The 2023 NFL season officially started on Wednesday. Free agents are already signing their new deals with their teams, picturing a shape of what the league will look like in 2023. Still, teams such as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a lot to work on as they go through a rebuilding phase.
In the 2022 season, the Bucs clinched the NFC South division despite finishing with a losing 8-9 record. They then fell to the Dallas Cowboys 31-14 at Raymond James Stadium in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
Following the team’s elimination, Tampa Bay is going through some major changes. The Buccaneers are reportedly waiving leading-rusher Leonard Fournette and still have many pending free agents.
Most notably, quarterback Tom Brady announced he is retiring “for good” this time. With him on the roster, the team made it to the playoffs in three consecutive seasons after a 12-year absence. That includes winning Super Bowl LV, just the second title in franchise history.
To replace Brady, the Bucs are signing Baker Mayfield. The Heisman winner and 2018 No. 1 pick is reportedly joining the organization on a one-year deal and is set to be the starter.
While they did bring a new quarterback in, there are still a lot of other areas to address. With that being said, here are some of the best free agents still available that the Buccaneers can sign to round out their roster.
3. OT Isaiah Wynn
Other than Brady’s retirement, another big move that happened in Tampa Bay was the release of Donovan Smith. The offensive tackle was a starter for the Buccaneers since 2015, playing an important role in their Super Bowl run in 2021.
With the move, the Bucs cleared nearly $10 million in cap space ahead of the 2023 season. However, it did open a big hole on the offensive line that the front office should address.
One name that emerges as a possibility is Isaiah Wynn from the New Orleans Patriots. He has dealt with injuries for most of his career, which included him missing his entire rookie year. Last season, he appeared in just nine games.
Although he has limited time on the field, a fresh start could be a good option for him. Also, he would likely not have the win-now pressure as the Bucs are rebuilding following Brady’s departure. This way, he could take his time to fully recover while also addressing one of the team’s major losses in the 2023 offseason.
2. TE Austin Hooper
Another position that the Bucs should consider bringing new names is tight end. Last season, the entire tight end group combined for just 673 receiving yards and four touchdowns. To make matters worse, Cameron Brate, the second-leading receiver of the group, is reportedly being released.
Without Brate and based on what the group did in 2022, Tampa Bay should consider improving the tight-end position. One player who is still available in the market that the Bucs should go after is Austin Hooper.
This past season with the Tennessee Titans, he had 41 catches for 444 yards and two touchdowns. As opposed to recent years, he was mostly a backup as he started only twice.
A two-time Pro Bowler, Hooper is 28 and might still have some solid years left in his tank. Tampa Bay could give him a chance to prove he can still play at a high level on a friendly deal.
In the end, it could be a win-win situation for both parties. The Bucs get a new solid tight end while Hooper has the chance to shine in a new environment, which can result in a more lucrative deal next offseason.
1. S Mike Edwards
Finally, one free agent that the Bucs should focus on signing is one of their own. Safety Mike Edwards started in 12 of the 13 games he appeared in and has spent his entire career in Tampa Bay. This was his first year as a full-time starter, having 11 total starts combined in his first four seasons in the league.
In 2022, he recorded a career-best 82 tackles with 52 being solo, three tackles for loss, two quarterback hits, and a sack. Most importantly, he had two interceptions, totaling 68 yards, plus three pass breakups.
Alongside Edwards, both Logan Ryan and Keanu Neal are pending free agents. That leaves only Antoine Winfield Jr. under contract for the safety position. Additionally, Winfield is a free safety while both Edwards and Ryan are strong safeties.
All things considered, the Buccaneers should consider bringing back some if not all of their safeties. Since it is difficult, they should focus on re-signing Edwards as he was the starter in the 2022 season. By doing so, they would maintain some of the core as the organization transitions to a post-Brady era.