With Buccaneers Nation being forced to endure a string of “punishing” 70-degree, sunshine-filled winters, fans of this team have also been subjected to a heartless cycle of hope and letdown since their 2007 Wild Card loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants. This has been spearheaded by a collection of forgettable quarterbacks, mismanaged personnel moves and questionable loyalty to upper management, culminating in 13 seasons of failing to reach the playoffs. Since their acquisition of Tom Brady, however, this team’s hype train has enough coal burning to fuel a locomotive. One season following Tampa’s downward spiral into irrelevance, Brady went on to post the best statistical season of his career with a Patriots team flaunting an 18-1 record, falling one game short of perfection to the same Giants team that eliminated the Bucs just four weeks prior. However, the burning question will be whether his arrival in Tampa will help make this franchise a semi-respectable product again.
As interesting as the Buccaneers roster looks on paper, make no bones about it, this division still goes through New Orleans. Should Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas stay healthy throughout a 16-game season, the Saints are all but guaranteed 12 wins. Even with Brady’s arrival as Tampa’s first reliable quarterback since Jeff Garcia, the Saints’ offense will continue to be the crown jewel of passing statistics and offensive efficiency ratings for the foreseeable future.
Brady’s initial arrival to Tampa has been “unique” to put it lightly. His most notable headline thus far has been an accidental break-in to a Tampa Bay home which he thought was the residence of Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwitch. No charges were filed, but it was certainly one of the most bizarre stories the future Hall of Famer has ever been a part of (this is the same quarterback that turned a blind eye to Belichick’s laundry list of on-field shadiness for 20 years).
Fans, at the very least, should hope Brady’s mind stays sharp enough on the field for his final chapter. This will allow him the opportunity to go out like longtime AFC counterpart Peyton Manning, a competent leader propelled by an embarrassment of offensive riches and aided by a top ten defense capable of protecting leads. Brady departed from New England seeking a new challenge, and in a division where Drew Brees reigns supreme, that challenge is all but certain.
This team cannot afford be a one-man-show if they want to make a run at the NFC South crown, especially if that man is 41 years old. When assessing the Buccaneers roster on paper, the offseason excitement surrounding them draws parallels to last year’s Cleveland Browns – a laughable franchise that has, against all logic, managed to acquire the most marquee talents available in one offseason. While central Florida rejoices at the arrival of their new savior and his flamboyant tight end in Rob Gronkowski. Gronk will be 31 when the regular season begins and there should be a justifiable skepticism on what his impact will be. The five-time Pro Bowler should be slightly more productive than say, Jason Witten with the Raiders, but both are old tight ends whose dominant years are behind them.
As Brady “gets the band” back together,” the Bucs will be under more pressure than ever entering into the new season. As mentioned earlier, the Tampa faithful have been starved of a winning quarterback for quite some time. Forget their 13-year playoff drought, this team has been stuck in the NFL’s basement throughout their 44-year history, the lone exception being their 2003 Super Bowl victory. Outside of that one brilliant season, the Bucs have endured perpetual misery on the levels of the Detroit Lions, New York Jets, and even possibly the Cleveland Browns. This is a franchise whose first two years as a bright-eyed & bushy-tailed expansion team compiled an 0–26 record – although some would say it was an apt punishment from the football Gods after the organization trotted out these creamsicle-draped amateurs and advertising them as a ligament NFL team.
Speaking of punishing fates, there’s even skepticism of the Bucs becoming this year’s Cleveland Browns, a team which on paper looked bound for a playoff spot but failed to even break .500. This argument has validity, but I can’t picture them underachieving to that degree. Bruce Arians is a better coach than Freddie Kitchens; Rob Gronkowski is a better tight end than David Njoku (who broke his wrist in week 2 last season); and perhaps the most polarizing opinion in this blog’s short life, Tom Brady is a better quarterback (yes, even at 41 years old) than Baker Mayfield, whose first year as the team’s full-time starter epitomized the word “underwhelming.”
What a bold statement it would be if Brady ended the 2021 season with the closing remark of, “Well, at least we weren’t as disappointing as the Browns.” Tampa will host Super Bowl 55 next February and there’s no doubt about it that Tom Brady wants to hoist his seventh Lombardi trophy amid the fans who call Raymond James Stadium home. At this point, I won’t rule anything out given the man’s history. Brady’s physical talent as a 41 year-old isn’t as awe-inspiring as when he was a 31 year-old in the midst of 16-0 seasons and rewriting record books, but he is still a serviceable QB who can thrive in Bruce Arians’ offense.