Tom Brady: What awaits the new Tampa Bay Buccaneers quaterback?
Tom Brady recorded his worst completion percentage and worst quarterback rating since 2013 last season amid a shortage of weapons on offense with the Patriots. How will he fare in Tampa?
By Cameron Hogwood - @ch_skysports
Last Updated: 28/03/20 7:01am
Sky Sports aired a replay of last season's Week Two clash between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers on Tuesday. At that time, the idea of Tom Brady unseating Jameis Winston and Cam Newton being released seven months down the line would have been ludicrous.
Seven months down the line and that's exactly where we are. The paperwork has been filed, the social media frenzy has passed, the introductory conference call - a stark reflection of the times - has been completed. It's all very real.
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Brady is officially a Buccaneer after 20 history-making years in New England. The discussion over who broke up with who has been largely exhausted, unless Bill Belichick fancies stirring the pot with an eye-opening interview slamming the six-time Super Bowl champion.
With that unlikely, it's time to look at what Brady is walking into in Tampa.
Awaiting Brady is a head coach that will put his arm over his shoulder and convince him he still has the talent to run this league at the age of 43. Awaiting Brady is a head coach that will show no restraint in challenging his arm and quick release in his veteran years. Awaiting Brady is the challenge he wanted.
Bruce Arians offers the chance to play explosive and exciting offense in a scheme that has often revolved around the preferences and capabilities of his quarterback.
While putting the reins in the hands of a proven winner, Arians himself will be relishing the opportunity to sculpt winning mechanics to his offensive mastery. It beckons as a learning experience for both, as it will for offensive coordinator and future NFL head coach Byron Leftwich.
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Arians' love of the deep ball and just how applicable it will be to Brady remains a fascinating question to be answered come September.
According to Pro Football Focus, Jameis Winston was first in the NFL with 99 attempts on passes of at least 20 air yards last season, with his deep-throw rate a fourth-highest 15.8 per cent compared to Brady's 10.1 per cent (21st). Winston meanwhile recorded the league's second-highest average depth of target at 10.4 yards per attempt, while Brady's came in at 7.6, per Pro Football Reference.
Despite questions over Brady's arm strength, Arians won't shy from putting it to the test.
Elite offensive weapons
Brady is stepping away from a Patriots receiver unit that relied heavily on the shoulders of a banged-up 33-year-old Julian Edelman, and into one of the most gifted playmaking cores in the NFL.
Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans produced his sixth successive 1,000-yard season in 2019 as he finished with 67 catches for 1,157 yards and eight touchdowns despite missing three games. Across from him, Chris Godwin ticked off his first 1,000-yard year with 1,333 and nine touchdowns from 86 catches. Both were named to the Pro Bowl and both have plenty of mileage left in them.
The arrival of Brady is the perfect invitation for tight end O.J. Howard to finally prove his worth as the powerful weapon he was touted as upon entering the league in 2017. Equally, Brady will have missed the presence of a legitimate tight end target since Rob Gronkowski's retirement.
Howard had just one touchdown pass and 34 catches for 459 yards last season, while veteran tight end Cameron Brate hauled in 36 receptions for 311 yards and four touchdowns.
Running back Ronald Jones III also has a lot of upside after displaying glimpses of his long-term potential with 172 carries for 724 rushing yards and six touchdowns. A receiving back may be on the team's draft agenda.
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2019's sack leader
Besides winning the race for Brady, the Bucs also carried out vital business on defense as they placed the franchise tag on Shaquil Barrett, who led the NFL with 19.5 sacks last season.
The team also retained fellow defensive lineman Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh, with the pair heading into free agency after accounting for 11 sacks between them.
They were accompanied by edge rusher Carl Nassib (now of the Las Vegas Raiders), defensive tackle Vita Vea and tackling machines at linebacker in Devin White and Lavonte David in helping the Bucs rank first again the run, allowing just 73.8 yards per game.
It was a less flattering year in the secondary as Tampa Bay ranked 30th against the pass, averaging 270.1 yards allowed per game.
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Cornerback Carlton Davis was second in the league with 19 passes defended and Jamal Dean was close behind with 17, but the Bucs were short of picks with Sean Murphy-Bunting registering a team-high three interceptions.
Vernon Hargreaves left a gap when he was waived after nine games and the Bucs find themselves in need of added depth at safety. Expect defensive backs to be another focus heading into the draft.
Brady can rest assured, though, that there are playmakers in abundance on the other side of the ball.
The bar wasn't set particularly high by the Patriots' offensive line last season when it comes to assessing Brady's new protection.
Tampa gave up an 11th-most 47 sacks in 2019, along with a sixth-most 106 quarterback hits, compared to the Patriots who surrendered 28 sacks (28th) and 90 quarterback hits (15th).
Both meanwhile registered 58 per cent pass block win rates according to ESPN, with the Bucs' efforts perhaps demanding more attention due to their unit being the third-highest paid in the NFL heading into last year.
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Ryan Jensen, once the highest-paid center in the league, is an ever-present having played all 1,138 offensive snaps last season, while left tackle Donovan Smith, left guard Ali Marpet and right guard Alex Cappa look set to keep their starting roles.
The Bucs could draft an offensive tackle for the first time since 2001 as they seek a replacement for 34-year-old unrestricted free agent Demar Dotson, who gave up 10 penalties last season.
Former Indianapolis Colts tackle Joe Haeg was signed in free agency, but only played 74 snaps in 2019 and may be used as a versatile depth option across the line.
"We will see what happens in the draft," said Arians. "I think we'll need some depth. I think we do have some really young guys I like - (Brad) Seaton, (Aaron) Stinnie - some of those guys that practised us with us all year, like (Anthony) Fabiano.
"I really like what those guys bring as depth. I don't see it as a glaring need, but you're always looking to upgrade somewhere."
Alongside new personnel, a new scheme and a new head coach, there is a weight of expectation awaiting Brady as the man to end the Bucs' 13-year absence from the playoffs. They knocked on the door with Winston last year and will now believe they have the man to snap that barren run.