Sep 17, 2023; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) is congratulated by quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) after scoring a touchdown against the Chicago Bears during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

Bucs focus on re-signing Mike Evans, Baker Mayfield

INDIANAPOLIS — Keeping quarterback Baker Mayfield and retaining receiver Mike Evans are major priorities for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this offseason.

Mayfield was plucked off the scrap heap and put together his top all-around season, while Evans reached 1,000 receiving yards for the 10th straight season, a record at the outset of a career and just one off the overall consecutive seasons mark held by the legendary Jerry Rice.

Evans is a legend with the franchise while Mayfield stands to earn much, much more than the $4 million he received last season.

Negotiations are continuing with the soon-to-be free agent but the Buccaneers also plan to study quarterbacks this week at the NFL Scouting Combine.

“I know he wants to be a Buc. We want him to be a Buc, so that’s usually a good starting point,” Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht said Tuesday. “We want Baker back. Trust me, I can’t go two blocks in Tampa without somebody asking me that and you understand that and I totally understand it.

“He’s been great for our team. He’s been great for the organization and we would love to have Baker.”

Mayfield, 28, has a 40-46 record as a starting quarterback, including stints with the Cleveland Browns, Carolina Panthers and Los Angeles Rams. He went 9-8 with the Buccaneers while setting personal bests of 4,044 yards and 28 touchdowns.

Evans, 30, caught 13 touchdown passes last season to match Tyreek Hill of the Miami Dolphins for the NFL lead. Evans had 79 catches for 1,255 yards.

“Mike did a heck of a job and he came to work every day,” Buccaneers coach Todd Bowles said. “He came to play every day, as you can see as a result from the statistics. And he’s been here for a decade and he’s done the same thing every year.

“He has been very consistent, very dynamic, yet he’s very humble off the field. But he’s a confident player. He’s one of my favorite players. I have a lot of respect for Mike and everything he does and he’s earned what he done.”

Evans just finished a five-year, $82.5 million contract with Tampa Bay.

But extension talks didn’t go well leading up to the 2023 season and the two sides didn’t reach a deal.

Licht declined to discuss where talks stand now.

“He’s an unprecedented player. We want him to be a Buc for life. We’re working towards that,” Licht said. “Obviously it takes two sides. I know he wants to be a Buc. We’ll probably have to strain a little bit (financially) but we’re working towards that right now.”

The Buccaneers also cleared close to $5 million in salary cap space by releasing outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett. The 31-year-old made the Pro Bowl twice in five seasons with Tampa Bay.

“Did not want to make that call,” Licht said. “At the same time I did — I wanted to give him some time here to look for another team if that’s what he wants to do. We can’t officially release him until the beginning of the league year, but he actually calmed me down on the call.”

–Field Level Media

Feb 28, 2023; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht during the NFL combine at the Indiana Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Bucs GM likens overhaul to finding ‘gems at the dollar store’

Tom Brady’s retirement in February was the just the tipping point for Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht to put a massive roster overhaul in motion.

When the Bucs made their final roster cuts to 53 more than six months later, the team had gone from the oldest in the NFL to the eighth youngest. It was a necessary band-aid to tear off as Brady’s retirement brought a $35 million dead-cap hit and put the franchise nearly $60 million over the cap.

The ensuing months saw the departure of numerous veterans including running back Leonard Fournette and tackle Donovan Smith, and the addition of a slew of rookies — including six undrafted players who made the initial 53-man roster last week. They team with seven rookie draft picks on the roster.

“It was challenging for us, but it was fun. It was exciting,” Licht said Thursday. “Any time you challenge your staff to go find gems at the dollar store, there is kind of an excitement to it. That’s what we get paid to do.

“That’s how we earned our bones early, trying to kick the weeds and find guys, so it was a lot of fun for all of us.”

Licht admitted the focus was not only from getting younger while also paring the salary cap, but on getting faster and more athletic throughout the roster in the process.

“We knew that there would be a lot of opportunity for new faces, but if you would’ve told me back in April that we’d keep six undrafted rookies, I probably would’ve thought you were crazy,” Licht said. “But it worked out. We’re excited about every single one of them. I think a lot of them are going to play big roles for us.

“It’s an exciting time. Whenever you have a young team and are thinking you can compete with that young team, it’s great. It worked out well for us.

“We’re paying the bills right now.”

Whether the Bucs can be competitive in 2023 remains to be seen. After being preseason favorites during each of Brady’s three seasons, Tampa Bay is now the longshot to win the NFC South — including +750 at BetRivers and +1000 at DraftKings.

Head coach Todd Bowles spoke to the overall intelligence he sees in the team’s rookie class, which he believes picked up the Bucs’ system extremely quickly. He believes if players have the talent, they can play and contributing no matter the experience level.

“We have guys on the team that can play ball. Just because their names are not known doesn’t mean they can’t play,” Bowles said. “They’re just unknown at the time, but they’ll be known pretty soon.

“It’s up to us to get them ready and it’s up to them to play, and we feel confident in that.”

The Bucs face a difficult opening stretch that will likely determine realistic expectations. After opening at Minnesota, Tampa Bay will play host to Chicago and defending NFC champion Philadelphia before its first divisional game at New Orleans ahead of a Week 5 bye.

There are still veterans at key positions the Bucs will rely heavily on to get through that opening gauntlet. Among them are wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin along with quarterback Baker Mayfield, who won the job over Kyle Trask to begin the season.

“Baker was obviously better or we wouldn’t have chosen him to be the starter,” Licht said. “I think Baker is in a great head space right now, so I’m excited to see how this turns out.”

Meanwhile, the defense will be led by linebackers Shaq Barrett, Lavonte David and Devin White along with nose tackle Vita Vea and defensive back Antoine Winfield Jr.

“I just know I like the vibe that our team has right now, I like the energy and I like how far we’ve gotten in the offseason as a team,” Licht said. “I can’t make any predictions — I just feel like our team has the DNA to want to compete against anybody.”

–Field Level Media

Aug 3, 2023; Tampa Bay, FL, USA;  Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) and quarterback Kyle Trask (2) participate in training camp at AdventHealth Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Bucs coach mulling options for starting quarterback

Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Todd Bowles said Sunday that he isn’t ready to name a starting quarterback for the upcoming season, and he doesn’t feel rushed to do so.

“We don’t have a timetable on it,” Bowles said. “We’ll name it when we name it. We feel comfortable with where we’re at, so we’ll go from there.”

The Buccaneers will play their final preseason game on Aug. 26 against the Baltimore Ravens. Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask are expected to play in that game for the Bucs, who saw fellow quarterback John Wolford sustain a neck injury in the team’s 13-6 victory over the New York Jets on Saturday.

Wolford was discharged from a New York-area hospital in time to fly home with the team.

Mayfield signed with Tampa Bay in March as the presumed starter after making three stops during a whirlwind 2022. After being traded from the Cleveland Browns to Carolina that offseason, he was 2-8 with 2,163 yards, 10 touchdown passes and eight interceptions with the Panthers and Los Angeles Rams.

Mayfield, 28, is 31-38 as a starter since being drafted with the No. 1 overall pick by Cleveland in 2018.

Trask, 25, has only appeared in one regular-season game since Tampa Bay drafted him in the second round in 2021. He is 3-for-9 passing for 23 yards.

–Field Level Media

The Philadelphia Eagles were able to land Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter - arguably the best player in the draft - with the No. 9 overall pick.

Syndication Columbia Daily Tribune

Crash survivor sues Georgia, Jalen Carter

Victoria Bowles, a former Georgia staffer who was injured but survived the fatal car accident that took the lives of two others in January, filed a lawsuit against Georgia athletics, Jalen Carter and the estate of the deceased staffer.

According to the lawsuit, filed in Gwinnett County (Ga.) on Wednesday, Bowles likely suffered “permanent disability” in the Jan. 15 wreck that killed Bulldogs offensive lineman Devin Willock and recruiting staffer Chandler LeCroy, who is named in the lawsuit.

Police say LeCroy, the driver, had a blood alcohol concentration of .197, nearly 2 1/2 times the Georgia limit, when the SUV she was driving was traveling 104 mph when it veered off the road and hit two power poles and several trees.

Bowles has incurred more than $170,000 in medical expenses since the wreck, per her attorneys.

“Tory is deeply saddened by the loss of Devin and Chandler,” Bowles’ attorney Rob Buck said. “She greatly appreciates the continued prayers, love and support she is receiving during her difficult recovery. … Tory is disappointed that the Association and its insurers have forced her to resort to litigation to address her life altering injuries.”

Bowles was a recruiting analyst who was in the car driven by LeCroy and also occupied by Willock and then OL Warren McClendon hours after the victory parade celebrating Georgia’s second straight national championship,

Bowles is suing the UGA Athletic Association for negligence for allowing LeCroy to drive the car despite knowing she had incurred “at least four speeding tickets, which included two ‘super speeder’ violations under Georgia law.”

Further, the lawsuit disputes Georgia’s assertion that LeCroy was not authorized to drive the 2021 Ford Expedition, leased by the athletic department.

“LeCroy told Ms. Bowles that she (LeCroy) had ‘permission’ to keep the SUV ‘until tomorrow,’” the lawsuit said. “Numerous text messages from recruiting staff supervisors to LeCroy, Ms. Bowles and other staff members show the Association’s statement is false. Recruiting staff were regularly informed they could leave their personal vehicles overnight at the Butts-Mehre football facility and permissively use Association rental vehicles through a specified cut-off date and time, unrelated to their assigned recruiting activity duties.”

The Georgia Athletic Association released a statement Thursday.

“We have not been served with the complaint, as plaintiff’s counsel chose to share it with the media before sharing it with us. Based on our preliminary review, we dispute its claims and will defend the Athletic Association’s interests in court.”

The suit accuses Carter, who police said was racing LeCroy in another vehicle, of illegally leaving the scene and failing to render aid.

Carter pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of reckless driving and racing in March. Carter was sentenced to 12 months of probation, a $1,000 fine and 80 hours of community service. He also will attend a state-approved defensive driving course.

Carter signed a four-year deal worth $21.8 million with the Philadelphia Eagles after being selected No. 9 overall in the April draft.

Willock’s father, Dave Willock, filed a $40 million lawsuit in May against UGA, LeCroy’s estate and Carter, among others.

–Field Level Media

Jun 9, 2023; St. Petersburg, Florida, USA;  Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) attends an MLB game betewwnt the Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Bucs’ QB battle: Baker Mayfield feels ‘comfortable’ in new offense

The quarterback competition between Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask is getting into full swing this week at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ minicamp.

Mayfield, the former No. 1 overall draft pick now with his fourth NFL team, said Tuesday he’s feeling comfortable with the Bucs’ offense so far.

“I feel comfortable with where I’m at right now. Now, it’s about making sure that my comfortability resonates with everyone else,” Mayfield said. “That is the quarterback’s job, is to make sure everybody gets on the same page and make sure we breathe that confidence throughout the whole team. I feel good with where I am at right now, but there is obviously always room to improve.”

Though it’s only June, Mayfield was concerned about cleaning up turnovers the offense committed during drills against the Bucs’ tough defense.

“But that’s what happens when you get the full defense back out there and the competition starts flying around a bit,” Mayfield said. “We just need to hone it in, but luckily, it’s minicamp now, so we’re going to be able to watch the film altogether and do a walkthrough to correct some of those mistakes.”

Mayfield was traded from the Cleveland Browns to the Carolina Panthers ahead of the 2022 season, but the Panthers went 1-5 in his six starts and his stay was short-lived. He was granted his release in early December and the Los Angeles Rams claimed him off waivers while dealing with quarterback injuries.

Across 12 games (10 starts) for the Panthers and Rams, Mayfield threw for 2,163 yards, 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 2022.

Trask, meanwhile, got into his first NFL game last season and went 3-for-9 for 23 yards. After backing up Tom Brady for two years, Trask has more of a chance to earn playing time.

Only a few years removed from his college days at Florida, where he was a Heisman finalist in 2020, Trask said he looked at Tuesday’s assignment like a final exam.

“We’ve been studying all throughout OTAs and then you’ve got three days to put it altogether,” Trask said. “The first day, we’re still working through some things and tightening up some things, but altogether, I think we’re really getting all of the concepts down together well and looking pretty solid.”

Head coach Todd Bowles revealed little about his quarterbacks’ progress, saying both Mayfield and Trask are “getting used to” playing with star receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and receiving play calls from first-year offensive coordinator Dave Canales.

Asked where the QBs have shown the most growth recently, Bowles said, “Understanding the offense and making audibles at the line of scrimmage.”

–Field Level Media

Jan 8, 2023; Seattle, Washington, USA; Los Angeles Rams quarterback Baker Mayfield (17) participates in early pregame warmups against the Seattle Seahawks while wearing a    Love for Damar    t-shirt in honor of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin (3, not pictured) at Lumen Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Bucs tee up QB change in OTAs, adapting to Baker Mayfield

Dangerous talent assessments are often made when players are in shorts and T-shirts during NFL offseason practices, but Buccaneers head coach Todd Bowles saw some fine work from new quarterback Baker Mayfield in a polo.

“He’s a good golfer,” Bowles said after Tuesday’s organized team activity session in Tampa. “Everything else, I kind of knew. I’ve known him for a couple years now so everything else is not a surprise to me.”

Mayfield signed with the Buccaneers and is competing with Kyle Trask to start in 2023. Tampa Bay won the NFC South but Tom Brady retired in February.

Mayfield is on his fourth NFL team. The former No. 1 pick of the Cleveland Browns was traded to the Carolina Panthers prior to last season, and joined the Los Angeles Rams upon being waived.

Not much about on-field performance will be evident this month, but Bowles said he knows Mayfield is getting his rounds of golf in right now.

“He’s better than me, so that makes him a great golfer. I’m not a very good golfer, so it doesn’t take much – the bar is low. But I think he’s a very good golfer,” Bowles said, adding Mayfield played golf with Bruce Arians and others have told the team about his strong tee-to-green game. “I have not experienced that myself – I am not a great golfer. I don’t golf with those types. I golf with kind of the scrubs and we kind of just have fun and go from there.”

Mayfield said he won’t react to outside perspective of the move or arbitrary opinions such as a set of preseason power rankings that listed the Buccaneers No. 30.

“It’s May,” Mayfield said Tuesday of his reaction to the rankings.

Bowles said the strongest endorsement of Mayfield will come from teammates. So far, the signs are positive.

“He’s eager to learn,” Bowles said. “He’s got a bunch of energy every day. Guys gravitate towards him. He’s learning the system just like Kyle is and they’re helping each other out.”

Wide receiver Chris Godwin doesn’t see a leader in the clubhouse on the QB competition. He was one of several players to note a lot is different without Brady and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, who was fired.

“Honestly, it’s just different. Any time you have a new quarterback, it’s different,” Godwin said. “Obviously, we don’t know who that guy is going to be yet but it doesn’t feel weird – it just feels like you’re getting reps with a bunch of guys. I get to work on my own skill development, get to work with the receivers and then for us, we have to handle our business regardless of who’s throwing the ball. We kind of discuss those things – let’s make the play when the ball comes our way, let’s make the play. I think Kyle and Baker have both done a great job so far – it’s a friendly competition, there’s no animosity.”

–Field Level Media

Feb 28, 2023; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Todd Bowles during the NFL combine at the Indiana Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Todd Bowles: Bucs can still win without Tom Brady

Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Todd Bowles addressed the elephant in the room on Sunday, although the “animal” in question is more appropriately referred to as the “G.O.A.T.”

Bowles spoke of his team’s expectations at quarterback in the wake of Tom Brady’s retirement.

“When you replace a player of that magnitude, first of all, you don’t replace him,” Bowles told NFL Network of Brady’s departure from the team. “You lose aura. You lose the expectation of being great. That doesn’t mean you can’t be great. You just have to do it more as a team. We did it as a team when he was there, but he was such a great player and a great person that you focus all on that. And now that that is gone, the perception is that everything else is gone when really it isn’t.

“We have a lot of good players on our team on both sides of the ball. We have some pieces to fill, but we have a lot of good football players on our team. And we just have to understand that and not go with the so-called outside narrative and do what we have to do to win ball games.”

With Brady retired, all eyes will shift to free-agent acquisition Baker Mayfield and in-house candidate Kyle Trask at the quarterback position.

“I liked Baker when he was coming out,” Bowles said of the former Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft.

“We kind of hit it off when I was with the Jets. I went down to Oklahoma and we had this vibe between us. And not to say he had the strongest arm and everything else, but he’s a leader. He has great understanding of the football game. He knows where to go with the football. And he has moxie. He’s a guy’s guy. The players love to be around him, and they will fight for him because he’s a winner.”

“… So, between him and Trask, I have no doubt that one of them will come out and be successful.”

Tampa Bay is Mayfield’s fourth team in three years. The 27-year-old helped his chances by finishing last season strong after being claimed by the Los Angeles Rams.

Trask, 25, completed 3 of 9 pass attempts for 23 yards in one game last season. He was picked in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft.

–Field Level Media

Oct 29, 2022; Tucson, Arizona, USA; Former Arizona Wildcats and NFL tight end Rob Gronkowski looks on during the first half of the game between the Arizona Wildcats and the USC Trojans at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Todd Bowles says Rob Gronkowski reached out to Bucs

Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Todd Bowles confirmed that retired tight end Rob Gronkowski recently reached out to the team about possibly returning for a playoff push.

Bowles told the Tampa Bay Times that nothing serious came of the call.

“It was more of a conversation than anything else,” Bowles said. “Usually, when you have to think about playing, you probably don’t want to play. When it’s just a discussion, I didn’t think much of it at the time.”

Gronkowski, 33, who retired for the second time in June, sparked social media interest Wednesday by tweeting three words: “I’m kinda bored.”

Under Gronkowski’s longtime quarterback Tom Brady, the Buccaneers (6-8) still lead the NFC South by one game heading into Sunday night’s road game against the Arizona Cardinals (4-10).

A four-time Super Bowl champion and five-time Pro Bowl selection, Gronkowski caught 621 passes for 9,286 yards and 92 touchdowns in 143 games for the New England Patriots (2010-18) and Bucs (2020-21). He sat out the 2019 season in his first retirement.

–Field Level Media

Tom Brady (12) of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers walks off the field during warmups at Acrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh, PA on October 16, 2022.

Pittsburgh Steelers Vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers Week 6

Bucs coach: Tom Brady doesn’t get ‘special treatment’

Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Todd Bowles said Monday that Tom Brady doesn’t get “special treatment” while addressing the quarterback’s absence from the team’s final walkthrough to attend the wedding of Robert Kraft.

But it is getting special attention.

Brady missing Saturday’s final walkthrough is getting scrutiny in the aftermath of Tampa’s bad loss at Pittsburgh on Sunday. The Bucs were 9.5-point favorites but lost 20-18.

Bowles was asked about the optics of Brady’s absence, given his extended sabbatical during training camp, among other excused absences and scheduled days off.

“He works as hard as anybody,” Bowles said. “Special treatment — there have been a few guys that have missed some meetings and some practices for some special things. It just doesn’t get publicized because they’re not him. It kind of comes with the territory. We don’t worry about it too much.”

Kraft got married Friday night in New York in a surprise wedding to Dr. Dana Blumberg. The pair invited 250 or so guests to an event but didn’t tell them about the nuptials, per reports. It was a star-studded affair that included Brady — but not New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

Belichick said Monday he told Kraft it would be best to focus on the Patriots’ game against Cleveland on Sunday, a game the Patriots won.

Brady, meanwhile, skipped the team’s morning walkthrough and rejoined the team Saturday night in Pittsburgh.

Brady finished 25-for-40 with 243 yards and a touchdown against the Steelers. The loss dropped the Bucs to 3-3.

–Field Level Media

Oct 16, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Cameron Brate (84) is tackled after a catch by Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Myles Jack (rear) during the third quarter at Acrisure Stadium. Brate would be taken from the field on a medical cart. Pittsburgh won 20-18. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Bucs TE Cameron Brate out of hospital after injury in Pittsburgh

Tampa Bay tight end Cameron Brate was released from a Pittsburgh hospital and was to fly home with the team after he underwent evaluation on Sunday night.

Brate was carted off the field during the third quarter of the Buccaneers’ 20-18 loss to the Steelers earlier in the day.

Brate caught a pass from Tom Brady for 6 yards and was tackled hard by Steelers linebacker Myles Jack. Brate couldn’t get up and needed medical attention from the Tampa Bay staff.

The Buccaneers quickly ruled him out for the remainder of the game. Coach Todd Bowles said after the game that Brate suffered a neck injury.

Two weeks earlier, in a Week 4 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, Brate suffered a concussion but initially remained in the game after the hit that caused it before the Bucs eventually ruled him out. Bowles later explained that Brate complained of shoulder discomfort and “nothing about his head” when he was initially hurt.

Sunday was Brate’s first game back after missing one game with the concussion. He had two catches for 14 yards before his neck injury.

–Field Level Media