The Bucs Couldn’t Have Nailed Baker Mayfield’s Contract Any Harder As Their Team-Building Wizardry Continues

Baker Mayfield

Baker, Baker, mega moneymaker. Or perhaps more accurately, a moderate moneymaker by NFL quarterbacking standards. Somehow, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers managed to lock down the former No. 1 overall pick to a sizable-but-fair deal in advance of free agency on Sunday. Baker’s three-year contract features $50 million guaranteed, $100 million total, and incentives that can get him up to $115 million.

Even if Baker hits all those incentives, his AAV (average annual value) is only $38.3 million. That’s less than what Daniel Jones got with the Giants, when he signed last offseason for $160 million over four years.

Although this current generation of Buccaneers needed Tom Brady to get them over the hump for a Super Bowl victory, GM Jason Licht had the foresight and wherewithal to sign Baker as TB12’s immediate replacement on a bargain-bin one-year deal. All Baker did was lead a projected last-place Tampa team to the NFC South division title, a playoff win, and almost another one against the Detroit Lions in the Divisional Round, where he threw for 349 yards and three TDs.

A couple different breaks in that Lions game, and a couple interceptions Baker could easily clean up, and maybe we’re talking about the Bucs as an NFC finalist. In any event, the organization recognized, again, that Baker has the goods, and made sure to secure his go-to guy and career-long Buc Mike Evans to a new contract of his own not long ago.

Tampa Bay has done an outstanding job in recent years of keeping its core together with myriad salary cap maneuvers. It’ll take some contract restructuring for several key players, but Baker’s cap hit is plenty manageable for the Bucs not only this year, but in the subsequent two seasons. Other than All-Pro safety Antoine Winfield Jr., Tampa doesn’t have many must-keep free agents to re-sign for the duration of Baker’s contract. That’s a damn fine spot to be in.

On top of having better weather than most regions of the U.S. year-round and a winning culture aided in large part by Brady’s brief stint, here’s another Tampa Bay selling point for Baker and others: Florida has the built-in advantage of no state income tax. Baker’s deal looks like a steal compared to other QBs who play at a similar (or worse) level. That’s part of the reason the Bucs can afford to pay him a little less without it seeming like an insult. Because let’s face it, Baker played like a top-10-caliber quarterback in 2023.

The departure of offensive coordinator Dave Canales (now the Panthers’ head coach) creates a touch of uncertainty, yet new play-caller Liam Coen has ties to Baker from his brief stint with the Rams in 2022. Coen is off the Sean McVay coaching tree. That system tends to do pretty well nowadays. Plus, the Bucs have so many pass-catching weapons between Evans, Chris Godwin, Rachaad White, Cade Otton and Trey Palmer.

Parity tends to strike all over the NFL on a yearly basis unless you’re the Kansas City Chiefs. Since the NFC South is widely viewed as one of the weaker divisions, there’s always a chance the Bucs could crash back to Earth. I wouldn’t count on it, though. Tampa is easily the most stable situation Baker has entered as a full-time starter. The roster is solid and in much better cap health than it was during the abbreviated Brady era. Not to compare Baker to Brady, but he’s taking a pay cut much like Tom Terrific did in New England for all those years to help the Patriots build their team.

I like Bucs’ chances to repeat as NFC South champs with Baker’s contract secured. The division features the even more salary cap-scrambling Saints, the basement-dwelling, almost-hopeless Panthers, and a Falcons team that doesn’t have a viable QB on the roster as of this moment.

Lots of people chimed in on the big news, as Baker was being almost unanimously celebrated for how he resurrected his career in a season where his football livelihood — or at least his days as a starter — was very much stake.

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock