Tom Brady's retirement has sent the Buccaneers to the recesses of the NFL's contenders.
Inside One Buc Place, however, it's a different story.
"We're about to do it to 'em," Buccaneers corner Carlton Davis told Tyler Dunne in a recent piece published on Dunne's website, GoLongTD.com. "Anybody who feels we've lost Tom -- and lost something -- is going to be in for a rude awakening. A rude awakening. Tom was a great addition for us, but obviously it's a team sport. Obviously, you need components to be successful. We still have those components. And I'm only getting better.
"And our f---ing division is worse than what it was before. So, we run through the division. Get to the playoffs. Run through the playoffs and it's the Super Bowl."
That isn't just a vote of confidence from Davis, it's both a bold statement and prediction. Consider his shot called, with the gusto to back it.
"We're going to wreck s---," Davis said. "Like, wreck s---. Interceptions. Turnovers. Plays will be made. I will say. Plays. Will. Be. Made."
Tampa Bay's roster certainly isn't devoid of talent. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Tristan Wirfs, Vita Vea, Antoine Winfield Jr., Lavonte David, Devin White and Shaquil Barrett are still around. So, too, is Davis, who re-signed with the Buccaneers in March to the tune of three years and $45 million.
Davis has yet to earn a postseason honor (i.e., All-Pro or Pro Bowl), and Pro Football Focus didn't look too kindly on his performance in 2022 (ranking him 81st among all corners in defensive grade), but that didn't prevent Tampa Bay from retaining him at a healthy salary. And if you ask Davis, it's clear he believes he's going to serve as a leader in both performance and attitude for a Buccaneers squad that might need a fire lit under it in this post-Brady world.
"We've got to be the best in the f---ing NFL right now," Davis said. "That's how I'm trying to be. And you can only do that, first, starting with you. And then allowing your play to be contagious to everybody else."
Tampa's path forward isn't overwhelmingly daunting, either. The NFC South is free for the taking, and Davis isn't about to let it go to another squad.
Calling the division worse, though, is a bit of an exaggeration. New Orleans believes it has the signal-calling answer it has lacked since Drew Brees retired, while Carolina is launching a new era with rookie Bryce Young. Atlanta lurks with second-year passer Desmond Ridder leading a unit that boasts some sneaky talent in Kyle Pitts, Drake London and rookie Bijan Robinson.
But to Davis, none of that matters. He's out to prove the Super Bowl Tampa Bay won only a few years ago wasn't an aberration -- and those expecting the Buccaneers to regress are flat-out wrong.
"You don't know s---," he says. "Nobody knows s--- until it happens."
It's still optimism season, and Davis certainly has a surplus of it. We'll see if his fiery outlook can propel the Buccaneers to contention in 2023.