SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of reporting and analysis on the Bucs from yours truly, Pewter Report’s Scott Reynolds. Here are four things that caught my attention this week, plus some random tidbits in my Buc Shots section at the end. Enjoy!

FAB 1. Brady Returns To Bucs In The Nick Of Time

Tom Brady came back to the Bucs in the nick of time. Not just for the start of 2022 NFL free agency, but in plenty of time for the start of the 2022 season.

Bucs QB Tom Brady

Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

We haven’t seen the Bucs schedule yet. It comes out in May a few weeks after the NFL Draft. Yet we know which teams Tampa Bay will play in 2022.

When the schedule does come out it will be a doozy. The Bucs will play eight playoff teams from a year ago, including both Super Bowl teams.

Yes, the Bucs will play the Super Bowl champion Rams for the fifth time in four straight years. Tampa Bay is 0-3 in its last three meetings with Los Angeles. The last of which was a heartbreaking, 30-27 loss at home in the divisional playoffs.

Here is a list of the opponents the Bucs will play in 2022:

BUCS’ 2022 HOME OPPONENTS

Atlanta Falcons
Carolina Panthers
New Orleans Saints
Baltimore Ravens
Cincinnati Bengals
Green Bay Packers
Kansas City Chiefs
Los Angeles Rams
Seattle Seahawks

BUCS’ 2022 AWAY OPPONENTS

Atlanta Falcons
Carolina Panthers
New Orleans Saints
Arizona Cardinals
Cleveland Browns
Dallas Cowboys
Pittsburgh Steelers
San Francisco 49ers

The Bucs at least have a chance to finally beat the Rams with Brady. Not so much if Blaine Gabbert, who has yet to re-sign, or Kyle Trask were under center.

Take a look at the quarterbacks Tampa Bay will face in 2022 – Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson, Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, L.A.’s Matthew Stafford, Arizona’s Kyler Murray, Cleveland’s Deshaun Watson and Dallas’ Dak Prescott. With Brady, the Bucs have a legit chance to go toe-to-toe and throw-for-throw and win any game.

With Gabbert or Trask? They stand a better chance of winning against the likes of Atlanta’s Marcus Mariota, Carolina’s Sam Darnold and New Orleans’ Jameis Winston, where points may not be as plentiful.

Bucs QBs Blaine Gabbert and Tom Brady and QBs coach Clyde Christensen

Bucs QBs Blaine Gabbert and Tom Brady and QBs coach Clyde Christensen – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

The best the Bucs might have done with Gabbert or Trask under center in 2022 against a formidable schedule is 9-8 and potentially winning the division. That’s if Tampa Bay’s defense really comes to play this year.

But with Brady healthy for 17 games, winning the NFC South again all but seems assured. I can see Tampa Bay being a better, more talented team this year and winning 10-13 games against some really tough teams.

Since Brady announced he would return for a 23rd season, not only have the Bucs gotten better through re-signings and additions in free agency, but some of their 2022 opponents have gotten worse. Atlanta traded longtime Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan to the Colts.

The Seahawks traded Russell Wilson to the Broncos. The Packers traded Davante Adams to the Raiders and lost Marquez Valdes-Scantling to the Chiefs. Kansas City sent Chiefs fans reeling by trading Tyreek Hill to the Dolphins. The Cowboys shipped Amari Cooper to the Browns and lost pass rusher Randy Gregory to the Broncos. The Rams lost pass rusher Von Miller to the Bills in free agency.

Granted, the Browns look like they’ve gotten considerably better. But Watson going to Cleveland rather than New Orleans, Atlanta or Carolina was a huge stroke of good luck for Tampa Bay.

There will be new, lesser quarterbacks taking over in Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Seattle, Atlanta and likely Carolina if they draft one, as expected. Yet no win is guaranteed. Look no further than the Bucs losing to the Taylor Heinicke-led Washington Football Team last year, and the last-second comeback needed to beat the Zach Wilson-led Jets.

But having Brady under center against a slew of formidable teams featuring great quarterbacks gives the Bucs a chance every Thursday, Sunday or Monday. That wouldn’t have been the case with Gabbert or Trask.

FAB 2. Bucs’ 2023 Schedule Looks Less Daunting

Tom Brady is back in Tampa Bay, but it might only be for another year. Brady will turn 45 this year and is only under contract through 2022. That’s not expected to change, even if the Bucs restructure his contract to create some salary cap room.

So life without Brady in Tampa Bay could officially begin in 2023. And that looks like a much better time for the Bucs to retool their roster, and re-calibrate at the quarterback position.

Bucs QBs Blaine Gabbert and Tom Brady

Bucs QBs Blaine Gabbert and Tom Brady – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

The Bucs’ free agent list in 2023 isn’t nearly as daunting. Brady, linebacker Lavonte David, defensive lineman Will Gholston, cornerbacks Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting, safety Mike Edwards and reserve outside linebacker Anthony Nelson are the notable names.

Even better, Tampa Bay should have a much softer schedule in 2023. A quick look at the opponents the Bucs will play shows several potential easier games against Chicago, Detroit, Jacksonville and Houston. All four teams are picking in the Top 10 in this year’s draft.

That’s in addition to six total games against Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans, which may not be playoff-caliber teams by next year. The Falcons and Panthers also have Top 10 draft picks this year.

BUCS’ 2023 HOME OPPONENTS

Atlanta Falcons
Carolina Panthers
New Orleans Saints
Chicago Bears
Detroit Lions
Jacksonville Jaguars
Tennessee Titans
NFC East opponent (TBD)

BUCS’ 2023 AWAY OPPONENTS

Atlanta Falcons
Carolina Panthers
New Orleans Saints
Green Bay Packers
Houston Texans
Indianapolis Colts
Minnesota Vikings
NFC West opponent (TBD)
AFC East opponent (TBD)

Of course the term “any given Sunday” always applies in the NFL. That’s why Tampa Bay lost at Washington, Buffalo lost at Jacksonville and Arizona lost at Detroit last year.

Bucs QB Kyle Trask

Bucs QB Kyle Trask – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

A lot can change in an offseason in the NFL, too. A healthy Joe Burrow in his second season took the 4-11-1 Bengals to a 10-7 record last year and a Super Bowl berth.

In 2018 the 49ers were 4-12. The next year they were 13-3 and almost beat the Chiefs in the Super Bowl.

And of course in Tampa Bay, Jameis Winston led the Bucs to a 7-9 record in Bruce Arians’ first season. Brady replaced Winston the next year and guided Tampa Bay to a 10-6 record and a Super Bowl victory.

Perhaps a chump team this year becomes much better by the time they play the Bucs in 2023. Regardless, next year’s slate of games looks much more manageable to break in a new quarterback and start the post-Brady life in Tampa Bay.

FAB 3. NFC South Quarterback Upheaval

Last year the Bucs won the NFC South for the first time since 2007. The reason was a stacked roster of Pro Bowl players coming off a Super Bowl victory.

And of course Tom Brady.

In fact, Brady was the biggest reason the Bucs won a franchise-best 13 games and a rare NFC South title. Because for a dozen years Tampa Bay had not had a quarterback to stack up against the likes of Matt Ryan in Atlanta, Cam Newton in Carolina and Drew Brees in New Orleans.

For at least one more season, the Bucs should rule the NFC South with Brady at the helm. Let’s take a look at the current starters in the division outside of Tampa Bay.

Atlanta Falcons – Marcus Mariota

Titans QB Marcus Mariota – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Titans QB Marcus Mariota – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

After swinging and missing for Deshaun Watson, the Falcons had no choice but to trade a furious Ryan to the Colts for a third-round pick. The Bucs have had Ryan’s number lately, winning five of the last six meetings, including the last four. But prior to that, Ryan had beaten Tampa Bay five straight times from 2016-18.

In steps the 28-year old Mariota, who was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. He signed a two-year, $18.75 million contract. Mariota’s last significant action came in 2019 with the Titans. He went 2-4 as a starter, completing 59.4 percent of his passes for 1,203 yards with seven touchdowns and two interceptions.

Mariota knows Arthur Smith from his time in Tennessee and his transition to the run-based Falcons offense should be rather seamless. But Mariota hasn’t played much over the last two years as a backup with the Raiders. He completed 18-of-30 passes for 230 yards with one touchdown and one interception in spot duty behind Derek Carr. In the last two years the Falcons receiving corps has lost Julio Jones (traded), Calvin Ridley (suspended) and Russell Gage (free agency).

Carolina Panthers – Sam Darnold

Bucs ILB Devin White and DE Will Gholston and Panthers QB Sam Darnold

Bucs ILB Devin White and DE Will Gholston and Panthers QB Sam Darnold – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Matt Rhule is suddenly on the hot seat after a 5-12 season following a 5-11 record in his Carolina debut in 2020. Rhule traded for Darnold, a former first-round pick, and picked up his fifth-year option for 2022 before he even played a down in Carolina.

That means the Panthers are committed to Darnold to the tune of nearly $19 million this season – even though he went 4-7 last year. Darnold completed 59.9 percent of his passes for 2,527 yards with nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions playing in 12 games with 11 starts.

Carolina will likely move on from Darnold after this season if he isn’t significantly better. The Panthers have the sixth overall pick and are seriously considering drafting Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett or another quarterback to eventually replace Darnold. There is also talk of Carolina trading away oft-injured running back Christian McCaffrey for draft picks. Losing a viable weapon – when McCaffrey was healthy – won’t help Darnold or a rookie quarterback in 2022.

New Orleans Saints – Jameis Winston

Bucs S Mike Edwards and Saints QB Jameis Winton

Bucs S Mike Edwards and Saints QB Jameis Winton – Photo by: USA Today

The Bucs gave up on Winston, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft, when they were able to land Brady in free agency in 2020. Winston spent that season learning behind Brees and making a few cameo appearances, including throwing a touchdown against the Bucs on a trick play in a divisional round home playoff loss.

After Brees retired, Winston beat out Taysom Hill and went 5-2 as a starter last year. He completed 59 percent of his passes for 1,170 yards with 14 touchdowns and just three interceptions. Like the Falcons and Panthers, the Saints tried to woo Watson and land him in a trade deal. When that fell through, Winston re-signed with the Saints on a two-year, $28 million deal. He’s coming off a torn ACL, which he suffered on Halloween against Tampa Bay.

The amount of money Winston was given by New Orleans, coupled with the fact that Sean Payton retired, all but assures that he’ll be the starter. That means the Hill experiment at quarterback appears to be over. Hill was Payton’s pet project for years in New Orleans. It’s interesting to note that Winston and Mariota will duel against each other twice a year in the division now.

FAB 4. Godwin’s Contract Looks Like A Bargain Now

Just a week ago Bucs fans were fretting over franchise player Chris Godwin getting a three-year, $60 million contract. Did Tampa Bay overpay Godwin? Is he worth $20 million per year?

Godwin’s re-signing comes on the heels of the Chargers extending the contract of Mike Williams, who is not as accomplished as the Bucs’ star receiver, with an eye-opening $20 million average per season.

Bucs WR Chris Godwin

Bucs WR Chris Godwin – Photo by: USA Today

Heck, even Jacksonville overpaid Christian Kirk to the tune of $18 million per season. That was a stunning move at the time.

Since then, the Packers traded Devante Adams to the Raiders where he reset the wide receiver market with a massive, $140 million contract that averages $28 million per year. That topped DeAndre Hopkins, who was the clear frontrunner for wide receiver contracts at $27.25 million per year. The next closest receiver was the Chargers’ Keenan Allen at $20.628 million.

Things can change quickly in the NFL. Not just with some seismic trades this offseason that have seen big-name quarterbacks like Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, Carson Wentz and Matt Ryan all find new homes. But also in the world of the NFL salary cap where the receiver market suddenly exploded.

On Thursday, another wild trade occurred when Kansas City sent Tyreek Hill to Miami for a slew of draft picks. The Chiefs were unwilling to meet Hill’s contract demands, but the Dolphins were.

Just days after Adams’ massive deal was finalized, Hill’s $120 million contract extension, which features $72 million in guaranteed money reset the receiver market again. Hill is set to earn an average of $30 million per season.

In less than 10 days, Godwin’s deal looks like a bargain. Godwin went from being tied as the third highest-paid receiver in the NFL on March 16 to being tied for the sixth-highest. That’s because Carolina extended the contract of D.J. Moore, who now makes $20.628 million per year.

Speaking of bargains, Mike Evans is the real bargain in Tampa Bay. He’s now the 13th highest-paid receiver in the league at $16.5 million per year. Evans is under contract for two more years.

New Bucs WR Russell Gage, Jr.

New Bucs WR Russell Gage, Jr. – Photo by: USA Today

It’s incredible to think that Hill is making $30 million per year with the Dolphins. While the Bucs have Godwin and Evans for a combined $36.5 million per year. That’s two 1,000-yard Pro Bowl wide receivers for just $6.5 million more than Hill is making.

The Chargers’ duo of Allen and Williams makes a combined $40.653 million per year. It’s hard to believe that receiver contracts of $16.5 million and $20 million per year are now considered to be relative bargains, but here we are.

Even Russell Gage’s signing at a mere $10 million per year looks like chump change now. There are 28 other receivers in the league that will earn more per year than Gage does.

FAB 5. SR’s Buc Shots

• BE LIKE MIKE: Despite making nearly half of what Tyreek Hill and Devante Adams makes, Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans is right up there with both Pro Bowl receivers in terms of touchdown production.

• GHOLSTON IN RARE COMPANY: Bucs defensive lineman Will Gholston re-signed with the team on a one-year deal worth $4.5 million. The deal includes $3 million in guaranteed money. Gholston is entering his 10th season in Tampa Bay, and becomes just the 15th player to play a decade with the Bucs. The Athletic’s Greg Auman posted a trivia question (and the answers) on Twitter about the other 14 Buccaneers.

• WINSTON ON THE MEND: Saints quarterback Jameis Winston tore his ACL on a horse collar tackle by Bucs linebacker Devin White on Halloween in New Orleans. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, his rehab is going well and Winston should be ready to go for training camp.

• BUCS FREE AGENCY COVERAGE ON THE PEWTER REPORT PODCAST: The Pewter Report Podcast is energized by CELSIUS and broadcasts four live episodes each week. Pewter Report Podcasts typically air on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 4:00 pm EST in the offseason.

On Monday, Jon Ledyard and Scott Reynolds discussed the Logan Ryan signing and analyzed the Bucs’ situation at running back.

On Tuesday, Reynolds and Matt Matera reacted to the re-signing of running back Leonard Fournette.

Wednesday’s show featured Ledyard and Reynolds reporting on Will Gholston’s return among other Bucs topics.

Ledyard and Reynolds analyzed the latest Pewter Report Bucs’ 7-Round Mock Draft 3.0 and answered fans’ questions.

celsiusWatch the Pewter Report Podcasts live on our PewterReportTV channel on YouTube.com and please subscribe (it’s free) and add your comments. We archive all Pewter Report Podcasts. So you can watch the recorded episodes if you missed them live.

There is no better time to listen to or watch a new Pewter Report Podcast – energized by CELSIUS – than Friday afternoon on the way home from work. Or early Saturday morning during your workout or while running errands.

The popularity of the Pewter Report Podcast continues to grow. In addition to listening to the Pewter Report Podcasts on PewterReport.com you can also subscribe to the free podcasts at PodBean by clicking here and on SoundCloud by clicking here. And of course the Pewter Report Podcast is also available on iTunes and YouTube. Make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode.

• IN MEMORY OF JOHN CLAYTON: John Clayton was one of the best NFL reporters of my lifetime. A kind soul who just loved the game of football and covered it so well for decades for several outlets – most notably ESPN. Clayton died at age 67 this week and to pay tribute to him I thought I would run this hilarious clip from one of the best ESPN commercials of all-time.

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds is in his 27th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive coordinator/defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
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danielob
danielob
3 months ago

Good column, but I don’t think we should be underestimating the Panthers this year, I re-watched our win against them last night, they seemed to have our number in that final game of the season, they moved the ball well against us until Brady started working his magic. If they protect Darnold and get some wide receiver help they can be formible.
Also, thanks for the John Clayton clip, it was hilarious, he will be missed for sure.

chefboho
chefboho
3 months ago

Just more proof that it’s a throwing league. The receiver market was insane this year. There were a few on here complaint about Godwins contract thinking he was massively overpaid. That’s clearly not the case anymore. It just shows that the pay scale is QB first, Wr second, probably d-ends third. I for one thought Gage may have been paid just a tad too high but if he’s ranked 28th in pay scale then I think it’s a perfect number for him.

LIBucsFan93
LIBucsFan93
3 months ago

At some point Mike Evans needs to get paid. He’s a top 5 WR in this league and the time has come to open the vault and pay the man.

bucballer
bucballer
Reply to  LIBucsFan93
3 months ago

He has two years left on his contract and he’s not complaining about salary????? Why would u?????

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
3 months ago

People always judge schedule strength based upon past performance, but of course past performance often differs with current performance. It does seem as if there’s been a more-than-usual number of blockbuster trades and signings this off-season, which adds a lot of uncertainty to predictions of future success. The 2022 Bucs certainly look very strong on paper now. The injury boogie man is always waiting under the bed, of course, so that makes predictions very risky. Last year the Bucs got hit unusually bad with injuries, so there is at least some hope that we’ll suffer less in 2022. Should be… Read more »

toofamiliar17
toofamiliar17
3 months ago

It feels like nobody at PR wants to say it outright, but that the vibe that’s being given off is that this likely IS Brady’s last year in Tampa. Next year’s slate of games looks much more manageable to break in a new quarterback and start the post-Brady life in Tampa Bay.” If you guys aren’t intending to give that off, just fyi, you definitely are. I went into day one of the offseason thinking there was no chance Brady was retiring. Because he himself has told us, the world, when he would hang them up – when either (a)… Read more »

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
Reply to  toofamiliar17
3 months ago

The writers at PR clearly are out of touch with the Bucs management and players, as they have proven over and over again with predictions, “rumors”, and even demands for change that the Bucs management obviously disagrees with. So I would not put much stock into whatever vibes you think they’re giving off. Trying to predict what Tom Brady will do is just a guessing game, since nobody but Tom can live in his head, and what is in his head is obviously subject to change from month to month. I can’t really believe that he wants to go play… Read more »

bucballer
bucballer
Reply to  Naplesfan
3 months ago

Yes! So everyone needs to quit worrying about whether Brady is coming back next year. We have him for this coming season! Fact! Let’s just enjoy this season! Just six weeks ago people were jumping off the Skyway Bridge because Brady was gone and the thought of Trask taking over was just a bit much for them to handle. The GOAT is here now for this season. It’s going to be epic!

Theydidwhat
Theydidwhat
3 months ago

Even with Brady it will be a tough season. They need to build the best roster possible and give up some future $ and picks if necessary to do it. Upgrade back ups at OT, LB, DT, S. Draft is going to be key to get good players that are affordable and locked in for 4 years.

drdneast
drdneast
Reply to  Theydidwhat
3 months ago

All I want is Gronk, Suh and one FA OLB who can give a credible rush. 6 to 8 sacks would be fine. 10 would be super. Although I like JPP, I worry that busted wing might not hold up for the season. If we could sign him with a performance laden contract and then one other LB for those 6 to 8 sacks, I would rest a little easier. If there is a halfway decent defensive tackle rated as an early second round pick grab him. Our DL is getting old enough to qualify for Medicare pretty soon.

scubog
scubog
3 months ago

We all watched the somewhat sudden, but not unexpected, declines of some of the NFL’s great QB’s of the modern era. Guys like Manning, Namath, Roethlisberger, Brees and others simply could no longer perform as they once had, yet all were younger than Brady when they retired…..once. It’s unrealistic for us to think TB12 is going to last much longer, but I do think he’ll keep going as long as he thinks he can play at an elite level, just to put more distance between himself and the rest of the pack. Unfortunately for us Bucs fans, like all of… Read more »

Templeton Davis
Templeton Davis
3 months ago

I was cringing pretty hard at the Buc’s schedule this upcoming season.
Then I looked at the Ram’s schedule. They’ve got a hard row to hoe, too.