Tampa Bay, a franchise where good quarterbacks go to leave, where 5-11 might as well be the team motto, where the term 30-for-30 isn’t a glory-days documentary but a quarterback’s touchdown-to-interception ratio ...
Tampa Bay, a franchise that hasn’t won a playoff game since the 2003 (albeit the Super Bowl), hasn’t reached the postseason since the 2007 season and hasn’t had a winning season since 2016 ...
Tampa Bay, a franchise where, according to legend, coach John McKay was asked, “What do you think of your team’s execution?” only to have McKay reply, “I’m in favor of it” ...
Tampa Bay, a franchise that once lost a game on a late hit, once drafted the wrong guy due to a bad phone connection, once lost 26 games in a row ...
Tampa Bay, yes that Tampa Bay, is expected to sign Tom Brady, yes that Tom Brady.
And it makes perfect sense.
The marriage of the NFL’s winningest quarterback and one of its most star-crossed franchises is somehow a match made in heaven.
The Bucs have been looking for a franchise QB for roughly 40 years, in part because when they find them, as they once did with Steve Young, they are so toxic that they win just three games and then deem him the problem.
And now they get Brady?
Well, that’s the report from ESPN and other various other media outlets, and it isn’t that much of a surprise. The Bucs have pursued Brady hard, with coach Bruce Arians making an impassioned pitch to the Brady camp on Monday. Just hours later, TB12 was over at Robert Kraft’s house telling him it was over in New England after two decades and six Super Bowls.
If the Patriots had worked hard enough, and early enough, it stands to reason that Brady is still in Foxborough. Instead, Bill Belichick was Bill Belichick and made it clear that if Brady wanted to walk, he could walk. No hard feelings.
The grass may not be any greener in Raymond James Stadium, but the sun sure does shine more often. When you’re going to be 43 by the start of the season, that may matter. No more brutal Massachusetts winters for Tom Brady, who is just the latest aging rich guy to head south.
It isn’t the weather though, it’s everything else.
It’s Mike Evans, 6-foot-5 and just 26 years old coming off a 1,157-yard, eight-touchdown season. It’s Chris Godwin, 24, who gained 1,333 yards and nine touchdowns. It’s a tight end duo of Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard, who may not be the second coming of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, but are way better than what he had in New England.
It’s having an offensive-minded coach in Arians and an up-and-coming offensive coordinator in Byron Leftwich, himself a former NFL quarterback and former Brady opponent.
Five years ago, Tampa Bay drafted Jameis Winston out of Florida State, ignoring red flags that ranged from maturity to throwing mechanics. It then spent a lot of time trying to surround him with so much talent he couldn’t fail.
Yet nothing could stop Winston from throwing interceptions, including an absurd 30 of them last season.
Brady has thrown 29 total the past four seasons.
Tampa Bay went 7-9 last season despite Winston throwing all those interceptions (including an NFL-record seven of them returned for a touchdown) and fumbling 12 times. That’s nearly impossible to fathom. Six of those games were lost by a touchdown or less.
If Brady could just put up the 24-touchdown, eight-interception season he did last year with the drecks that constituted the Patriots’ receiving corps (at least once Antonio Brown bombed out), then this is a playoff team.
Brady is all about winning Super Bowls. Or he certainly was. It’s hard to say the Bucs are ready to do that ... the NFC is loaded.
So maybe he can’t win a Lombardi, but he sure can have some fun leading a high-octane offense on a team where winning a game is no longer merely the expectation but a cause for joy and celebration.
Brady and Belichick are the reasons that New England became this unstoppable force with a Super Bowl-or-bust mentality. He didn’t want it any other way. Yet there is a grind that comes from those kinds of expectations, where the season sort of starts in late January and divisional crowns merit forced smiles and cheap baseball hats.
Tampa Bay has been good before. It made four consecutive playoff appearances, culminating in a Super Bowl title in the 2002 season, one year after Brady improbably led New England to its first title.
It can be done again. History isn’t destiny ... check the Patriots’ story pre-Brady. It isn’t pretty.
So now, perhaps, comes a late career union of an all-time champion and a young, talented contender desperate for his leadership and steady play.
Brady doesn’t have to be perfect in Tampa, because Tampa, yes Tampa, feels pretty perfect for him.
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