Tom Brady to Tampa Bay will soon be a reality.
Hours after the greatest NFL quarterback of all time officially parted ways with the Patriots, reports indicate the 42-year-old has made his long-awaited NFL free agency decision to join the Buccaneers.
The Bucs weren’t the obvious choice when it became apparent Brady could leave New England. But they reportedly were willing to give him the most bucks — potentially $30 million per season over two years, according to NFL Media — on top of selling him on the winning potential of a team that finished 7-9 last season.
As with most moves in NFL free agency, a familiar face helped make the deal possible for Brady — Bucs general manager Jason Licht, who once served as Patriots director of.player personnel under Bill Belichick. Licht was intent on working with Brady again, so much so that he gave Brady a $7 million raise despite his coming off a down season at age 42.
The next layer was a respected coach with whom Brady could mesh as well as he did with Belichick. That’s Bruce Arians, who is exactly the same age (67) with the same confidence in his own football philosophies and zero tolerance for players not doing their jobs.
The bonus is that Arians is offensive-minded, a QB guru at heart who has worked to get the best out of Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck, Carson Palmer and, yes, despite those interceptions, Jameis Winston. Both Arians and his offensive coordinator protege Byron Leftwich will be malleable to adjust their offense to Brady’s strengths and style. At only 40 and as a former NFL QB, Leftwich can be more of a peer to Brady, much like Josh McDaniels was in New England.
While Brady saw the cupboard go bare in New England with tight end Rob Gronkowski retiring and makeshift wide receivers beyond Julian Edelman, Tampa Bay is fully stocked for his convenience. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are now the best staring duo in the league, and the potential re-signing of Breshard Perriman — even without the crazy wild card of bringing in Antonio Brown — might give the Bucs the best trio, too. That’s before getting to the fact the Bucs have not one, but two Gronk-light receiving tight ends in O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate.
The Bucs did see Winston throw for 5,109 yards and 33 TDs last season. But he had 30 interceptions to lead the league, while Brady, even in a grind of a season physically, had only eight. Arians likes his QBs flinging it in the downfield passing game. Brady likes to be efficient in his distribution of the ball all over the field. With the receiving personnel the Bucs have, including some strong after-the-catch skills, they can find a happy medium of enough big plays with much fewer big mistakes.
The Bucs have more to do on offense. They must get better at right tackle and right guard, but they’re better than you think at left tackle through center. Brady will make the protection look better regardless with his ability to shuffle in the pocket and get the ball out quickly instead of holding it and looking for the deep shot. Regardless, the Bucs should aim to land a dominant edge blocker in the first round of the draft.
The Buccaneers ranked only 24th in rushing offense last year. But the Patriots were only a few notches better at No. 18. If the Bucs don’t replace Ronald Jones as the power back, too, they at least need a strong pass-catching back from either the rest of free agency or in the draft. At this point, no one will be surprised if Melvin Gordon is sharing the backfield with Brady soon.
When the Bucs make a big short-term “all in” move like signing Brady, with their ample salary cap space, their next move is doing everything they can to support their big investment with smart smaller ones tailored to the QB.
The Bucs’ defense was No. 1 against the run in a vast improvement last year. The key now is re-signing Ndamukong Suh. Their pass rush got going in the first year of Todd Bowles’ 3-4 scheme, with Shaquil Barrett (19.5 sacks) leading the league and Jason Pierre-Paul rejuvenated. Both of those players will be back. As the season progressed, the Bucs found more answers in the secondary to back that up.
During his last season with the Patriots, Brady was supported by the No. 1 total defense in the NFL. The Buccaneers finished 15th, but that was an amazing improvement from being a terrible No. 27 the season before. The arrow is pointing up for Bowles’ defense to push into the top 10.
You can bet Brady, beyond hearing the money the Bucs were willing to pay him, made sure Tampa Bay was the best possible place for him to try to win a championship apart from Belichick and the Patriots.
When digging deeper into the Bucs, it was clear that of all the QB-needy teams, they offered the best resume with the most upside. It doesn’t hurt that they are in the NFC, which just crowned an unpredictable big-turnaround champion in the 49ers last season.
There was some talk of Brady fitting in a place such as Los Angeles with the Chargers, Las Vegas with the Raiders and even Nashville with the Titans. But in the end, throughout his career, his favorite landing spot has been the Super Bowl.
Guess where Super Bowl 55 will be played: In Tampa. Outside of New England, for Brady, the Bucs represented both the extended journey and the destination no other team could match.