Baker Mayfield wants to be back in Tampa, but will he?

Pat McAfee and crew happy for Baker Mayfield's success (1:49)

"The Pat McAfee Show" crew reacts to a hot-mic moment between Bucs QB Baker Mayfield and Steve Young discussing his future plans. (1:49)

TAMPA, Fla. -- It wasn't exactly how Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Baker Mayfield drew it up.

After failing to clinch the division title at home against the New Orleans Saints in Week 17, Mayfield had to go on the road to face the Carolina Panthers -- the very team that cut him 13 months prior -- just to punch his ticket to the playoffs in the season finale.

And yet somehow Mayfield, the 2018 No. 1 pick on his third team since the Cleveland Browns traded him away in the summer of 2022, left the field at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte with a 9-0 victory, to chants of "Baker! Baker! Baker! Baker!" and he couldn't have been more in his element.

"This room we're standing in right now was kind of where I found out that I wasn't going to be a part of the [Panthers] anymore," Mayfield said moments later, before a celebratory plane ride back to Tampa with the team that elicited very little expectation in its first season without future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady.

The Bucs, who were still paying Brady $35 million last year, signed Mayfield to a one-year deal worth $4 million last March. They managed to finish with a 9-8 regular-season record and snagged a third consecutive NFC South title, the first division title of Mayfield's career. He punctuated it with three touchdown passes in a 32-9 win over the Philadelphia Eagles in the wild-card round before the Bucs lost 31-23 to the Detroit Lions in the divisional round.

Mayfield earned consideration for Comeback Player of the Year award, finishing third behind Damar Hamlin (second) and Joe Flacco. He also was named to the Pro Bowl, but more importantly, he wants a long-term home and to reestablish roots.

"It's meant the world to me just to be able to be in a stable place, to be the best version of myself [and] to [do] what they've enabled me to do," Mayfield said. "The organization, the staff, our locker room -- it's just a special place, so I've truly appreciated it. I hope the guys know that. I try to reflect that with just who I am every day coming to work, bringing energy and passion into it."

Mayfield's 106.3 passer rating was the highest postseason mark by a quarterback in franchise history, with his six passing touchdowns ranking second. He also became the first quarterback in team history to throw for 300 yards or more and three or more touchdowns, which he did in both games.

"He was great here," coach Todd Bowles said of Mayfield one day after the season ended. "We love him to death. Hopefully it works out for us."

The first step toward that was replacing offensive coordinator Dave Canales, who was named coach of the Panthers on Jan. 25. The Bucs brought in Liam Coen, who had worked with Mayfield in 2022 in his five-game stint with the Los Angeles Rams and runs a very similar system to what Canales ran with the Bucs.

The idea was to have an easier learning curve after the team spent last offseason transitioning to Canales' system, but also a system that suited Mayfield's strengths. In fact, the team sought Mayfield's opinion on candidates.

"You know, first [and] foremost, I mean, I'm just really happy for Dave," Mayfield said. "Guy's a stud. I mean, he had a huge impact on me, and I'm just really happy for him -- him and his family -- and I think it's a great opportunity for him. So happy to see that."

Mayfield largely benefited from Canales' positivity and ability to problem solve when things weren't clicking in games. But he also credits his teammates and their chemistry for his revival.

"We had a really special locker room, and that's what ... made it special," Mayfield said. "So for me, it's evaluating the options and see where that takes me. But at the same time, the key pieces have got to be back for us. We want another shot at it. Obviously we had decent amount of success, but I know the guys are hungry to get back and achieve more."

Coen, who was greeted by Mayfield with a big hug on his first day, was asked how confident he was that Mayfield would be back in Tampa.

"I want him to be here," Coen said. "It's probably more 'want' than 'know.' He's obviously a reason that I'm here. That's real. ... We know it's a long way to go.

"I think he wants to be here, he wants to work with me and do this with [Bowles] and the organization. He has nothing but great things to say about this place. So hopefully that can get done."

The Bucs are projected to have just shy of $35 million in salary cap space for 2024, according to Roster Management System -- 11th most. But they'll also want to re-sign wide receiver Mike Evans, safety Antoine Winfield Jr. and linebacker Lavonte David. Mayfield and Evans -- who hooked up for 13 touchdowns this season, tied for the most -- have both indicated they want to continue playing together.

"Obviously I would love to have Mike back," Mayfield said. "Mike made my life very easy this year. He's a stud. But I understand he's got to make the best decision for himself, and I'm going to support him either way, but yeah, I would love to play with him again."

While Geno Smith's three-year, $75 million contract has been frequently cited as a suggested template, Mayfield is 28, whereas when Smith signed his deal with the Seattle Seahawks last spring, he was 32. Mayfield's also won two career playoff games now, which provide some justification for driving the price up.

Things should heat up next week at the combine in Indianapolis, where the expectation is that Mayfield's agent and the Bucs will meet. That's usually where the groundwork is laid for hammering out new deals with current players.

There, the Bucs will also get a close look at a talented crop of quarterbacks in USC's Caleb Williams, UNC's Drake Maye, LSU's Jayden Daniels, Oregon State's Bo Nix, Washington's Michael Penix Jr., Michigan's J.J. McCarthy, South Carolina's Spencer Rattler, Tulane's Michael Pratt, Florida State's Jordan Travis, Notre Dame's Sam Hartman, Tennessee's Joe Milton III and Western Kentucky's Austin Reed.

While drafting 26th overall wouldn't put the Bucs in striking distance of the top-tier quarterbacks like Williams and Maye, there are still options should things fail to work out with Mayfield. But there's strong motivation to make it work.

"Obviously I want to be back there," said Mayfield, who has plans to stay in Tampa this offseason. "I think it's mutual, so we'll see what happens. But, yeah, one day at a time."