Raise your hands if you saw the move of Tom Brady to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers coming?
That’s what I thought. I didn’t either.
A lot of it makes sense now. I did figure Brady was going to continue to play, but not with the Patriots who he led to six Super Bowl titles.
He’ll be 43 when next season begins, and we all have our fingers crossed that there will be an NFL season.
He’s in superb condition, and while the 2019 campaign was far from vintage Tom Brady, it was obvious that he can still play at a top level.
I figured the Tennessee Titans was his logical landing spot for several reasons.
This is a team on the upswing. They showed how far they’ve come in the playoffs. Their head coach is Mike Vrabel, a former teammate of Brady’s in New England. Vrabel has that Patriots competitive magic. Nashville is a neat city, and the Titans have offensive weapons, including a dynamite running back in Derrick Henry.
They beat the Patriots in the post-season and established themselves as a team on the rise.
They also play in the AFC, where Brady has great familiarity.
But the Titans are pinning their quarterback hopes on Ryan Tannehill who came off the bench and played, by far, the best ball of his career. They signed him to a lucrative long-term contract.
There has been a lot said and written about how much Brady wanted to get from under the thumb of head coach Bill Belichick and how little respect Belichick showed Brady in their one phone conversation.
This is how I read it.
Brady and Belichick had a phenomenal run together. You’re talking 20 years of the two working hand-in-glove, producing the most successful tenure in the history of the game.
Last season, it all started to unravel.
The Patriots were strong enough to capture another division crown, but didn’t have the stuff to take them further.
Take them where they were used to going.
Tom Brady was not the same. He didn’t have the offensive support he had in the past. His receivers, several of them quite young, didn’t run the crisp routes, didn’t get enough separation from defenders, or didn’t hold on to the ball.
The quarterback was frustrated.
Add to that, protection up front was shaky.
There is absolutely NO quarterback, however great he might be, who can flourish when the protection breaks down.
Even Brady himself knew what that was like when he faced the Denver Broncos in the 2016 AFC Championship Game.
In that contest, Brady was sacked four times and hit on 20 occasions as the Broncos defeated the Patriots and advanced to the Super Bowl.
Then, you have a Patriots team that faces a rebuild. In fact, I would be surprised if the Buffalo Bills failed to win the AFC East title next season. They have made many significant upgrades the past two seasons. They not only have their franchise quarterback now, in Josh Allen, but have improved his surrounding cast to combine with a rugged defense.
They played the Patriots tough in both their games last season.
Bill Belichick has never been one to dwell in the past. His focus is on the current year, the game about to be played, the play he is about to run.
He also may be the only head coach in the league who personally negotiates all player contracts.
When Danny Amendola, the former wide receiver, signed with the Dolphins a couple of years ago, he told me he appreciated playing for a winning group like the Pats, but that playing for a head coach who determined his pay, was not as pleasant.
The best general managers in any sport, are the ones who ship players out, even the most successful, a year early, than a year too late.
This may be a difficult reality for fans to face, but teams that rely on the loyalty factor in personnel decisions, usually pay the price.
So, Belichick told Brady he would offer him a one-year deal at less money than he was earning.
It was an insult to the player, but a smart move by the head coach/GM.
Belichick knew he had to move on. What was he going to gain by bringing back Tom Brady, on the downhill in his career, instead of developing his successor and rebuilding the team at the same time.
Brady knew HE had to move on as well, with limited years left, he had to find a team that would allow him to get the most out of what he had left. And maybe, contend for another championship.
He found that team in the Buccaneers.
It was a pivotal 90-minute phone call with Bucs General Manager Jason Licht and Head Coach Bruce Arians.
Tampa Bay has been one of the major disappointments in the NFL for years.
They had hoped they discovered their quarterback six years ago that would make them relevant once again.
But Jameis Winston, a number one draft pick, never got the job done.
He was personable and a great teammate. But Winston, who could roll up impressive passing numbers, if not victories, could never get over forcing interceptions.
I covered many of Winston’s games during his time in Tampa. He would always espouse his determination to either check down to a running back or throw the ball away instead of trying to get the ball downfield.
But it wasn’t in his DNA. He couldn’t help himself, no matter what he declared.
There were occasions he would throw a pass right into the defender’s hands on the very first play from scrimmage.
So the Bucs knew they had to make a change, especially with a group of receivers that were among the best in the league.
This is a team that can score, and this is a team that can defend, with some of the top young performers on that side of the ball.
In that call involving Tom Brady and the Bucs, it was Brady who, in essence, conducted the interview.
He had questions, it is reported, mostly about the quality of the people he would be playing alongside.
He knew what they could do on the field. All he needed to do was watch tape.
The other thing Brady did, was ask for the phone numbers of his new teammates.
Instead of coming in as this six-time Super Bowl champion prima donna, the new man in town was quickly going to establish himself a good teammate.
Yes, Tom Brady is all in at Tampa Bay.
Chris Godwin, one of the outstanding targets Brady will have, currently wears number 12.
He will gladly surrender that numeral to the man who will make him an even better receiver.
The other interesting aspect to the new relationship between Tom Brady and the Buccaneers is that the issue of money was almost an afterthought in the dealings. Not that there wasn’t going to a significant outlay by the club, but it wasn’t the determining factor most observers would imagine.
In fact, the quarterback and the team made it clear that this was not strictly a short-term arrangement.
Brady feels he can be an effective, winning leader till his mid-40’s. The Bucs don’t disagree.
History, for the most part, has not always been kind to championship quarterbacks in their 40’s, or on the downside of their career, when they try to establish a second act with another team.
Peyton Manning played four years with the Broncos after 13 seasons with the Colts. He was 36 when he went to Denver, had four terrific seasons and concluded his career with a victory in Super Bowl 50. At the end, his team was sparked by a brilliant defense, and all Manning needed to do was manage the game, and avoid mistakes. He did just that.
Brett Favre was traded by the Green Bay Packers to the New York Jets at age 39. He played 16 years for the Packers, winning one Super Bowl.
With the Jets, for one season, Favre struggled, throwing 22 touchdown passes, and 22 interceptions.
He joined one of Green Bay’s rivals, the Vikings the last two years of his career.
He had a sensational 2009, bringing Minnesota to a game of the Super Bowl.
Favre faded the next season, his last at the age of 41.
Joe Montana was a four-time Super Bowl champion, three-time Super Bowl MVP.
He was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs at age 37, was plagued by injuries, but helped the Chiefs advance to the AFC Championship Game. He suffered a concussion against the Bills in that title contest, and didn’t finish, as K.C. lost . In 1984, his final year, he led the Chiefs to the playoffs, only to lose in the wild-card game.
Joe Namath, who had that magical 1969 Super Bowl triumph for the Jets, wound up with the Los Angeles Rams at the relatively youthful age of 34. He played only one season, a total of four games, limited by knee and hamstring injuries.
For those who remember Johnny Unitas, and they should, the two-time NFL champion with the Baltimore Colts. also had injury issues which significantly affected him in his last two seasons with the Colts, and in his one final year in San Diego when he was 40.
While Manning, Favre and Montana experienced more moments in the spotlight after leaving their title teams, they never recaptured what they achieved earlier.
And why would they? They had reached or were approaching the sunset of their brilliant careers.
That’s the fact of life in sports, as we all know.
Tom Brady has won more than anyone else, his health is better than those before, and his competitive juices are still at their peak.
If he can avoid or fend off injury, there is no reason to think he can’t enjoy the game at a high level in his new surrounding.
Winning another championship would be icing on the cake, but for Brady, he’s already had his cake, and eaten it, too.