Handicapping NFL Offseason Quarterback Changes: Tom Brady
The long awaited news of where Tom Brady would play football this coming season was finalized last Friday as the future Hall of Famer officially signed to play for Tampa Bay. With rampant curiosity over how this would play out the last several weeks, the actual news following Brady’s St. Patrick’s Day pre-announcement that he would not be returning to New England, was relatively anti-climactic with a few sources coming forward that it was going to be the Buccaneers.
While there is speculation as to why Brady and the Patriots did not work out (and the public may never know the full truth), the Buccaneers are now one of the hottest tickets in the league and will likely be featured nationally multiple times during the 2020 season. But what does a 43-year-old quarterback (who in my view is the greatest of all time) still have left in the tank and what does this mean to a Tampa Bay team that has a very solid nucleus in place? And, most importantly, how will head coach Bruce Arians adjust his offense for the significantly different skill set when comparing Brady to Jameis Winston?
Let’s start with the nucleus on the offensive side of the ball. The offensive line was ranked 7th in the league last season, according to Pro Football Focus with the strength being the middle of the line. This is important given Brady’s strong preference to step up or make small lateral movements but stay in the pocket. Arians will undoubtedly look to speed up the route trees of his skill players, particularly Chris Godwin who proved to be a reliable perimeter receiving option last season (amongst other skills, as he was a top-5 wide receiver by many measures). Brady has proven over the last several seasons that he cannot be trusted to throw the deep ball with accuracy completing just 41.7% of deep ball throws and a paltry 28.4% of throws when he’s pressured (ranking 29th amongst quarterbacks). Again, Arians will game plan accordingly recognizing the strengths of his new quarterback.
Ironically, it’s the Buccaneers third receiver last season that may have a significant impact on this year’s offense, based solely on whether he decides to re-sign or go someplace else to get reps. Breshad Perriman is a free agent and is widely rumored to be looking elsewhere (mainly the Eagles). Perriman would serve as a potential slot receiver, a position that Brady really took advantage while in New England (Julian Edelman, Wes Welker, Troy Brown, etc.). If Perriman does leave, the slot receiver position will need to be addressed with next month’s draft the likely solution.
At tight end, O.J. Howard has garnered a great deal of attention in recent days, particularly with how Brady likes to use big receivers. However, Howard has largely disappointed since coming into the league out of Alabama, with last season being the worst. Howard caught just one touchdown coupled with a career low 13.5 yards per catch. Brady will be looking to bring Howard back to life along with backup tight end Cameron Brate.
Even potentially without Perriman and an underperforming tight end, Brady is likely incredibly excited about the prospect of throwing to the duo of Godwin and Mike Evans. This is a level of talent that he hasn’t seen at his disposal since Randy Moss joined the Patriots more than 10 years ago! Year after year, Brady would take less with the Patriots, but have receivers that had trouble creating separation (Chris Hogan) or flat out drop the football (Reche Caldwell). Godwin on one side with Evans on the other is a dream come true for the greatest quarterback of all time, and I’m positive that he’s already thinking of offensive schemes that includes them both.
On the other side of the ball, the Buccaneers have taken a drastic turn for the better under the leadership of defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. After ranking 30th and 31st in pass defense in 2017 and 2018, Bowles helped improve the unit to 12th last season (per Football Outsiders’ DVOA). All of this while being forced to habitually clean up Winston’s mistake-prone ways.
Handicapping Angle – As expected, Tampa’s future odds significantly changed as soon as the Brady rumors became a reality. The Saints are clearly still the class of the division with the core of the offense back, a defense that secretly ranked 11th in DVOA, and a strong home field advantage (an NFC South best 29-15). The season win total for Tampa Bay sits at nine, with odds to win the division as low as +125 (certainly some variation depending on the sportsbook).
All of my analysis points to the Bucs playing good football this coming season. Bruce Arians is a coach that usually gets the most out of his players, particularly on offense. The defense is in great hands with Bowles and I see that side of the ball making further improvements. I envision the Saints winning the division for the fourth straight season, but Tampa Bay challenging for a Wild Card and exceeding nine wins. Bet the OVER as I see Brady somewhat rejuvenated, particularly with the newfound offensive weapons he can now target.