TAMPA, Fla. – Under the right circumstances, any free quarterback can be a star.

Of course, that circumstance may involve playing with the XFL’s St. Louis BattleHawks, so let’s not get too excited about, oh, Taylor Heinicke’s intangibles.

Just understand that these are important considerations in Tampa Bay this month. Tom Brady’s retirement means the Bucs are on the hunt for a new quarterback, and that means each of us will be unofficially promoted to personnel guru for weeks to come.

We’ll analyze Mason Rudolph’s game tapes, we’ll recite Cooper Rush’s group scores, we’ll recall Case Keenum’s 2017 brush with prowess. Usually we look at a mediocre quarterback without a contract and imagine him playing well into January.

That’s the thrill of the off-season. It is heaven sent for dreamers. It’s that rare time when the laws of physics and logic go out the window and everyone is sure of things no one can be sure of.

And trust me, there are no absolutes when it comes to the current crop of available quarterbacks. Brady and Matthew Stafford may have been running off the streets and in Super Bowl huddles in recent years, but those were anomalies that were unlikely to repeat themselves.

There’s a reason why Jimmy Garoppolo and Derek Carr are mentioned in trade rumors. There’s a reason Aaron Rodgers is done in Green Bay. There’s a reason Baker Mayfield, Andy Dalton, and Teddy Bridgewater wear a different uniform every time you see them.

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Great quarterbacks rarely become available, and when they do, it’s usually because they really annoyed someone in their last stop.

So for simplicity’s sake, let’s try to group these quarterbacks into easily recognizable subcategories. For example, there are the…

Failed phenomena

This is typically everyone’s favorite group. We imagine there’s an on/off switch in every draft buster’s brain and the right coach could flip the switch and come up with a franchise quarterback on the cheap.

Mayfield would fit into this group. So would Sam Darnold. Both were chosen within the first three picks of the 2018 draft, and both have shown just enough promise to make them still intriguing.

However, history says that this is the fool’s gold. Jim Plunkett is the fairy tale general managers tell their owners as they come off a five-win season. It’s much more common to find a Sam Bradford or David Carr or Jeff George bouncing from team to team, leaving a trail of broken hearts.

Jokingly, I might also point out that Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota could find their way into this group. Winston is under contract at New Orleans and Mariota is still owned by Atlanta, but both could end up on the streets after losing their starting jobs in 2022.

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One last gasp

These are quarterbacks who can still hear the echo of the applause, but it fades a little more each season. Think of Joe Flacco. And Dalton. And bridge water. Flacco won a Super Bowl in Baltimore, Dalton has three Pro Bowls on his resume, and Bridgewater took Minnesota to a division title at age 23.

But does anyone seriously think this is the fastest way to the playoffs?

No, not me brah

I wouldn’t expect them to admit it, but I think there’s a whole social class of quarterbacks out there that don’t feel like being starters. They’re better off as the number 2 quarterback who makes millions and lives the high life because they never play enough to get exposed.

Blaine Gabbert has thrown 35 passes in four years. Chad Henne has started one game in seven years. Chase Daniel has played in the league since 2010 and has five career starts.

Want to know what happens to these guys when they’re forced to play?

They look like Josh Johnson did when he came off the bench for San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game.

Fantasy football

Here are the pie-in-the-sky plans to acquire the 2023 version of Brady.

Like Rogers. Or Lamar Jackson. Or Carr. Or even Daniel Jones. Would they make Tampa Bay a better team next year? Absolute. But the cost in salary — and in Rodgers’ case — trade compensation makes them unpredictable for the salary cap-hampered Bucs to consider.

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Twenty guys named Kyle

Hang around outside an NFL stadium long enough and you’ll run into one of these guys. The high-end version is Garoppolo. He took the 49ers to the Super Bowl a few years ago and has a 40-17 record as a starter. His stats look great and at 31 years old he is theoretically close to his peak.

And yet they always seem eager to replace him in San Francisco.

Lesser versions of Garoppolo include Geno Smith or Heinicke or Gardner Minshew. Even further down the food chain are Kyle Allen, Cooper Rush, Mike White or CJ Beathard.

Maybe they’re an upgrade from Kyle Trask. Maybe not.

The thing is, there’s only one Tom Brady. That type of quarterback doesn’t walk through the doors anymore. Maybe there’s another Stafford hanging around, but that’s not apparent from this list.

So lower your expectations, fill your mug and dream about the design.

© 2023 Tampa Bay Times. Visit tampabay.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

This story was originally published on February 8, 2023 at 5:30 AM.

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