Aside from completely rebuilding an offense and culture around a quarterback deep into the winter of his career, a new complication is accompanying the prospect of signing free agent star Tom Brady: An offseason program that is suddenly entirely up in the air.
For teams like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Los Angeles Chargers — who have both placed themselves in the thick of a Brady pursuit — there is a very real challenge that goes beyond the short window that comes with the aging icon. Specifically, if he departs the New England Patriots, how quickly can Brady’s new team begin the heavy lifting that will be required to reshape a franchise around him amid a constantly tightening social environment created by the coronavirus pandemic.
Like every other NFL free agent, Brady and potential suitors will have to confront the reality that nobody is sure how quickly franchises can begin meaningful team activities again. Organized team activities are delayed indefinitely, the league said on Monday. The NFL also has barred players not receiving medical treatment from club facilities from Tuesday through March 31.
Teams that hired new head coaches were slated to open their offseason workouts on April 6. Teams with veteran head coaches (like the Buccaneers and Chargers) would be able to bring players into the fold for facility work on April 20. But coronavirus warnings related to social and workplace distancing from the Centers for Disease Control, and most recently President Donald Trump, are being taken very seriously by the NFL. So much so that there is no guarantee the league allows franchises to run their typical offseason schedules as far out as May or even June.
How Tom Brady will shape an offense
For almost any other free agent signing, that’s certainly a hurdle. For a veteran quarterback on short time who will be installing his offense with a new team, that’s a 50-foot wall. And make no mistake here, it will be Brady who shapes his offense if he leaves the Patriots for a new team — not the other way around.
From the protection schemes to how running backs are used to the ideal route concepts for the receivers and tight ends, a Brady signing by the Buccaneers or Chargers would entail a massive undertaking aimed at curving to the new anchor of the franchise. That means a lot of learning in short time that is suddenly threatening to get a whole lot shorter as the coronavirus pandemic deepens across the country.
And that’s a concerning complication for all Brady suitors aside from the Patriots, who would be entering the 21st season of these lessons, rather than starting from scratch.
Up to now, the conversation surrounding Brady has largely been twofold: First, would he entertain leaving New England; and second, how many teams would line up for his services beyond the Patriots? At least initially, we have some answers to those questions.
Yes, Brady is willing to leave. And he has at least three options on the table. That allows everyone to move on one of the underlying facts that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention in the storylines about Brady’s potential free agency — that it’s only Brady who is coming ... not the entirety of the institutional knowledge that surrounds him in New England.
Julian Edelman isn’t coming. Nor is the stable of running backs who don’t need to be taught anything to understand how to function in a system that fits Brady. There won’t be an offensive line familiar with his calls or adjustments at the line of scrimmage. And the receivers and tight ends ... well, they can certainly be more talented than anything Brady was working with in New England, but they won’t necessarily be more familiar.
How will offseason workouts look?
This is why the offseason workouts are so vital if Brady signs with a new team. For the first time in a long time, he’ll be engaging in his own master class in producing chemistry, culture and recreating a New England offensive system out of thin air. And he’ll be doing it with new coaches, new support staff and in completely new surroundings.
That’s daunting when you have an entire offseason and it’s just one player expected to get on the same page with his new team. It’s exponentially more difficult when it’s the entire offense (including the coaches) who have to get themselves onto the same page as one player — and with less time than usual to do it.
In many ways, signing Brady is like hiring a new head coach. That’s how significant this is. A team can’t bring him in with his six Super Bowl rings and then teach him its culture. Instead, that club has to open the doors, roll out the red carpet and let him teach the franchise.
That’s an approach that would be largely unprecedented in NFL history. But like seemingly everything else that is happening this month, it’s just another unexpected echo of uncertain times.
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