The 2023 NFL Draft is officially in the books. After three days full of moves, 259 young players found out where they will start their professional careers. Eight of them will be with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2023. With a rebuilding phase underway, the team might not be done with free agency just yet.
In the 2022 season, the Buccaneers 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, the franchise is going through some major changes. The Buccaneers waived 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, 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.
With so many changes this offseason, the front office might need to go after some veterans to lead the youngsters in this transitional period. With all that in mind, here are three free agents that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should target after the 2023 NFL Draft.
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3. DE Frank Clark
While the Bucs are in a rebuilding phase, they should consider signing players with plenty of experience to assist in the transition to a post-Brady era. In the same train of thought, they could get some veterans who are trying to revive their careers.
One of those players is defensive end Frank Clark. The Michigan product played an important role in the Kansas City Chiefs’ success in recent years. He started 55 games across four seasons with the franchise, earning three selections to the Pro Bowl in the process. Most importantly, he was a starter in Kansas City’s two Super Bowl victories.
In 2022, Clark recorded 39 total tackles with 25 being solo and eight for loss. He also had 13 quarterback hits and 5.0 sacks plus a safety. He would end up forcing and recovering a fumble as well.
Due to his salary, the Chiefs opted to release him to clear some cap space. Despite his role in Kansas City’s titles, Clark remains unsigned in the market. Because of that, the Buccaneers could get him on a friendly one-year deal, allowing him to show the league he can still play and earn a larger contract next offseason.
2. S John Johnson III
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.
That leaves a big hole in the team’s secondary. Without Edwards, the Bucs should think about signing another safety in free agency.
John Johnson III of the Cleveland Browns is perhaps one of the best safeties still in the market. In 14 starts last season, he registered 81 total tackles with 58 being solo, 0.5 sacks, four pass defenses and an interception. He also forced and recovered two fumbles.
At the age of 27, Johnson might still have some good years ahead of him. Tampa Bay could give him a chance to prove he belongs in the league and, similar to Clark’s case, could help him earn a larger contract in the 2024 offseason if that is the case.
1. QB Carson Wentz
There is no secret that Tampa Bay’s biggest loss this season was the retirement of Tom Brady. To replace the seven-time champion, the Bucs signed Baker Mayfield to a one-year deal. The 2018 No. 1 pick spent last season with the Carolina Panthers and the Los Angeles Rams.
While Mayfield had his moments with the Rams in 2022, he has yet to carve his place as a starter in the league. Additionally, the Bucs’ other quarterback under contract is Kyle Trask, who has only one game in his NFL career.
All things considered, Tampa Bay should consider adding a more experienced quarterback who can serve as a starter if necessary.
From the list of available players, Carson Wentz emerges as a possibility. He started seven games with the Washington Commanders last season, completing 62.3% of his passes for 1,755 yards and 11 touchdowns against nine interceptions.
For his career, he has 92 starts plus a Pro Bowl and All-Pro selection. Wentz could be a valuable backup to Mayfield and could mentor both the Heisman winner and the young Trask. With Wentz in the locker room, it creates extra competition for Mayfield, forcing the former Brown to step up if he wants to keep the starting job.
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