2020 NFL Preview: Buccaneers pinning their hopes on the aging but legendary Tom Brady

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Yahoo Sports is previewing all 32 teams as we get ready for the NFL season, counting down the teams one per weekday in reverse order of our initial 2020 power rankings. No. 1 will be revealed on August 5.

(Yahoo Sports graphics by Paul Rosales)
(Yahoo Sports graphics by Paul Rosales)

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers discarded a 26-year-old former No. 1 overall pick coming off a 5,000-yard season for a quarterback who is turning 43 in August, an age in which not one quarterback in NFL history has had any success.

Of course, it was a little more complicated than that.

Fed up with Jameis Winston’s turnovers, the Buccaneers never hid their desire to land Tom Brady. Then the dominoes started to fall. Brady and the New England Patriots decided it was time to part ways. Brady seemed to know right away that the Bucs were his preferred destination. Getting the only six-time Super Bowl champion in NFL history was actually pretty painless. Then Rob Gronkowski came out of retirement, just as a bonus.

This will be fun. No matter what happens, we’ll talk about it decades from now. However, it’s OK to be skeptical over how this will actually play out.

Something strange happened once last season ended. There was no shortage of opinions during the season that Brady was in a decline, and that peaked with the Patriots’ loss to the Tennessee Titans in the playoffs. He did take a step back. Then Brady became a free agent and the consensus was that he would turn any franchise around. There was a disconnect there.

Brady has beaten expectations countless times already. Many fans don’t want to hear this and definitely don’t appreciate it yet, but Brady is the greatest underdog success story in American sports. Maybe he’s the one to do what no 43-year-old quarterback has ever done, while changing teams for the first time during the strangest offseason ever. It’s hard to bet against him, especially with all the offensive talent the Bucs have.

Yet, there is a “Joe Namath with the Los Angeles Rams” downside in play for Brady. The same goes for Gronkowski; it has been a while since we’ve seen him at his true peak. For all of Winston’s mistakes, he also made a lot of plays and that will have to be replaced. Winston’s skill set also seemed to fit Bruce Arians’ deep passing offense better than Brady’s too, though the Bucs seem convinced Brady’s arm is as good as ever. This likely isn’t as simple as an all-time great quarterback coming right in and playing at an MVP level, no matter the blind optimism with the move. We can all picture a scenario in which the Buccaneers realize pretty early on they have some buyer’s remorse from giving a 43-year-old quarterback a fully guaranteed two-year, $50 million deal.

Of course, it would be a lot of fun if Brady beats the odds yet again. There shouldn’t be any doubt about Brady’s standing in NFL history, but any remaining skeptics couldn’t deny his greatness if he wins big in Tampa Bay. And it’s also possible Brady, with a better supporting cast and a new challenge in front of him, does win big.

Either way, this is the story of the NFL season. Every Bucs game will be a marquee affair, and that might be a first for the franchise. We’re going to see some history, good or bad.

Tom Brady is starting a new chapter with the Buccaneers. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images for The Match)
Tom Brady is starting a new chapter with the Buccaneers. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images for The Match)

I’m not quite as excited as most everyone about the Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski additions, but I get it. You can do worse than betting on two future Hall of Famers. Giving the franchise tag to Shaq Barrett, last year’s breakout star and NFL sack leader, and retaining Jason Pierre-Paul was important. The Buccaneers also re-signed Ndamukong Suh, a key to a very good run defense. The Buccaneers did well to get offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs in the first round of the draft and intriguing safety Antoine Winfield Jr. in the second. They grabbed running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn in the third round, hoping he can help a run game that has floundered for years. I assume everyone else would give the Buccaneers the highest grade possible, but I’ll be a little short of that, for reasons I’ll explain further in the next category.


Only five quarterbacks in NFL history have appeared in even one game at age 43 or older: George Blanda, Vinny Testaverde, Warren Moon, Doug Flutie and Steve DeBerg. Blanda never started a game after turning 43, but threw 135 passes with a 66.1 passer rating. He’s the best of the lot. Flutie threw just 10 passes for 29 yards. DeBerg and Moon started just one game each. DeBerg posted a 43.1 rating in his start and Moon posted a 34.8 rating. Testaverde is the only quarterback ever to start multiple games past age 43. At age 44 he started six games for the 2007 Carolina Panthers. He completed 54.7 percent of his passes with five touchdowns, six interceptions and a 65.8 passer rating. His best game, by far, was 20-of-33 for 206 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions in a win over the Atlanta Falcons.

There is no positive history at all for any quarterback Brady’s age throughout 100 years of NFL history. Maybe he’ll post a great season, but it would be the first of its kind.

We’ll play it safe here and cite both Chris Godwin and Mike Evans. When you think of the reasons Tom Brady chose the Buccaneers, the best wide receiver duo in the NFL had to be high on the list. Godwin had a big breakout last season, posting a 86-1,333-9 line and making the Pro Bowl. Evans also made the Pro Bowl, his third, with a 67-1,157-8 season. Evans is a fantastic deep threat for a big receiver and Godwin showed he can do it all. Brady didn’t have a lot to work with on New England’s offense last season, and having two Pro Bowlers to throw to (with Rob Gronkowski and O.J. Howard at tight end) could make a big difference.

While realizing plenty of folks have gone broke betting against Tom Brady, the helium in Tampa Bay’s odds means I’ll be going against the Bucs. The over/under win total for the Buccaneers at BetMGM is 10. The Buccaneers have reached 11 wins three times in 44 seasons. Maybe everything fits perfectly and the Buccaneers have one of the greatest regular seasons in franchise history, but I can’t be that optimistic about them.

From Yahoo’s Scott Pianowski: “Tom Brady is finally getting a desperately needed influx of skill-position talent. The Patriots didn’t have the resources to improve his pieces much, but now he’s anchored by a Tampa Bay offense loaded with playmakers. That established, Brady steps into an age-43 season and has no fantasy upside as a runner. At the deepest position in fantasy football, he’s a modest-floor, low-upside option.

“As great as Chris Godwin and Mike Evans are, there’s a modest cap on how far they can drag Brady. The historian in me can’t wait to watch, but the fantasy investor will sit out Brady’s Southern debut.”

[Create or join a 2020 Yahoo Fantasy Football League for free today]

The Buccaneers were first in the NFL in rushing yards allowed, and also rushing yards per attempt allowed. Teams only gained 3.3 yards per carry against the Bucs. But Tampa Bay was 30th in passing yards allowed. The Bucs faced more passing attempts than any other NFL team. Clearly, teams knew it was smarter to pass the ball than to run into the toughest run defense in the league. In the modern NFL you’d much rather have that flipped. A great pass defense is much more valuable. It’s great that Tampa Bay is good against the run, but to take another step the secondary will have to play better.

Can Shaq Barrett possibly repeat his 2019?

Last offseason, Barrett signed a one-year, $4 million contract. He had 14 sacks in five seasons with the Denver Broncos before that. Nobody could have guessed Barrett would post 19.5 sacks, leading the NFL and cause the Buccaneers to give him the franchise tag this offseason. Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore had a great season, but Barrett probably would have won NFL Defensive Player of the Year had he been more of a household name coming into the season. While Barrett will probably never have a season like 2019 again, nothing about his breakout season signals that he can’t continue to be a quality edge rusher. As long as the Buccaneers aren’t figuring on 19.5 sacks again — only 12 times in NFL history has a player posted more than 19.5 sacks in a season, and only DeMarcus Ware and J.J. Watt have reached 19.5 twice — then they should be happy with a fantastic free-agent find.

Tom Brady is already the best 40-, 41- and 42-year-old quarterback of all-time. So why not continue the streak? Brady having a great season at 43 would be a serious outlier, but his entire career is an outlier. Working with some great receivers will help. The Buccaneers defense took strides last season. Brady winning a seventh Super Bowl with another team after 20 years in New England would be one of the most stunning stories in sports history. And yet, it’s possible.

Imagine it’s mid-October. The Buccaneers have had tough challenges against the Saints, Broncos, Chargers and Bears defenses. Tom Brady looks like Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath or any other quarterback who hit the wall suddenly. It happens to everyone if they stick around long enough. The Buccaneers have Brady for two years at $50 million guaranteed. If Brady looks like Manning did his final season, the realization will sink in that the Bucs are in for a long 2020 and 2021 with no clue who will be their next quarterback. This scenario is possible too.

I understand the excitement for the Buccaneers and Tom Brady, even if some of it is hard to believe. That’s why the Bucs appear where they do in the rankings. Brady having a huge season with the Buccaneers would be a fantastic story. I’m not rooting against it. I’m just trying to be realistic about a 43-year-old quarterback who will be with his first new team in two decades and didn’t have a normal offseason. I don’t think Brady falls off a cliff this season. But I also think he falls short of some of the overly optimistic projections for him. Brady plays fine and the Buccaneers are in the wild-card hunt, but not quite a Super Bowl contender.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars
Washington Football Team
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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