July 23, 2024

During the 2022 offseason, the Cleveland Browns paid $10.5 million of Mayfield’s $15.35 million salary just to be rid of him and facilitate a trade to the Carolina Panthers. He was benched twice by a bad Panthers team and asked for his release.

The injury-bombarded Los Angeles Rams added him, and while Mayfield had a few good moments there, there was not much of a market for him as a free agent last offseason. He signed for just one year and $4 million with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Mediocre NFL backups can make twice that. Mayfield wanted one last shot to start and the desperate Bucs, trying to get their salary cap in order after Tom Brady’s retirement, gave him that chance.

In almost every other case that’s the path of a quarterback who is about to become a career backup at best, and at worst completely fade from NFL consciousness. But Mayfield went from that one-year deal last year — to put it in perspective, Sam Darnold got a one-year, $10 million contract this offseason and Jacoby Brissett signed for $8 million over one year — to a three-year, $100 million contract with $50 million guaranteed.

Mayfield and the Buccaneers had a pretty good season, and it was out of nowhere.

The Buccaneers were expected to struggle as they transitioned from the Brady era and had Brady’s dead cap hit to contend with, but they went 9-8, won the NFC South and then beat the Philadelphia Eagles 32-9 in the wild-card round. Mayfield threw for 4,044 yards and 30 touchdowns. He probably deserved more votes for the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award that went to Joe Flacco, but nobody seems to know the criteria for that award. It was all a fun surprise for the Buccaneers, who came closer to eliminating the Detroit Lions from the playoffs than you remember. The Buccaneers and Lions were tied going into the fourth quarter of a divisional round game before Detroit pulled away. That speaks to how well Tampa Bay was playing by the end of last season.

It’s just hard to know how much of that is repeatable. And the Buccaneers can’t depend on the NFC South being terrible forever.

The loss of coordinators over an offseason is often underrated, and the Buccaneers had a pretty big departure in offensive coordinator Dave Canales. Canales was such a big part of Mayfield’s turnaround that the Panthers hired him to be their next head coach. We’ll see what effect that has on Mayfield and the offense as a whole. Maybe Mayfield is the next Geno Smith, a player who has a wonderful resurgence and signs a big contract only to regress a year later.Bucs well represented on first night of NFL's Top 100 - Bucs Nation

A lot of the same cast returns to defend its division title. As of mid-May 79.5% of players on the Buccaneers’ roster were also on the roster or practice squad in 2023, which was the second-highest mark in the NFL, according to Over The Cap. Star receiver Mike Evans is still compiling his Hall of Fame resume and will do so on a new two-year, $41 million extension. Receiver Chris Godwin and running back Rachaad White are productive players. Safety Antoine Winfield Jr. was retained (at a costly $84.1 million over four years, making him the highest-paid defensive back in NFL history) and while the defense wasn’t great, it did a good job keeping opponents out of the end zone. Todd Bowles is just .500 in two seasons as Tampa Bay’s head coach after taking over for Bruce Arians, but he does have two division titles.

The Buccaneers were pleased enough with the progress made in 2023 that they decided to keep the roster mostly the same, including Mayfield. Maybe they can carry over the good vibes they had by the end of last season.

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