The NFL as a whole will look a lot different this year. In what will be one of the most unique seasons due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, teams will have to find new, creative ways to adjust to safety protocols while maximizing their time together during an abbreviated training camp with likely no preseason games to follow.
One team in particular, well two, had some of the biggest roster changes. The New England Patriots will have to adjust to life without quarterback Tom Brady—they signed Cam Newton in free agency as another option besides Jarrett Stidham—and in turn, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers get to work with the greatest quarterback of all time. What will come of Brady, at age 43 when the season is scheduled to start, and this aging roster that’s in win-now mode?
A Super Bowl appearance isn’t out of the question here, but there are a lot of moving parts and less time to prepare than usual. Everything has to gel together just right to make it out of the tough NFC and onto the annual championship. If Tampa Bay can make it to, at least, the NFC Championship Game, 2020 will be a success.
The Buccaneers have all the pieces and Brady might be pressed to make it back to the Super Bowl, now more than ever. He’s no longer playing under head coach Bill Belichick, and the dynasty they formed with the Patriots will have a different coach-quarterback duo. Brady doesn’t have to prove he’s the G.O.A.T.; he’s already cemented that legacy, but will it be slightly tarnished if he can’t return to Super Bowl glory elsewhere? Luckily for Brady and the Buccaneers, they’ll have two seasons to figure that out. Brady signed a two-year contract, leaving his Super Bowl window narrow and the pressure to get there mounting as time passes.
The Buccaneers have a roadmap to make it to the Super Bowl, but as good as Brady is, he’s working in a new system that doesn’t take kindly to his specific skill set. The genius that is coach Bruce Arians will adjust the offense accordingly, and teams don’t just acquire Brady in his early-to-mid-40s with the hopes of a winning season or one playoff win. Tampa Bay hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2008. During that span, there have been five different head coaches including Arians, who’s entering Year 2. He was able to improve the team’s overall success slightly after the Buccaneers finished 7-9 for their third-highest win total since 2008.
Arians likes to go deep; it’s what worked out so well—and so poorly—for Jameis Winston last season. Winston impressed throwing for more than 5,000 yards and 30 touchdowns. While he led the NFL in passing yards, he also threw the most interceptions (30). It’s not hard to see why Tampa Bay moved on, but Brady won’t be slinging the ball down the field like Winston. Last season, Brady averaged 7.6 intended air yards compared to Winston’s 10.5. Brady’s obviously not Winston and Winston is more obviously not Brady.
Brady is in a new environment with high competitive urgency and less of the personality that makes Belichick, Bill Belichick. It could be a refreshing restart, and the new energy could bring out a Brady we haven’t seen before—maybe even a likable one. He’ll be equipped with the best receiving corps he’s seen in years and an old friend in tight end Rob Gronkowski. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are going to be the top two receiving targets for Brady. Evans has never had a season with fewer than 1,000 receiving yards, and Godwin is coming off a breakout junior season.
Tampa Bay did lose Breshad Perriman during free agency, which leaves about 70 targets literally up for grabs. How many will go to Brady’s long time running mate Gronkowski? Arians has never had such a productive tight end to work with, but as he adjusts to Brady, Gronkowski’s role in the offense will adjust too. He’s as much as a receiver as he is anything else and with O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate also in the TE room, Arians could deploy more two-tight-end sets.
This will all be working behind an offensive line that has been improving. It will be one of the key factors of Brady’s success. Can the O-line continue to build off of last season, ensure Brady has ample time, and have better run protection? The addition of first-round draft pick Tristan Wirfs will certainly help the latter as Ronald Jones II prepares for his second full season.
In an offense now littered with copious amounts of talent, the Buccaneers also have a star-studded defense that features Shaquil Barrett, Ndamukong Suh, and Jason Pierre-Paul. Both Suh and Pierre-Paul are approaching their mid-30s and just how far this team can go will depend a lot on this unit.
The Buccaneers return their front seven, which was the best in the league at stopping the run last season. The Buccaneers added Khalil Davis via the draft for some depth after losing Beau Allen in free agency; Davis will likely backup Vita Vea, who is currently rehabbing after a minor hand procedure. Tampa Bay’s secondary will also have some notable players to watch including third-year cornerbacks Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean, who was better as the season progressed, and second-round safety Antoine Winfield Jr.
This is all to say Tampa Bay has loaded its roster. There is no reason why the Buccaneers can’t have a winning season and at least one playoff win. If we stop there, it would be doing everybody a disservice. A good start for the likely short Brady era will be a deep playoff run. The Buccaneers need to capitalize on this talent with a trip to the conference championship and from there, let Brady work because there was no way he was going to end his career with a pick-six.
- Dec 01, 2022
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