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PHOENIX — What the rest of the world thinks of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers now was obvious Tuesday afternoon when the head coaches from all 16 NFC teams sat at different tables in one of the Arizona Biltmore’s glitzy ballrooms.
Most of those coaches were surrounded by clamoring reporters, sometimes forming a circle two-deep. But Bucs coach Todd Bowles was at his table with a couple of stragglers who occasionally came and went.
That’s how it is when Tom Brady retires.
The Bucs have gone from Super Bowl contender to, well, something else. And everyone seems to accept this.
Todd Bowles Aims At Winning Division First
I asked Bowles if his expectations are as high going into the 2023 season as they were at this time last year when Brady was still on the team. And, sure enough, his vision and goals are identical.
“Oh, definitely,” Bowles said. “You’re trying to win a division first. If you can win the division you give yourself a shot in the playoffs to get to the Super Bowl. That’s not going to change. We have to go about it with different players, but everybody does. That’s just part of football.
“You bring in the necessary pieces to still help you compete and you make sure the team is playing good ball and you go that route. I look forward to the excitement that the guys we have will prove they can still play away from Tom coming into this season.”
Bowles understands losing Brady to retirement is meaningful. He’s a smart man with 20-20 vision so he’s not going to deny there is a perceived if not actual comedown in public expectations.
Losing Tom Brady An Obvious Issue
“It comes down because I don’t know if there was a 1B next to Tom Brady,” Bowles said. “When you lose the greatest of all time, you lose an icon. You lose a player that’s won seven Super Bowls. You lose a player that brings such magnitude towards your organization. But that doesn’t mean you’re a bad organization. You have other great players. Great players don’t win Super Bowls by themselves.
“So you lose the aura of Tom Brady. He deserves every accolade he gets. He should go in the Hall of Fame by himself. But you don’t lose the team you have. You change it. It’s different because you don’t have Tom Brady. But no on else has Tom Brady, either.”
Bowles is now concentrating on who he does have. The Bucs are switching out Brady for a competition between veteran Baker Mayfield and second-year player Kyle Trask. And whomever emerges as the starter will be asked to approach the job differently than Brady.
But will still boast plenty of help.
Todd Bowles Believes Roster Still Strong
“We want the quarterback to be effective,” Bowles said. “But you don’t need to be the guy. You need to rely on the 10 guys around you. We’re not looking for a guy to come in and be Superman.
“We have great players. We have Mike Evans, we have Chris Godwin, we have Rachaad [White], we have Tristan [Wirfs], we have Ryan Jensen, we have Cade Otton. You have guys you can play with, and we have pieces. So you don’t have to be the guy, you just have to drive the car.”
Because he has much more experience, it wouldn’t surprise if Mayfield wins the starting job in training camp. And that’s fine because Bowles has liked him as a prospect since he came out as the No. 1 overall selection in the 2018 draft.
“I did like him coming out,” Bowles confirmed. “There were a few guys out there and all could play but I really liked him. We kind of hit it off mentally. From that standpoint, you liked his moxy, you liked his leadership skills, you liked the way he could get out of the pocket and throw on the run some.
“You liked the fact he’d won in several places that he’d gone, and you liked the naturalness about him. It would be great for him to come in and compete with Kyle. I think they’re two different types of quarterbacks and we can win with either one.”
But, again, Bowles isn’t expecting a Brady re-do. He’s just expecting to re-do some of the team’s success it had with Brady.
“You can’t bring a guy to say he’s the next Tom Brady,” Bowles said. “You’re going to bring in another good quarterback and let him run the team, and be himself, and have things around him let him be himself. And you win that way.”