To find their next starting quarterback, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won’t have to look far, one insider said.
The Bucs’ front office has “been preparing for” veteran backup Blaine Gabbert to take over at quarterback, according to Scott Reynolds, a 25-year veteran of Pewter Report, an independent website dedicated to covering the Buccaneers.
Reynold reported that Bucs quarterback coach Clyde Christensen told him in January that Gabbert played a large role in helping Tom Brady adapt to the offense in 2020. Christensen even called Gabbert “an extra set of eyes for Tom” and “the [offensive] coordinator’s helper” in games.
Brady announced his retirement from the NFL on February 1, setting off a wave of rumors that have included Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson going to the Buccaneers. In his February 4 story on Pewter Report, Reynold said the Buccaneers will not be trading for those superstars.
“End the wishful thinking about Rodgers, Wilson and [Texans quarterback Deshaun] Watson right now,” Reynolds wrote.
Bucs head coach Bruce Arians, who has coached Gabbert for five seasons, called him “the most underrated quarterback in the NFL” during a Pewter Report podcast in 2021. Arians indirectly reiterated his confidence in Gabbert when asked about Brady’s future a day after Tampa Bay lost to the Los Angeles Rams in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs.
“I’d be comfortable if it is. I like what we have,” Arians told the media on January 24.
And during a February 2021 interview with Pewter Report, Bucs general manager Jason Licht expressed confidence in Gabbert’s arm strength and knowledge of Arians’ system. Licht didn’t mention Gabbert during a February 1 press conference, which came on the heels of Brady’s retirement, but he noted that they’ve “been preparing” for that day.
Gabbert’s Best NFL Situation Ever
If the Bucs go with Gabbert, a best-case scenario could bring about the resurgence of a career that began as a draft bust.
In talking with Christensen, Reynolds sees Gabbert playing the best football of his career as a legitimate possibility. Gabbert, a former No. 10 pick in 2011, has “ideal size at 6-foot-5, 235 pounds, good mobility and a rocket arm,” Reynolds wrote.
Gabbert, 32, had little career stability before joining the Bucs in 2019. He worked under eight different offensive coordinators on non-contending teams from 2011 to 2018, Reynolds noted. In his first eight years in the league, Gabbert passed for 48 touchdowns against 47 interceptions.
Gabbert, Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich have worked together for two years on Tampa Bay, and worked together in 2017 with the Arizona Cardinals, where Arians was head coach and Leftwich was quarterback coach.
Historically, some of Brady’s backups did well in his absence during Brady’s 20 years with the New England Patriots. Matt Cassel led the Patriots to an 11-5 record in 2008. Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett both won games in Brady’s absence in 2016.
“(Gabbert’s) a seasoned guy now,” Christensen told Reynolds. “He has a ton of ability and I do feel like it’s coming together for him.”
This Formula Worked Before in Tampa Bay
The Bucs didn’t have a Hall of Fame quarterback lead the team to the franchise’s first Super Bowl win in 2003.
Brad Johnson, an NFL journeyman who made two Pro Bowls, quarterbacked the Bucs that season. The Bucs just needed Johnson to be a good game manager with solid talent on offense, which was backed by an all-time great defense.
If the Bucs go with Gabbert in 2022, the situation could look similar to that of 2002, according to Luke Easterling of USA Today’s All Bucs. The 2022 Bucs could arguably have more offensive talent than the 2002 team, depending on who stays from the 2021 squad, but the defense would be hard-pressed to play like the 2002 squad, Easterling noted.
The Bucs could take a step toward making it happen by re-signing Gabbert, who will become an unrestricted free agent, in March.