What this means for me

As most of the Nueva community is probably aware, I am a Michigan fan first and foremost. My favorite NFL teams are the ones with former Michigan players in primary roles.

Other teams have waxed and waned as quickly as the cycles of the moon. But for my entire lifetime, that philosophy has meant following the New England Patriots led by Tom Brady, sixth round draft pick out of Michigan. Every year, I’ve watched Brady and the Patriots in the playoffs amid the chilly January air of Gillette Stadium.

Tom Brady: the ageless, unflappable field general, leading miracle comebacks time after time after time again. No matter whether you love him or hate him, Tom Brady in the Patriots’ red, white, and blue has been a childhood icon for nearly two generations. And make no mistake, love or hate seem to be the only two options when it comes to the Patriots.

Tom Brady: the ageless, unflappable field general, leading miracle comebacks time after time after time again.

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

And therein lies the rub. It’s impossible to think of Brady without the Patriots, the Patriots without Brady. It’s impossible, and yet that’s what the year 2020 is asking the entire football world to do, because Tom Brady is now a Tampa Bay Buccaneer. A red skull-and-crossbones will adorn his helmet. Brady and the Bucs, not Brady and the Patriots. Tom Brady and Bruce Arians instead of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.

Trade and free agency rumors have swirled around Brady for years, and so perhaps we should have seen this coming. Still, it will take some time—perhaps until the football season begins—until the reality of Brady’s new team sinks in. 

Until then, I console myself with this small mercy: at least he won’t be playing in the Bucs’ current, somewhat-horrid uniforms. New Buccaneers uniforms are set to be unveiled in April.

Getty Images

What this means for the league

Obviously, Brady’s move to Tampa Bay changes the power structure of the league. The towering Patriots have lost their GOAT quarterback, and the previously mediocre Buccaneers are suddenly one of the premier teams in the National Football Conference (NFC). In the AFC East, the Buffalo Bills have to be seen as the favorites, with the Patriots without a stable quarterback situation for the first time in over two decades. Taking into account the Atlanta Falcons’ moves in free agency this year, the NFC South has to be seen as one of the toughest divisions in the league, with the New Orleans Saints, Falcons, and Bucs all poised for strong seasons.

It’s interesting to note that from a scheme standpoint, the Bucs offense is vastly different from the system the Patriots have employed for the entirety of Brady’s career. From Pittsburgh to Arizona and now Tampa Bay, head coach Bruce Arians’ offense has been built for long, downfield passers. On first glance, Brady doesn’t appear to fit that mold. However, upon further review it’s clear that the short passing game of the Patriots’ offense this past year was due to a lack of adequate personnel rather than any deterioration of Brady’s arm.

Was Brady the lynchpin in Belichick’s Patriots dynasty all along?

As recently as 2017, with downfield threats such as Rob Gronkowski and Brandin Cooks, Brady’s average depth of target was 10.2 yards, similar to Arians’ previous quarterbacks like Ben Rothelisberger and Carson Palmer. The Tampa Bay Times reported that Brady did not ask for any control over the offensive playbook, though Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich will undoubtedly incorporate some of Brady’s best plays from New England. It appears, therefore, that the 2020 Buccaneers will feature both short-yardage screen passes as well as Bruce Arians’ well-loved downfield bombs. 

Getty Images

For now, the only reference points are Brady’s twenty years with the Patriots and Arians’ offenses in Tampa Bay and Arizona. In the coming months, the unlikely pairing of Brady and the Bucs will solidify and a clearer picture of the NFL’s power structure will emerge. And who knows? Perhaps we’ll finally have an answer to the decades old question: was Brady the lynchpin in Belichick’s Patriots dynasty all along? What happens when you no longer have Tom Brady front and center in team meetings, willing to take insults day in and day out to show the team that nobody is above “The Patriot Way”? 

Conveniently, due to COVID-19, film of all those aforementioned reference points is complimentary on NFL Gamepass right now for your socially distanced enjoyment.