It remains to be seen whether the 2022 Tampa Bay Buccaneers will return with a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Tom Brady, or start over at the game's most important position. Either way, head coach Bruce Arians sees next season as another championship push rather than the start of a rebuilding phase.
"No, I think of it as a reload like it is every year. … We'll see how many we can get back and then build the team from there," Arians said Monday, a day after his team's 30-27 loss to the Los Angeles Rams in the Divisional Round. "Each year, it's so different and so new. Last year, to get everybody back, was amazing. I doubt we can do it all again this year, but we're still gonna give it our best."
Indeed, the list of key Buccaneers who now become unrestricted free agents is a lengthy one. Among them: wide receiver Chris Godwin, center Ryan Jensen, running back Leonard Fournette, defensive back Carlton Davis, safety Jordan Whitehead, defensive lineman William Gholston and edge rusher Jason Pierre-Paul. The Bucs could also look to re-sign tight end Rob Gronkowski and defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh, whose contracts enter void years. As for Brady, he's under contract for 2022, but he'll be 45 by the time the season begins, and it remains to be seen if he wants to add a 23rd season to his resume.
"I haven't talked to him yet. (He'll) take all the time he needs. We'll see," Arians said.
The Bucs currently have $19.4 million in salary cap space for 2022 -- which puts them squarely in the middle of the league -- per Overthecap.com. It's not much money with which to retain so much talent, and as Arians alluded, it won't be as easy as free-agency retention was for the club a year ago. Last year, the Bucs re-signed several key contributors to make a run at another Super Bowl crown, among them: linebackers Lavonte David and Shaq Barrett, plus Suh, Fournette and Gronkowski.
Arians also said he was mistaken in post-game remarks that not enough Buccaneers got the call on what was supposed to have been an all-out blitz of Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford in the final moments of the Bucs' loss on Sunday. Six Bucs rushed the passer, and Stafford burned the Bucs on a the deep completion to Cooper Kupp that set up the game-ending field goal. The call came under some criticism, given that coverage of Kupp, the league's top receiver this year, was left to a safety. For Arians, however, there are no regrets.
"It's who you are. No regrets on that. … Everybody got the call. I was wrong about that. … We had Suh come up the middle," Arians added. "We just got to cover better in that situation when we're going after the quarterback. They only need like possibly 12 yards for that field goal. So I'm not questioning that call whatsoever. But when we do that, we've got to get to the quarterback."