The words still don’t sound right.
But the world has been turned upside-down in 2020, and this is our reality now. Brady will reside in the NFC South. His colors will be red, pewter, black, and “bay orange.” He will play in front of a pirate ship, not a lighthouse.
The signing isn’t official yet, but it is coming, per reports. Let’s take a look at what else it means for Brady now that he will be slinging touchdown passes in Tampa Bay:
▪ Brady is joining a team that is starved for success. The Bucs haven’t made the playoffs since 2007 — a 12-year drought that currently is the second-longest in the NFL (Cleveland, 17 years). Their record since the start of the 2008 season is 71-121, a winning percentage of .370. Only the Jaguars and Browns have been worse.
▪ Brady is the latest big swing taken by the Bucs. Over the years, they have gotten Keyshawn Johnson, Jon Gruden, and Darrelle Revis, and were runner-ups for Brett Favre in 2008.
The Bucs need to take big swings, because otherwise their fans don’t show. They were 31st in attendance last year, filling only 79.1 percent of their seats (the Bengals were last at 72 percent).
But Tuesday night, at least 6,600 new customers lined up for season tickets via Ticketmaster. The Bucs will be a hot ticket this year.
▪ The Bucs have a handful of premier games slated for 2020 (dates have not been set yet) and will be national TV darlings.
Brady has played against Drew Brees only three times in the last 14 seasons, but now they have a home-and-home series as division rivals. Brady is 2-3 all time vs. Brees (but won the last two).
Brady also gets home-and-home games with the Falcons’ Matt Ryan and the Panthers’ Teddy Bridgewater. The quarterbacks in the NFC South will be much better than the characters Brady faced in the AFC East over the years.
Home games for 2020 at Raymond James Stadium, where Brady has played only one time (2017), also include visits from Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, plus the Chargers, Rams, and Vikings.
Road games include trips to Detroit to face Matt Patricia and several former Patriots teammates, a potential Super Bowl rematch with Nick Foles in Chicago, plus games at Las Vegas, Denver, and the New York Giants.
That game at Las Vegas seems like the perfect option for Week 1. What better way to open the new stadium than with a visit from Brady?
The Patriots aren’t on the Bucs’ schedule this year, which I’m sure Brady appreciates. But if he makes it to a second season with Tampa Bay, the Bucs are scheduled to visit Foxborough in 2021.
▪ The Bucs went 7-9 last year but have the pieces to be contenders.
On offense, Brady will be surrounded by fantastic weapons: receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, and tight ends O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate.
The Bucs have Ronald Jones at running back, and will likely bring in another big name (perhaps Todd Gurley?). They also should return four of their starting offensive linemen, and maybe all five if they re-sign right tackle Demar Dotson.
The defense was better than the raw stats suggest, and should only get better in the second year under coordinator Todd Bowles. They already re-signed Jason Pierre-Paul and franchise tagged Shaquil Barrett, and could still bring back Ndamukong Suh.
On paper, or in a Madden simulation, the Bucs look great. But the human element will be tough to quantify. How will Brady handle new teammates, new coaching, a new everything, after playing with so much continuity for 20 years in New England?
But Jameis Winston famously threw 30 interceptions last year, including seven pick-6s. If Brady can cut those interceptions in half, the Bucs can be dangerous.
▪ The Bucs are also in great shape this offseason. As of Wednesday morning, they had more than $59 million in cap space, though that didn’t account for Brady’s contract. They also have the 14th pick in the draft, plus the 45th and 76th picks in the second and third rounds.
▪ And the Bucs could be even more explosive if they add Antonio Brown, who is already being linked with them. Brady reportedly has remained close with Brown, and could lobby for him to come to Tampa Bay.
Brown is a Florida guy who constantly promises to be on his best behavior (though we know how that usually works out). And coach Bruce Arians has a history with Brown, serving as his offensive coordinator for his first two NFL seasons in Pittsburgh.
The Bucs were desperate enough to go get Brady, so why wouldn’t they get Brown, too? Add him to the mix, and that offense would look unstoppable. But Brown is still facing potential discipline from the NFL for all of his off-field actions last year, which could be a significant roadblock.
▪ Arians’s roster of quarterbacks coached is impressive. He was Peyton Manning’s quarterbacks coach during Manning’s first three NFL seasons. He coached Ben Roethlisberger as the Steelers’ offensive coordinator from 2007-11. He coached Andrew Luck during his rookie season of 2012. And from 2013-17, he coached Carson Palmer in Arizona.
Arians didn’t become a head coach until he turned 60, but he is a two-time AP NFL Coach of the Year (2012, 2014). He led the Colts to a 9-3 record as their interim coach in 2012, then went 49-30-1 in five seasons with the Cardinals. He made two playoff appearances and one trip to the NFC Championship game. Arians also won two Super Bowls with the Steelers — in 2005 as their receivers coach and in 2008 as their coordinator.
Arians likes to push the ball downfield, which doesn’t suit Brady well. But Arians is such an experienced coach that he surely will work with Brady to create an offense that maximizes his abilities.
▪ Brady’s new offensive coordinator will be Byron Leftwich, the former Jaguars first-round pick who is 2½ years younger than Brady. Leftwich was drafted in 2003, three years after Brady, and has been coaching with Arians since 2017.
Leftwich twice faced Brady as a player, losing both times — once in the 2003 regular season, and once in the 2006 playoffs.
The Bucs offense under Arians and Winston last year was the most exciting product in the NFL, both good and bad. They ranked No. 3 in points scored (28.6 per game) and in total offense, while Winston led the NFL with 5,109 passing yards and threw 33 touchdown passes. But he also had the 30 picks, which drove Arians nuts.