4 most likely Baker Mayfield replacements for Buccaneers if he leaves in free agency

If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can't re-sign Baker Mayfield, here are potential replacements.

Baker Mayfield, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Baker Mayfield, Tampa Bay Buccaneers / Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports
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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were considered dead in the water before the season even started. Tom Brady left. The skeleton of the 2021 Super Bowl team remained, but that's all it was. A skeleton. Mike Evans' fate was etched in stone as the front office refused to agree to terms on a long-term extension. It was bleak.

Then, something magical happened. The Bucs didn't set the world on fire, but 9-8 is enough to win the NFC South these days. Tampa Bay won the division and the right to host a playoff game, largely on the strength of its passing game. Baker Mayfield assumed Tom Brady's mantle and thrived. The former No. 1 pick has faced more than his share of challenges since entering the league in 2018, but Mayfield was arguably the best QB in the NFC South this season. He completed 64.3 percent of his passes for 4,044 yards and 28 touchdowns — all career-best marks.

With Mayfield at the helm, the Bucs even managed to win a game in the postseason. Tampa Bay thwacked the 11-6 Philadelphia Eagles in the Wild Card round. Philadelphia was already on a historically steep decline, but it was a noteworthy and impressive accomplishment all the same.

The fun ended on Sunday, however, with Tampa Bay on the wrong end of a 31-23 scoreboard in Detroit. Now, the organization approaches an inflection point. Evans is probably out the door, along with several key veterans. The front office's intention of getting younger is well documented. And, while the Bucs want to re-sign Mayfield, he's a free agent. There's no guarantee the two sides can find common ground.

If the Bucs ultimately let Mayfield walk for one reason or another, a few viable replacements populate the market. Here are the most likely.

4. Bucs can draft Bo Nix to replace Baker Mayfield

The Bucs own the No. 26 pick in the NFL Draft. There's a chance Bo Nix comes off the board sooner, which could spur Tampa Bay to trade up, but the Oregon QB is a strong option if the Bucs want to embrace their youth movement.

Nix put together an impressive fifth college season for the Ducks, completing 77.4 percent of his passes (!!) for 4,508 yards, 45 touchdowns, and three interceptions. There were several peaks and valleys during Nix's long college career, but he came into his own as an absolute superstar in Oregon over the past two seasons.

At 23 years old, Nix needed more time to pop than your average first-round QB prospect. There is also valid concern tied to the lack of quality defense he faced in the Pac-12. Even so, Nix has arm talent and mobility, which should allow him to get a crack at a starting job in the NFL. The Bucs could bank on his above-average poise and big-stage experience as the foundation for their rebuild.

Few college prospects come with a stronger résumé than Nix, especially outside the top 10. Nix took an untraditional route to his current prospect status, but he's an appealing option for the Bucs. He could even serve as a backup and protege if the Bucs manage to keep Mayfield around a bit longer.