As we enter the first week of TB in TB — Tom Brady in Tampa Bay — the shock of the news continues to fade and the obvious becomes more obvious.
Namely, why did anyone think he wouldn’t end up with the Buccaneers? We all should have seen this coming.
In the end, this was about Brady being Brady — focused on the bottom line, analytical in his decision making and strategic in his choice while not being distracted. This was no-frills Tom. Tampa wasn’t just an excellent choice at this stage of his career, it was really the only choice at this stage of his career.
There were two obvious paths for Brady to take as he headed into his first free agency in two decades as an NFL player. Stay or go.
To stay in New England would have required Bill Belichick to be aggressive in keeping him, including laying out a full revamp of the offense and even offering him a contract before “legal tampering” began.
That would have given the Patriots a chance. If not, then Brady was headed to Tampa.
That never happened, of course. Belichick treated Brady like he treats most of these situations, allowing the process to play out with an assumption that in the end he’ll either get his man or get someone else. The Patriots are famous for offering free agents last — that way they can measure real interest and avoid bidding wars.
In this case, if Belichick thought Brady would just return, he was mistaken. Brady didn’t want to leave, but he clearly wanted to be convinced to stay. There is a difference.
In the end, Brady acted exactly like Brady always acts. He was merciless. He was studious. He was contemplative.
While there was speculation that he might favor the emotional pull of New England or the thrill of his hometown team in San Francisco or consider the business opportunities of Los Angeles, none of that rang true.
Since when did emotion or convenience or outside football interests matter to Brady?
While it may be jolting for fans to consider Brady ending his career in another jersey, it was less so for Brady himself. He played 20 seasons in New England, a career and then some. Brady appeared in 326 games for the Patriots (playoffs included), starting all but two.
He already played a career in New England. He owed the Patriots nothing. It was his maniacal focus on health and fitness that prolonged his career so long that he even had the opportunity to switch teams heading into his 21st season.
If he was going to work that hard to last this long, then he was going to play for the best situation possible.
Namely, he was going to surround himself with the most offensive weapons, the best coach and the best team he could. Of the teams that lined up as possibilities, there was really only one choice.
Tennessee, fresh off an AFC championship game appearance, was probably the only team other than Tampa that was worth any consideration. Yet as magical as the Titans’ run was last January, including beating Brady in his final Patriots game, the passing game is not set up like it is in Tampa.
The Bucs have two young, big Pro Bowl wide receivers in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. They have a tight end duo in Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard, plus a running back tandem of Ronald Jones and Peyton Barber.
Coach Bruce Arians is an offense guy. Coordinator Byron Leftwich is highly regarded. The Bucs have the 14th pick in the draft to potentially shore up the offensive line (a notable weak spot).
Tampa went 7-9 last season despite Jameis Winston throwing 30 interceptions, seven of them returned for touchdowns.
Brady’s strengths are leadership, consistency and ball protection (he has thrown 29 cumulative regular-season interceptions in four seasons). If he just goes with 24 TDs and eight picks, as he did with far less talent in New England last year, then Tampa should be playoff good. Here’s guessing he’ll do even better.
The weather is good. The expectations are low. The situation looks fun.
Where else was he going to choose?
The most obvious hint came with how Brady negotiated with the Bucs. According to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times, Brady’s phone “interview” with Tampa was mainly Brady asking questions and making it clear he had studied the offense and the team’s personnel.
Brady didn’t need to be sold on the move. He just wanted a few questions answered. He never discussed money. He never asked for control of the offense or for a say in personnel decisions. He didn’t even request his famed No. 12 jersey.
He just wanted the phone numbers of some of his future teammates.
This wasn’t some dog-and-pony show or ass-kissing recruitment. He just wanted to get to work.
Of course. Of course he did. That much, everyone should have predicted.
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