Tom Brady controls destiny of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will live and die by Tom Brady’s hand this season.

Someone’s belief in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020 really comes down to one question. Was Tom Brady‘s decline a product of his surroundings or an unavoidable tumble?

There are many, many details to this Tampa season, but it all really comes back to that. And saying the latter, saying Brady is in a permanent career decline, is no slap in the face. The future Hall of Famer is 43 years old. It has to happen at some point. So which is it? Either way, the Bucs’ destiny is at the mercy of Mr. Brady.

Dan Salem and Todd Salem debate Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in today’s NFL Sports Debate.

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Todd Salem on Tom Brady and the Bucs

On the surface, everything about Tampa Bay this year seems great. The offensive skill players are undeniable. Even if Rob Gronkowski is not his former self, the rest of this pass-catching corps is peerless. In the backfield, LeSean McCoy is no longer a Pro Bowl player but he doesn’t have to be. He is just a piece of a rotation with Ronald Jones, Dare Ogunbowale, and rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn.

The offensive line could be a weaker spot; this group ranked below-average last year in pass blocking and run blocking. Perhaps some of those shortcomings have been addressed though. It’s the reason the team spent a number-one pick on Tristan Wirfs in the 2020 draft.

On defense, there is no shortcoming whatsoever. This unit, which ranked dead last in the NFL in 2018, was the fifth-best defense in football in 2019 according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA. It was even better when weighted toward the end of the season.

Tampa Bay was the very best run defense in the league by a large margin. That makes sense when looking at the talent in the front seven. The pass defense didn’t reach those heights but should be buoyed by second-round rookie Antoine Winfield Jr., and the growth of second-year players Mike Edwards and Sean Murphy-Bunting.

So this team, with all these elite skill players and one of the best returning defenses in the league, went just 7-9 last season. It is easy to see how team success, or lack thereof, could thus be heaped on the shoulders of the turnover-prone Jameis Winston, who routinely ended drives while simultaneously screwing over his own defense. Which brings it all back to Brady.

If Brady is an elite quarterback, Tampa Bay is a playoff team. The past two years, he was not an elite quarterback though. So was that thanks to his lackluster teammates or a decline in his ability?

Brady suffered through the seventh-highest drop rate in the league in 2019. He also led the league by quite a bit in throwaways. His 40 throwaways were nine more than any other quarterback. Maybe he wasn’t trusting his teammates, either on the outside or up front. That isn’t good, but there are a lot more pieces to the puzzle that point to Brady himself as lacking.

He was 27th in completion percentage and third in the NFL in bad throws (as defined by Pro Football Reference), trailing only Jared Goff and the aforementioned Winston. He was also 11th-worst in on-target percentage, an accuracy metric that excludes those throwaways. So when Brady was trying to make an accurate throw, he failed to more often than most other quarterbacks.

Winston was the very worst in this metric last year. But another of the whos-who in terms of inaccuracy, Josh Allen, was actually superior to Brady by just a tad. Call it a wash, say out loud that Tom Brady was as accurate as Josh Allen throwing the football, and see how that makes you feel.

While Winston and Allen finished in the top six in the league in intended air yards (how far down the field their targets were), Brady ranked just 23rd. He was very inaccurate and also wasn’t throwing deep down the field; the worst of both worlds.

None of this means Brady is finished as a top quarterback. But it could mean that. And that possibility leaves Tampa Bay in an unknown position. In my mind, they would be a guaranteed playoff team with good quarterback play. Unfortunately, 2020 Tom Brady doesn’t guarantee that good quarterback play.

Dan Salem on Tom Brady and the Bucs

Tom Brady has and always will be an enigma. He’s quietly reinvented himself several times throughout his career, which is why it’s been so long and so successful thus far. There’s no doubt in my mind Brady will play great in September and early October. He thrives in warm weather football and Tampa has it longer than most teams.

Brady will also have a huge chip on his shoulder because there are so many doubters out there calling for the end. But how will his teammates react to the inevitable in November and December? We all know it’s coming.

Nobody can outrun their age, just ask Drew Brees. He’s dipped at the end of the last few seasons, but his team has been able to carry him. They know and love him and expect it. Brady is the new guy in Tampa Bay. His receivers are used to getting the ball a lot, getting it deep and racking up stats.

We will soon find out what kind of ego Mike Evans has because Brady won’t be throwing the long ball like Winston and he certainly won’t be after the weather gets cold. Assuming he galvanizes his team early on, then the real question is whether the Buccaneers can carry Tom Brady when he’s forced to dink and dunk and throw the ball away.

Tom Brady is in no position to take a lot of hits. He requires a strong offensive line, because he was never a scrambler and certainly is not this late in his career. Even New England’s elite defense could not carry the Patriots last season. But what are the expectations in Tampa Bay?

For the Patriots, it was a Super Bowl or bust. That didn’t happen and the season was a failure. But for the Buccaneers, one must certainly be excited for the mere prospects of making the playoffs. Well, look what we have, an extra playoff team this season.

The truth is a muddled mess of facts. Brady is not washed up, but he is a 43-year-old man who can not sustain his former high level of play for the entirety of a football season. We will not see another rendition of Brady to Randy Moss this year with him and Evans. He simply does not have the arm strength to throw like that with any consistency. He’s smart and knows how to manage himself and the game. Hell, he learned from one of the best ever in Bill Belichick.

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Now he’s got another great coach in Tampa. This is a wildcard team if the ball bounces right. We know it only does half the time and sometimes all season long for certain teams. I’m looking at you 2019 Seahawks. As long as Brady’s defense puts him in a position to win, he will get this team to 9-7 at a minimum. He’s got that much left in the tank for 2020.