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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Nobody’s Underdog: How the Buccaneers shocked the NFL after losing a legend

Robert Brumfield

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Photo Courtesy of: www.buccaneers.com

Entering the 2023 NFL season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were, by any measure of sports analytics, a worse team than before. They were fresh off an early exit from the Playoffs and for the first time since arriving in Tampa, Father Time had made Tom Brady look human. Brady announced his permanent retirement from football and panic ensued. You can’t lose the best Quarterback the game has ever seen, with no viable replacement, and maintain much optimism.

It seemed the Bucs were at a crossroads between a full scale rebuild and some sort of roster-building Hail Mary. TB12 retiring was a gut punch, but even with the GOAT under center in 2022, the Bucs were objectively less talented than the previous year. In 2021, Tom Brady threw for 43 touchdowns with a QB rating of 102.1 for the season. Brady finished the 2022 campaign with only 25 touchdowns and a rating barely hitting 90. The team overall went from scoring 30 points a game to only 18.4 and after Brady’s departure, a dark cloud hung over Raymond James Stadium.

The 2022 Buccaneers managed a second straight NFC South title, almost by default, by being “good enough” in a division with turmoil across every organization. The Bucs entered 2023 with the fourth worst odds to make the Super Bowl preseason and according to Draft Kings were least likely to win their division. They had an over/under of 6.5 wins and talks of tanking surfaced on local Sports radio.

Enter Buccaneers’ GM Jason Licht, who had already been in contact with multiple veteran Quarterbacks and had briefly considered starting the young Kyle Trask, who the Bucs drafted in the second round of the 2021 Draft. Franchise quarterbacks don’t grow on trees, and while he was a serviceable backup, Trask was not ready for the starting spot. There would be no rebuild. There would be no uncertainty. There would, however, be a gamble of epic proportions. The risk? Bringing in a scrappy, undersized veteran QB named Baker Mayfield.

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Buccaneers’ QB Baker Mayfield.
Photo Courtesy of: www.buccaneers.com

Mayfield has become a folk hero of sorts wherever he’s played. Tampa is no exception. He showed up to town and was an immediate winning vibe. His teammates would watch him get utterly destroyed by a defensive lineman and before they could come to his aid, he’d pop up off the ground and start barking in the guys face. Jason Licht and Baker had spoken extensively in the leadup to Mayfield’s arrival and both men knew what the other was seeking. Licht’s secret sauce was “letting Baker be himself”, and it paid off in spades.

The Bucs, a +800 preseason to win the NFC South, won their division and finished 2023 by dismantling the defending NFC Champion Philadelphia Eagles 32-9 in the Playoffs. Mayfield, along with his number one receiver Mike Evans, signed new contracts to keep them in the Bay and their ceiling entering this year’s Draft is higher than anyone could have imagined 14 months ago when Tom Brady hung up his cleats for good. The gamble on Baker (and himself) paid off for Jason Licht and Todd Bowles. Baker and company cooked up enough goodwill that the team has redoubled efforts to stack the team behind him with talent and enter the 2024 season as nobody’s underdog. The Bucs aren’t accepting mediocrity; they are expecting success.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs host 10th annual “Cut and Color Funds the Cure”

Robert Brumfield

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Photo Courtesy of: www.buccaneers.com

Thursday at AdventHealth Training Center saw some staff and players take part in one of the most fun yearly rituals here in Tampa, the “Cut and Color Funds the Cure” benefit. The event, held for the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation (NPCF), is in it’s tenth year, and it brought out a huge group of Bucs legends.

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During the event, Buccaneers current and former players, staff, and even hall of famers have their heads or facial hair shaved or colored red by pediatric cancer patients . This year even brought out Buccaneers COO Brian Ford to take part in the festivities.

In the ten year tradition, the team has raised over $700,000 for the NPCF and created many more priceless memories. For the first time this year, the event was open to the public, with seating access and signed photos going to fans that donated at least $100 to the cause.

Current or former staff members in attendance this year were GM Jason Licht, Head Coach Todd Bowles, former coach Bruce Arians, Assistant General Managers Mike Greenberg and John Spytek, and others. Players like Mike Evans, Jamel Dean, Antoine Winfield Jr., Cade Otton, and Yaya Diaby sat while patients sheared or died their hair while the press took photos and fans interacted with staff and members of the NPCF.

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Former players notably involved this year included Rob Gronkowski (of course), Mike Alstott, Ronde Barber, Barry Smith, Dave Moore, Richard “Batman” Wood, Jimmie Giles, Martin Gramatica, Michael Clayton, and Dexter Jackson.

Buccaneers Chief Operating Officer Brian Ford was quoted, “Every year we try to give an afternoon to some very courageous children and their families to forget about what they are up against, and you just see smiles all around.”

The National Pediatric Cancer Foundation is a non-profit based right here in Tampa. The purpose of the organization is to raise awareness and fund research to try to eliminate childhood cancer. It uses research initiatives to combat cancer early on in some cases and fund targeted treatments in collaboration with the nation’s leading hospitals. Cancer is the number one disease based cause of death to children in the U.S. and everyday, 43 children are diagnosed with cancer in this country.

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More than 95 percent of childhood cancer survivors experience significant health-related issues by age 45 due to the current treatment options, something the NPCF is trying to change. Sadly, only 4% of the billions of dollars allocated for cancer research by the federal government is specifically for treating childhood cancer.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Buccaneers officially add Ryan Jensen to the Retired/Reserve list, marking end of an era

Robert Brumfield

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Photo Courtesy of: www.buccaneers.com

This week marked the official end of an era for former Buccaneers Center, Ryan Jensen, though it was mostly a formality at this point. Jensen had announced his intent to retire back on February 2nd after playing nine seasons as a professional.

Jensen was the centerpiece of an offensive line that dominated for most of his tenture in the Bay. Notably, the team’s four highest scoring seasons were from 2018 to 2021 with Jensen snapping the ball. He also anchored the line for Tom Brady in Super Bowl LV.

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The Baltimore Ravens drafted Ryan Jensen in the 2013 NFL Draft with the 203rd overall pick (Sixth Round) out of Colorado State (Pueblo). Jensen played four seasons as a Raven, with 2017 being his final season after starting all 16 games and being noticed by other teams around the League. That is when Tampa Bay entered the picture.

Jensen was signed by the Buccaneers entering the 2018 campaign. He immediately became the starter and one of the most dominant centers in the NFL. Throughout his five years played in red and pewter, Jensen was the linchpin for an offensive line that led the NFL in passing yards per game (305.0), as well as second ranked overall in third down conversion rate (44.5%), yards per play (6.1), first downs per game (23.2), points scored per game (28.6), and total yards per game (400.9). His offensive lines also yielded sacks at the fifth lowest rate of any team during this span.

Sadly, in a painfully ironic twist of fate, Jensen suffered a season ending knee injury during the Buccaneers last preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens of all teams. General Manager Jason Licht announced shortly after that Jensen would miss the entirety of the season. While the February announcement makes the retirement itself merely a formality, seeing Jensen’s name officially added to the retired list marks the end of a proud era for this offensive line that powered the Greatest QB of All-Time to a Super Bowl just a few short years ago.

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Jensen finishes his career with 100 games under his belt, including 90 starts. His 5,307 snaps played between the 2017 and 2021 seasons are the most played by any player. We as fans will now wait the mandatory five years and hope that in the distant future, Jensen will be named to the Hall of Fame in Canton. He sure has earned it.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

All-Pro Safety Antoine Winfield Jr. signs record breaking new deal

Robert Brumfield

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Photo Courtesy of: www.buccaneers.com

Buccaneers GM Jason Licht placed the Franchise tag on Safety Antoine Winfield Jr. almost immediately during this off-season. Winfield Jr. had been voted First Team All-Pro after a stellar season and was as much of a priority to keep on the roster as Baker Mayfield or Mike Evans were. Franchise tagging a player doesn’t necessarily guarantee an extended stay, however. Ideally, a tag is a stop-gap measure to keep the player on until a contract agreement can be reached.

Bucs Nation can breathe a collective sigh of relief now after the team and Winfield Jr. reached an agreement this week to a four-year, $84.1 million contract that makes the 25 year old the highest paid defensive back in NFL history. This marks the first time a safety has held the highest paid slot at DB, usually reserved for cornerbacks. The deal includes a $20 million signing bonus with $45 million guaranteed, keeping Winfield Jr. in Tampa Bay through 2027. When he spoke to the media after the signing, Winfield said his best football was yet to come.

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The Buccaneers in recent years have a seemingly great rapport with their players when contract time comes up, due alot in part with the excellent management of Jason Licht and his staff. Twice in the past three years a franchise tagged player has signed a long-term extension with the Buccaneers, with the most recent example being in 2022 with wide receiver Chris Godwin.

Winfield Jr. was selected with the 45th overall pick during the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. After winning a Super Bowl during his standout rookie season, his play has continually improved and the statistics back it up.

In 2023, Winfield Jr. set new personal season records in tackles (122), sacks (6), forced fumbles (6), fumble recoveries (4), AND interceptions (3). Social media absolutely caught fire when Winfield was initially not chosen for the Pro Bowl, yet that was ultimately overshadowed by his First Team All-Pro selection, which is the gold standard of NFL personal season achievements. As he begins his fifth season as the star safety for the defending NFC South Champion Bucs, look for plenty of highlights from #31 in 2024.

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