ledyard

Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft
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Pete Wood
Pete Wood
5 months ago

Good article. The Bucs were a playoff team before Brady. They easily could have made the playoffs with an average QB who didn’t throw interceptions. They had the talent. They’ll be a quaility playoff team without Brady. I think our GM is the best drafter in the NFL. He also has a knack for spotting talent in free agency that nobody else sees. We will be very happy with the team he assembles. I can see us winning 12 games next year. Seriously. I disagree that you need a great QB to win the Super Bowl. I would not call… Read more »

The Freeman
The Freeman
Reply to  Pete Wood
5 months ago

next year schedule is brutal, no way we win 12 games after losing an mvp candidate at QB and Gronk, and AB, and the next super bowl piece to leave the boat…

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
Reply to  The Freeman
5 months ago

“Next season” expectations are always based upon last season’s results, which is a terrible way to predict the future outcome … which, by the way, cannot be predicted by anyone. How many people predicted a year ago that the Bengals (formerly, for decades, known as the “Bungles”) would beat the Chiefs and go to a Super Bowl with a second year quarterback who finished last season on IR? Besides none. Who thought that the lowly 49ers with a has-been never that good quarterback would go on the road in the snow and beat Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in the… Read more »

scubog
scubog
Reply to  Naplesfan
5 months ago

You’re absolutely correct Naples. Every season starts anew, but folks always think it will just be a repeat of the previous one. I pay absolutely zero attention to the scheduled opponents to predict the 2022 won-loss record. As Ronde would say, “It is what it is.”

Buc76
Buc76
Reply to  Pete Wood
5 months ago

No we weren’t any where near a playoff team. We will go right back to the gutter if they try to trot out Blaine Gabbert because no one will stay here and no one will come here. We need a top flight playoff caliber quarterback. Would probably have to give up too much for Rodgers, Wilson or Watson…How about Jimmy Garropolo. Learned under Brady, won playoff games, made it to a Super Bowl, played with Gronk. John Lynch might work out a deal with us because they need to move him. Need to think big.

Pete Wood
Pete Wood
Reply to  Buc76
5 months ago

They won seven games with Winston. take away his pick sixes and Bucs were in the playoffs. They had a good team.

Lawdy
Lawdy
Reply to  Buc76
5 months ago

garropolo aint it

Dude
Dude
Reply to  Lawdy
5 months ago

Agreed, he also can’t make it through a season without spending a lot of time on the IR. I would take Gabbert over him. As Buc fans, we don’t know much about Gabbert, he has a strong arm, stronger than Garoppolo, and he spent two years under Brady without the threat of trying to take his job, like Garoppolo thought back after he was drafted (lol). So Brady might have worked with Gabbert more openly than he did Jimmy. I think Gabbert and Trask are both interesting prospects. Remember, when Brady got his shot 20 years ago, he too, was… Read more »

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
Reply to  Buc76
5 months ago

Yes we were very near a playoff team but for the quarterback who threw nearly as many interceptions as TDs. Most of the guys we have on the roster today were on the roster that season. We don’t have the GOAT at quarterback so we won’t attract free agents and traded players just because they want to play with the GOAT. But we’re still who we are. It doesn’t take the GOAT to win a Super Bowl, but it does take a good quarterback. Who knows, we may already have that quarterback on the roster – Kyle Trask, who was… Read more »

twspin
twspin
Reply to  Buc76
5 months ago

Actually Garropolo might not be a bad idea…………..You are right. In order for the Bucs to remain relevant and competitive they must think BIG. I would even consider Winston. And Watson is a sleeper also. Texans want to dump him badly. The man can play along with being mobile.

Last edited 5 months ago by twspin
kingtrojan
kingtrojan
Reply to  Pete Wood
5 months ago

True you don’t necessarily need a great QB and Dilfer or Johnson were AVG but they had all time defenses that carried them and our defense is AvG at best on a good day especially the secondary

Spitfire
Spitfire
Reply to  Pete Wood
5 months ago

You don’t NEED a great QB but you should never shoot for average. You don’t need a great QB if you have a Defense that can completely take an opponents head off. The Dilf was terrible but the Ravens Defense that year could win games all by themselves. Johnson was a solid Average QB and our Defense that year could and did win games by themselves. We embarrassed KC last year but this year we didn’t hold that level of Dominance on Defense. We need the best QB we can manage to bring in, or to use Brady’s $25mil and… Read more »

Selmon-63
Selmon-63
5 months ago

Thanks. I needed that.

The Freeman
The Freeman
5 months ago

if you think they can re-sign the Godwin, Lenny, Whitehead, Davis, Gholston, Jensen and others without overpaying now that Brady is retiring, you’re crazy!
say goodbye to most of our top FA… we’ve already lost Tommy and Gronky!

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
Reply to  The Freeman
5 months ago

If you think you know what you’re blabbering on about with your silly assertions, you’re crazy.

The Wall
The Wall
5 months ago

Leftwich and Bowles are better coordinators than most teams have? Are you kidding? If they were, they would be head coaches by now. Jon, read your own criticism of Bowles. There just aren’t any excuses for some of his decisions. Worst of all, he doesn’t seem to learn from his mistakes. Maybe he’s just stubborn. Anyway, I was hoping he would be gone by now. Now that Brady’s gone, we’ll see how good of a coordinator Leftwich is.

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
Reply to  The Wall
5 months ago

Such terrible decisions that produced the no. 5 ranked defense in the league, despite being absolutely crushed by injuries all season long.

Are guys like you really that stupid? Or do you just comment that stupidly?

The Wall
The Wall
Reply to  Naplesfan
5 months ago

Ok Genius. How do you explain the constant blitzing against the best quarterback at picking up the blitz? How do you explain using one of the highest paid defensive tackles in the league under 50% of the snaps? How do you explain using JPP when you have better options? How do you explain his play calling in overtime? Finally, why hasn’t the coordinator with the league’s no.5 defense, and head coaching experience, been offered a head coaching job?

twspin
twspin
Reply to  Naplesfan
5 months ago

Noipe, You the stupid one. If our defense was so great then why they lose to the Rams?. Don’t answer. Everybody knows the reason they beat us was they had an excellent defense. Everybody of course except..YOU

ElioT
ElioT
5 months ago

Thanks Jon, you’re the man!
This whole process requires patience and there is no reason for the Bucs to panic and do anything rash like trading away the future or putting future years at risk of Salary Cap Hell.
If I had to guess, I think they give Trask the job if he’s ready and continue to build out the roster around him.

If Trask starts for the 2022 season and sucks, then they’ll obviously have a high draft pick and/or the opportunity to find a FA QB that can get the job done in 2023.

Go Bucs!

Horse
Horse
5 months ago

With another good draft we will still be competitive. IF, Gabbert and Trask team up and play decent; we sign Godwin, Cappa, Jensen, Fournette, Davis; draft a TE & DT & LB in rounds 1.2.3; in free agency pick up TE, QB, WR, DL, Punter, OL; don’t trade draft picks away. Just my opinion.

pinkstob
pinkstob
5 months ago

I’ll reserve judgement until I see what kind of offseason we have and maybe even a little bit into the season. Based on what FA’s we bring in and what kind of draft we have will weigh heavily with me. Licht’s teams never made the playoffs before Brady, who I’ve said before has the greatest ability to elevate the players around him than any athlete in sports history. Maintaining that elevation didn’t work out for the Pats the year after Brady left so what matters is who we replace Brady with and what the rest of the team looks like.… Read more »

Theydidwhat
Theydidwhat
Reply to  pinkstob
5 months ago

Exactly, we all need to have an off season and see what happens.

Rob
Rob
5 months ago

Great article, Jon. Needed it for sure. The thing that bums me out the most is the lack of QB options. I don’t want to trade the farm for 1-2 years of Rodgers (the guy may retire this year so if he’s already thinking about it and doesn’t like how year one goes, he’s gone. Way too risky). I can’t see new Raiders coach trading Derek Carr…Wilson just doesn’t seem like a scheme fit tho. It’s just hard to have any semblance of excitement over Gabbert. Trask is the unknown who I actually think could be really good. But the… Read more »

Buc stops here
Buc stops here
5 months ago

Congratulations to Brady, he deserves all of it. Now on to the future.  Who is next with the cap hit the team takes? Either $32 million all in 2022 or $8 million spread out over a few years. The team has a lower cap now and I am not sure who will be their next QB. Probably not Aaron Rogers or Russell Wilson as they are both under contract that the Bucs would have to negotiate to get with picks and dollars they don’t have to spend. Jimmy Garoppolo is slightly more likely but he costs picks and dollars as well.  After that you have… Read more »

Lawdy
Lawdy
Reply to  Buc stops here
5 months ago

all those free agents make me wanna vomit my brains out but since gabbert is already here might as well stay with him

kingtrojan
kingtrojan
5 months ago

Talk about a homer article, I was having a rough morning and reading this gave me a good laugh and made me feel better

BucHarbour
BucHarbour
5 months ago

If they can keep the core FA’s, draft some more talent at receiver, CB, and along the DL, then I would just ride with what we have this year and see if Trask is a long-term solution at QB instead of playing the FA merry-go-round at that spot. I’d rather have a QB that plays with us for a decade then keep briefly killing the team spending money out the wazoo to get another highly regarded FA QB. Those guys aren’t cheap, and Brady gave us a bit of a discount to be with a talented team that could make… Read more »

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
5 months ago

Agreed – today is the first day of the rest of this upcoming season’s story. A huge amount can happen in the offseason, the draft, the preseason, and of course the 2022 regular season and post-season. The Bucs are a good team, and if we get the right guy under center, and continue to do what the front office has been doing for the last 5 years, there is no reason we cannot set our sights on another South Division Championship and a playoff run. It’s not as if the rest of our division are likely champions, which helps. It… Read more »

Last edited 5 months ago by Naplesfan
twspin
twspin
5 months ago

No, I am not trying to be a comedian. But I believe Winston can still be had for cheap. He’s better than what we got on our rosters right now. Just sayin guys…..

Theydidwhat
Theydidwhat
5 months ago

There is NO panic at one Buc! Licht is not the draft master, but has pieced together a good team. 2021 draft, we will see in time. They thought they had all they needed bringing back the 22 and relaxed some. They need to nail this off season. Defense and special teams need to be consistently better to win in the playoffs. If previous seasons roster didn’t go to the playoffs, then they were not a playoff caliber team.

Last edited 5 months ago by Theydidwhat
twspin
twspin
Reply to  Theydidwhat
5 months ago

Agree. All one needs to do is look at that RAMS Defense. They are what we were back when we won out 1st ring. They are savage Beast! We talk about coaching mistakes. But our defensive line, LB’s and secondary failed to deliver against the Rams. The Rams won because of their Defense. They rattled the hell out of Brady. And they sure as hell overwhelmed the 9ers in the 4th this past Sunday.

Last edited 5 months ago by twspin
gcolerick
gcolerick
Reply to  Theydidwhat
5 months ago

Don’t really feel like they relaxed. I feel like they had way too many injuries to overcome. Next man up theory does not really work that well with the amount of injuries we had to deal with. No team in the NFL has enough depth to sustain the amount of injuries we had.

Emilio
Emilio
5 months ago

we were NOT a playoff team pre-Brady, and won’t be without a premier QB. The D is average, and our coaching is below average. Without Rogers, Wilson, it’s succaneer time again.

magoobee
magoobee
5 months ago

Licht is such a good talent evaluator that the kicker he drafted, knocked the Bucs out of the playoffs this year.

Spruce
Spruce
5 months ago

OK so the Bucs were a Super Bowl contender with Brady but it’s wasn’t just him. They assembled a darn good team with a lot of good weapons and some good draft picks. Now the GOAT is gone and sure the Super Bowl is more of a stretch but what the heck is wrong with division titles and playoff runs? It’s all very doable in 2022.

Spruce
Spruce
5 months ago

Is moving on from Arians a possibility? His coaching style just isn’t conducive to what the Bucs may need to be next year. A more conservative, grind it out offense. Limit penalties and don’t turn it over and let the defense do it’s thing.
Winston gets blamed for the Bucs under achieving prior to Brady but part of it was Arians undisciplined style. Brady could manage it properly. That’s gone so time to rethink the no risk it, no biscuit nonsense.

GIJoeWasThere
GIJoeWasThere
5 months ago

This team is only helped by being in the south. Otherwise this is a 5 win roster.