The 2023 NFL offseason is officially underway. Free agents are already signing their new deals with their teams, picturing a shape of what the league will look like in 2023. Still, organizations 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 an 8-9 losing 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 waived leading-rusher Leonard Fournette and longtime starting offensive tackle Donovan Smith. They also traded away guard Shaq Mason to the Houston Texans in order to clear some cap space.
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 the seven-time champion, the Bucs signed Baker Mayfield to a one-year deal. The Heisman winner and 2018 No. 1 pick spent last season with the Carolina Panthers and the Los Angeles Rams.
While Tampa Bay did bring in a new quarterback, there is still a lot of work to do. With that being said, here is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ biggest need to address after one week of NFL Free Agency.
Buccaneers’ biggest need after the first week of NFL free agency: safety
In addition to losing multiple key players such as Brady and Smith, another player who won’t be with the Buccaneers in 2023 is Mike Edwards. The safety signed a one-year deal to join the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.
In 2022, he started in 12 of the 13 games he appeared in. Edwards 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.
He spent his entire NFL career with the Bucs up until this offseason. He was the team’s third-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft and played in all games of Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl-winning campaign.
To make matters worse, both Logan Ryan and Keanu Neal are still pending free agents. That currently leaves only Antoine Winfield Jr. under contract for the safety position.
With Edwards now off the table, Tampa Bay needs to evaluate all options to address the hole he is leaving in the starting lineup. The front office could choose to re-sign either Ryan or Neal, maybe even both. Neal appeared in all 17 games in the regular season with eight starts. On the other hand, Ryan had six starts but was limited to just nine contests due to a foot injury.
Another path that the Buccaneers could go is signing new safeties via free agency. Some players who are still available on the market are John Johnson III of the Cleveland Browns and Taylor Rapp of the Los Angeles Rams. Both have playoff experience, with Rapp winning a Super Bowl in 2022.
Regardless of which path Tampa Bay chooses, they should certainly focus on bringing more safeties to the squad. With Edwards officially out, the Buccaneers need to find someone who could take over his first-string job. While Ryan and Neal could be interesting options, the team should continue scouting the market to find a long-term replacement for Edwards.