Two years removed from their Super Bowl win, the Bucs entered 2022 missing some of the starters from that team and, most importantly, head coach Bruce Arians, who retired at the end of the 2021 season. The Bucs stumbled to 3-5 while scoring more than 22 points once. As their receivers got healthy, they scraped together an NFC South title through heavy passing volume and a formidable defense. Entering the playoffs with a losing record, it wasn't surprising to see the Bucs bounced from the playoffs by Dallas in the first round. They spent most of the 2022 season sleepwalking through a weak division and were exposed by a super team in the Wild Card Round.
Key Offensive Stats
- Points per game: 18.4 (25th)
- EPA per play: -0.03 (20th)
- Dropback EPA per play: 0.06 (14th)
- Passing yards per game: 269.8 (2nd)
- Rush EPA per play: -0.21 (32nd)
- Rush yards per game: 76.9 (32nd)
With Arians out of the picture, Todd Bowles was promoted to head coach while offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich was tasked with running the offense. While Leftwich had spent three years with Arians in Tampa Bay, the former head coach took a lot of the offense's creativity with him into retirement. The Bucs were close to a neutral pass rate over expected on first-and-ten despite ranking 30th in success rate on first-down runs. Tom Brady's target depth also fell and he threw it past the first-down marker at a lower rate than he did in 2021. At the end of the day, the Bucs went from scoring 30.1 points per game two years ago to 18.4 in 2022, one of the largest year-over-year drop-offs in league history. Because the Bucs played at a breakneck pace, Mike Evans topped 1,100 yards, Godwin crested four digits, and Brady threw for 4,694 yards. Both Leonard Fournette and Rachaad White were inefficient on the ground, but Fournette managed to add 523 yards through the air.
Key Defensive Stats
- Points per game: 21.1 (13th)
- EPA per play: -0.02 (11th)
- Dropback EPA per play: 0.01 (12th)
- Passing yards per game: 203.6 (9th)
- Rush EPA per play: -0.08 (12th)
- Rush yards per game: 120.7 (15th)
Bowles' extra responsibilities as the head coach didn't get in the way of his role as the architect of the defense. The Bucs' EPA per play dropped by less than a hundredth of a point despite a few key contributors including Jordan Whitehead, Ndamukong Suh, and Jason Pierre-Paul departing as free agents. The Bucs were above average in sack rate and pressure rate despite having no individual player coming close to double-digit sacks. Vita Vea led the team in sacks, getting to opposing passers 6.5 times. Pro Football Focus also graded the team as a top-10 unit in coverage, led by strong performances from Jamel Dean and Antoine Winfield.
Draft Picks (Top-150)
19th, 50th, and 82nd
Notable Free Agents
QB Tom Brady, LB Lavonte David, CB Jamel Dean, S Mike Edwards, EDGE Anthony Nelson, S Keanu Neal, WR Julio Jones, DT Akiem Hicks
LT Donovan Smith ($10 million in savings), Russell Gage ($2.8 million), and K Ryan Succop ($3.3 million)
The Bucs didn't sign Brady to a one-year, dummy deal before he retired. This would have allowed them to spread his dead money over an extra year. Instead, he goes down as a cap hit of $35.1 million in 2023. Their cap figure listed above includes the money saved from releasing Cameron Brate and Leonard Fournette.
If you haven't been reading Rotoworld.com lately, Brady retired, again, this time for real. The Bucs could bring in a veteran like Jimmy Garoppolo and use Kyle Trask as a backup with upside. They are also a contender to make a move in the draft.
The Bucs have two corners who combined for 1,381 snaps hitting free agency in a few weeks. Coming off his fourth top-20 season by PFF grade in as many years, Dean isn't going to be cheap to bring back.
Tampa Bay's departing safeties accounted for nearly 2,000 snaps on defense in 2022. None of them will be as expensive as Dean to bring back and Winfield's limitless versatility gives the Bucs some flexibility at safety.
The catastrophic downturn of the offense doomed Leftwich, who was fired after the season ended. The move was expected despite the offense's success in previous seasons. Seahawks quarterbacks coach Dave Canales was tabbed to replace him. Canales joined the Seahawks as a receivers coach in 2010 and worked his way up the ladder before being hired away. Given Geno Smith's incredible turnaround in his first year as Seattle's starter, Canales shows a lot of promise.
Though the NFC South is as soft as ever, it's hard to see the Bucs finding success over the next decade without committing to a short rebuild. They were a one-and-done playoff team with the greatest football player ever under center. Even if he wasn't at the peak of his powers, there is not an easy answer to replacing him in free agency. That means they are looking for a rookie in either this year's draft or the 2024 NFL Draft. With the least cap space in the league for the current offseason but a manageable situation beyond that, a year of reloading could position the Bucs to rebound as NFC contenders by this time next year.