How does one replace the Greatest Player of All Time?
It's a question the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are asking themselves following Tom Brady's retirement after 22 seasons. When the New England Patriots had to ponder that question, they filled the gap with one year of Cam Newton and missed the postseason for the first time in 11 seasons.
The Bucs believe that with the talent remaining, they can still be contenders in 2022.
"We most definitely are still going to be contenders," said linebacker Shaquil Barrett from the Pro Bowl, via the team's official website. "We've still got a lot of guys on the team who are hungry to have a taste of being in the playoffs, to have a taste of winning a Super Bowl. And I know the front office guys, they loved having a taste of the success that we had. So if anything, it's a replication. Whoever it takes, we're going to get those guys, and then the guys are going to make it happen, whatever we have to do. The offense has got to pick it up, the defense has got to pick it up, the special teams – whatever it is, we're going to make it happen."
The Bucs are in an interesting spot. They have Pro Bowlers in Barrett, Mike Evans, Ali Marpet, Vita Vea, Devin White, Antoine Winfield Jr. and Tristan Wirfs, along with the likes of Lavonte David under contract.
Barrett is right. There is talent still on the roster. But beyond the QB, there is a host of question marks up and down the roster.
Tampa's top three RBs -- Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones and Giovani Bernard -- are all free agents. Star receiver Chris Godwin, coming off a season-ending injury, played last season on the franchise tag. In addition, Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen, edge rusher Jason Pierre-Paul, DT Ndamukong Suh, tight ends Rob Gronkowski and O.J. Howard, defensive backs Jordan Whitehead and Carlton Davis are all among the Bucs key free agents.
Even with the questions, Tampa's Pro Bowl players still view them in win-now mode, not a rebuild following Brady's retirement.
"It's such a strong core in that locker room that there should be a lot of success moving forward," said Marpet. "Tom is a phenomenal player and what he brings is invaluable. But the talent is there, and has been there a while. So I think there will be continued success."
How general manager Jason Licht attacks free agency will tell how he views the Bucs chances in 2022.
Tampa put all their eggs in a basket last season to try and repeat as Super Bowl champs. That came with hefty costs on the cap this season that could force some difficult decisions.
The first question to be answered is how the Bucs fill the hole left by Brady, whether that's handing the reins to Kyle Trask or bringing in a free agent, with the likes of -- gasp -- Jameis Winston among the top candidates.
"Trying to find somebody to replace Tom Brady is impossible," Barrett said. "There's no other Tom Bradys out there. So we're going to try to find the next best player and help them be the best person they can be, and then rally around him and try to build a contender again."