Inevitable, but still shocking. That’s the general feeling around Tom Brady’s exit from the New England Patriots. Since the rumblings of discontent after the Superbowl VII loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Brady and Coach Bill Belichick were rumoured to have had a strained relationship. Despite winning a sixth Lombardi trophy against the Los Angeles Rams in Superbowl VIII, Brady was clearly unhappy. The lack of help he received offensively, coupled with Rob Gronkowski’s retirement left a massive gap in pass catchers.
N’Keal Harry was touted as a potentially dominant receiver, but didn’t develop as they had hoped. Mohamed Sanu was traded in-season and needed time to learn the system. Phillip Dorsett started well, but faded badly as the year progressed. Even Julian Edelman’s 1,117 yards receiving weren’t enough. The Pats’ offence sputtered and struggled to perform cohesively, finishing tied for fourth in the league in passes dropped with 24.
Brady needed a change of scenery, some new weapons, and a contract befitting his abilities. He took team-friendly deals over the years to give the Patriots more flexibility with cap space. Teams clamoured to provide Brady with everything he wanted in the name of a short-term Superbowl window.
The Los Angeles Chargers were a real possibility, with perfect location and talented receivers in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. But with only $47.9 million in cap space, they were unwilling to place a huge chunk on Brady. The Tennessee Titans were in contention until they surprisingly re-signed Ryan Tannehill and gave Derrick Henry the franchise tag. The Indianapolis Colts were in play, mainly down to their stout offensive line and burgeoning players in skill positions, i.e. T.Y. Hilton and Marlon Mack. The location is interesting, given the history between Brady and Colts legend Peyton Manning. However, they didn’t fit the criteria for Brady either. Only one team did.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers provided all three of these conditions. Florida weather is a far cry from the bitter cold of Boston in the winter. It’s much closer to the California weather Brady grew up with in San Mateo, 20 miles south of San Francisco. His offensive weapons are upgraded immeasurably, with two legitimate stars at receiver in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Both players had over 1,100 yards receiving last season, even with the consistently inconsistent Jameis Winston throwing as many interceptions as touchdowns.
Additionally, Brady will get a reported $30 million per year, with the added bonus of Florida having no state income tax. It’s an ideal situation for an ageing superstar who wants to show the world that those six Superbowl wins were more than just down to his legendary coach.
The dominoes began to fall as soon as word came out of Brady’s decision. The Buccaneers have recently struggled to fill their home venue, Raymond James stadium. The 65,890 capacity arena averaged just over 50,000 attendees per game in 2019, good for 30th in the league. The teams below them? The league-worst Cincinnati Bengals and the Los Angeles Chargers, who currently play in a 27,000-seat soccer stadium. ESPN statistics state that the Buccaneers have not been in the top 20 of attendance in the last five years.
Fox Business reported queues of thousands on the Buccaneers website for season tickets, with reports of a waitlist surpassing 6,000 overnight. Jersey sales will surely skyrocket. After all, it’s not often that the ‘Greatest Of All Time’ joins your team while he still has the ability to win a championship.
The effects aren’t just commercial either. Adam Schefter reported that multiple players have been in touch with the Bucs since the announcement of Brady’s intention to play in Tampa Bay. Fans want to see Brady’s greatness, and players want to play alongside it. The common theme on social media is that legends of the game will come out of retirement to play with Brady in tax-free Florida. Some are in jest (Cris Carter, Randy Moss, LaDainian Tomlinson), some are joking with a hint of ‘Oh my God what if’ (Gronkowski, Calvin Johnson).
The most serious talk out of this is that Brady will lobby for Antonio Brown to be brought into the Buccaneers’ fold. Brown’s recent behaviour, along with the rape accusation against him, have seen him be essentially blacklisted by NFL teams. Yet Brady has chemistry with Brown, and commands such a crucial and domineering position of power. Were he to request Brown’s signing, Buccaneers Coach Bruce Arians may be hamstrung. Of all people, Antonio Brown may benefit as much as anyone from Brady’s move.
On a pure football note, the balance of power has shifted all over. The Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens are now the only bona fide Superbowl contenders from the AFC. The AFC East is suddenly in play for the first time in a decade. The Buffalo Bills traded for Stefon Diggs to give quarterback Josh Allen a real no.1 receiver. They are now the favourites to win the division. Should the Patriots and Miami Dolphins draft a new starting quarterback, Allen will be most experienced starting signal-caller in the division with 27 starts.
The NFC has become a hot bed of contenders. As many as 12 of the 16 teams in the conference have a real chance of making the playoffs next season, including the Arizona Cardinals who were lucky recipients of the inexplicable DeAndre Hopkins trade. The NFC South now boasts Brady, Drew Brees, and Matt Ryan in its division. Poor Teddy Bridgewater has a mountain to climb in Carolina before he even takes a snap.
Suddenly, Bill Belichick’s great defence is under pressure to carry the team. Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Danny Shelton are all gone. Only Shelton was replaced with Beau Allen from the Buccaneers. The Patriots have 12 picks in next month’s NFL draft, including three picks in the third round (two compensatory). They may look at quarterback options early (Justin Herbert, Jordan Love, Jacob Eason). They might use the early pick on an impact receiver and take a swing at a project pick later in the draft (Jake Fromm, Jalen Hurts). All in all, Belichick will once again have a job on his hands to rebuild this Patriots team.
It’s rare that a quarterback this tenured changes team, and even rarer that it works out. All-time greats like Joe Montana, Brett Favre and Joe Namath all tried and failed bring success to new teams. Tom Brady has a big year ahead, but he could have scarcely asked for a better scenario to be in.