Tom Brady to Bucs: Are Tampa Bay now Super Bowl contenders?
- The acquisition of Tom Brady will have Buccaneers fans dreaming big, but how much is possible with the star QB?
Signing New England Patriots icon Tom Brady changes everything for a Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise who will now look to make history.
The Bucs have not reached the NFL playoffs since 2007 and ended last season very much in the middle of the pack.
But now they are against the clock to claim glory with star quarterback Brady, who will turn 43 before the 2020 season and ended his 20-year stay with the Patriots on Tuesday.
Amid speculation about Brady's future ever since the Pats' Wild Card round playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans in January, the Bucs were not always top of the list of his cited potential destinations.
FOREVER A PATRIOT pic.twitter.com/QSBOJBs4uy— Tom Brady (@TomBrady) March 17, 2020
But it is they who will pair the six-time Super Bowl winner with head coach Bruce Arians, ending former number one overall pick Jameis Winston's role as the team's starting QB.
Fans of the Bucs are already dreaming big, with season ticket enquiries surging in the aftermath of the reports Brady was poised to join, while there has been talk of high-profile players offering up their services.
It is their Raymond James Stadium will play host to Super Bowl LV and no team has ever reached the biggest stage when it has been played at their own stadium.
But with a proven winner on board, how realistic is a historic championship run for the Bucs?
Receiving corps will excite Brady
Brady was not blessed with star receiving talent in his final years with the Patriots.
Last year, an aging Julian Edelman carried the load as Josh Gordon departed, first-round draft pick N'Keal Harry underwhelmed and a mid-season trade for Mohamed Sanu failed to pan out. Antonio Brown was supposed to be the answer, but the saga around the former Pittsburgh Steelers star is one the team will quickly want to forget.
Role players Phillip Dorsett and Jakobi Meyers were left to fill gaps and the Pats' tight end depth chart was one of the worst in the NFL after Rob Gronkowski's retirement.
Brady has few such concerns with the Bucs, whose number one receiver Mike Evans has recorded six consecutive seasons with more than 1,000 yards receiving, those remarkable numbers coming despite some questionable quarterback play.
Chris Godwin (1,333 yards in 2019) has emerged as an extremely impressive complement to Evans, while two talented TE options in O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate provide added firepower.
20 years.— New England Patriots (@Patriots) March 17, 2020
A lifetime of memories.Thank you, Tom. pic.twitter.com/exQPrweT5h
Brady played behind a strong offensive line in New England but Tampa, despite some issues at the two tackle spots, had a similarly solid 2019 unit, with Ryan Jensen and Ali Marpet standouts who ensured the Bucs' OL, like that of the Pats, was graded in the top 10 by Pro Football Focus.
Arians' risk-taking, downfield scheme may not be a perfect fit for Brady, but the Bucs coach has the experience and expertise to compromise. He leans heavily on his passing attack and has a proven track record in getting the most out of his QBs.
Winston led the league in 2019 passing yards (5,109), but saw his 33 touchdowns coupled with 30 picks.
Brady, despite his slight decline in recent seasons, is still a clear upgrade on Winston. With a dramatic drop in turnovers likely to follow, the Bucs should continue to be one of the league's most productive offenses without the wild swings we have seen before.
Defense: A step forward could prove crucial
The Patriots' offensive inefficiencies last year were made up for by a superb defense that led the NFL in points-per-game and yards allowed.
Brady will not have quite the same support system at his new home.
When Dirk Koetter lost his job after the 2018 season, a failing defense had played a key part in his demise.
Last season, there was some improvement from the Bucs, particularly towards the end of the year, as they finished 7-9.
But the Bucs were 29th out of 32 teams in points allowed and while that improved to 15th in yards-per-game, they were near the bottom of the pack against the pass.
There are pieces to work with, as NFL sack leader Shaquil Barrett has received the franchise tag, while Jason Pierre-Paul has re-signed.
Young cornerbacks Jamel Dean, Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting have all displayed signs of promise and the Bucs will need them to kick on, showing more consistency.
They used the number five overall pick on linebacker Devin White last season and will be counting on a second-season improvement from him alongside impressive veteran Lavonte David.
If the offense is firing with Brady, the Bucs may only need a middle-of-the-road defense to be competitive, so they will eye a couple of valuable additions in the draft.
Due to their offensive strength, the Kansas City Chiefs went all the way in 2019 with a defense that was far from perfect but contained playmakers and a similar unit could be on the cards in Florida.
NFC South among challenges
The Pats have completely dominated the AFC East, winning it 16 times in the last 17 attempts, and have expertly translated those victories into deep postseason runs.
A winning culture shaped by Brady and Bill Belichick led to a dynasty that may never be replicated, with the QB's leadership now key as he enters a new locker room.
As the Cleveland Browns showed last season, establishing a star-studded roster is no guarantee of success and Brady joins a franchise with only one Super Bowl victory in their history, amid a long playoff drought.
Tom Brady has 5 times as many playoff wins, 6 times as many Super Bowl wins and 7 times as many 30-TD seasons as all the Buccaneers’ QBs in the team’s history.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 17, 2020
Brady's task is made more difficult as he enters an extremely competitive NFC South.
The New Orleans Saints have won the division for three straight seasons, have one of the NFL's best all-round rosters and veteran QB Drew Brees is back for the next two years.
There is quality elsewhere too, as the Atlanta Falcons, boasting the likes of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, have a score to settle with Brady, while the Carolina Panthers start a new era with Teddy Bridgewater.
With Brady, Arians and an impressive supporting cast, the Bucs are among a group of six to eight Super Bowl candidates, but it would be a leap to place them alongside the top favourites just yet.
Having made a seismic signing, their next moves will be watched with greater scrutiny than ever before as a fascinating offseason continues.Published 20 Mar 2020, 18:40 IST