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Tom Brady watch: Why the Bucs are going all in

Rick Stroud | Tampa Bay’s pursuit for a QB starts in New England. After that? Teddy Bridgewater and Philip Rivers are high on their list
Tom Brady, shown in this file photo from an Oct. 5, 2017 game against the Bucs at Raymond James Stadium, is likely the biggest star Tampa Bay's Glazer family ownership group has ever pursued. [ Times ]
Updated Mar 11

TAMPA — The Bucs are going all in on Tom Brady.

It’s true. The franchise that has not reached the postseason in 12 years will do almost anything to land the quarterback who has been to the playoffs for 11 straight seasons and won six Super Bowls.

If we reach the legal free-agent tampering period Monday at noon and Brady is behind Door No. 2, Bruce Arians and the Glazer family will try to kick that sucker down for Touchdown Tommy.

TB12 for TB’20.

This is not hype. It’s hope. This is fact, not fantasy. This is the plan. This is the Bucs’ play.

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This is the 67-year-old Arians, who has coached Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning and Carson Palmer wanting to complete the set. This is an ownership with 45,000 or more empty seats at Raymond James Stadium to sell for eight Sundays, knowing one guy who can fill them.

This is a franchise that hasn’t been relevant since the Bucs won the Super Bowl in 2002 knowing that ESPN, NFLN, CBS, ABC, NBC, CNN and every alphabet network will have a TV truck parked outside of the AdventHealth Training Center if Brady starts throwing passes to Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.

It’s no secret that Arians would prefer to move on from Jameis Winston. And make no mistake, general manager Jason Licht is deferring to B.A. on the quarterback position.

When the deadline for designating franchise and/or transition players comes at 11:59:59 a.m. Monday, expect outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett to be tagged barring a last-minute agreement on a long-term deal. Arians already told us “he ain’t going anywhere.” But after five NFL seasons, he still sees Winston as “an unknown quantity.’’ The Bucs aren’t guaranteeing Winston $27 million as their franchise player.

At high noon, the legal free agency tampering period will commence and Brady’s agent, Donald Yee, will have the Bucs on call waiting.

The Glazers have not wanted to give up on Winston, who will most likely become a free agent Monday. If you come to their ownership group wanting to make a change at quarterback, as Arians has, you need a much better alternative.

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My guess is it wasn’t a hard sell.

The Glazers never get cheated. They take their cuts. Usually, it involves head coaches. They swung and missed with Bill Parcells but traded the farm for Jon Gruden. They thought they had the winning offer for Brett Favre, who was traded to the Jets in 2008.

When you have a franchise winning percentage of .387, dreaming big is the best you can do.

It’s been 27 years since a quarterback like Brady was available. That’s when four-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Joe Montana was traded to Kansas City.

Think about it. Three years ago, the biggest free agent quarterback prize was Mike Glennon, who signed a three-year, $43.5-milion contract with the Bears. He was released after one season.

There may never be a free agent quarterback class like this again. Brady, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Dak Prescott, Teddy Bridgewater, Ryan Tannehill, Winston, Marcus Mariota. The Bucs want to take full advantage of it.

Brees has said he is going back to the Saints. Prescott will be franchised. The Titans reportedly are negotiating a long-term with Tannehill.

Of course, it’s not a forgone conclusion that Brady will leave New England. If he does, he may prefer to sign with the Chargers in Los Angeles, where he has just launched a Hollywood production company.

Maybe former teammate and Titans head coach Mike Vrabel has an inside track. Maybe Jon Gruden can convince Brady to roll the dice in Las Vegas.

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The Bucs will try not to take no for an answer.

If it’s money Brady wants, it’s hard to imagine any team outbidding the Glazers. The Bucs have $80 million in salary-cap space, the fourth-most of any team. Why would $30 millon or $40 million per year for Brady be out of the question?

He’s 43. But if it’s a two or three-year contract he wants? Sure, why not give that to him, too?

If it’s weapons, they have Evans, Godwin, O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate and Ronald Jones. The Bucs are likely to draft a three-down running back, an offensive tackle and another receiver.

If it’s control of the offense, there’s no question that Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich would adapt to Brady rather than the other way around.

On ESPN Tuesday, NFL insider Dianna Russini said the Bucs are “willing to give Tom Brady the things he needs, he wants. Some of those things he wants — control over the roster, he wants to be part of making decisions on the play-calling … If (Brady) wants control, Bruce Arians is a guy he should match up with.”

The Bucs aren’t going to make Brady the QB/GM, but after 20 seasons, he knows what he needs to be successful.

They will sell the sunshine and sandy beaches of Tampa Bay. No state income tax. A great place to raise his young family. The proximity to Miami for his model/wife Gisele Bundchen, who is a multimillionaire in her own right.

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The paradox is that despite going so hard after Brady, the Bucs may have to quickly pivot and convince other free agents — perhaps even Winston — that they are the only object of their affection.

What’s the pecking order for the Bucs?

After Brady, it’s Bridgewater and then Rivers, in that order.

Bridgewater went 5-0 with the Saints last season. He is 27. You may think he doesn’t fit Arians’ vertical passing offense, but he doesn’t turn over the football and he hung 33 points on Seattle, 31 on the Bucs and 36 on Chicago.

Rivers is 38 and threw 20 interceptions last season. But he’s also one year removed from 32 touchdowns and only 12 picks.

Winston may still figure into the equation, too. But if you’re letting him talk to 31 other teams, you must be willing to lose him when the new league year begins at 4 p.m. March 18.

Maybe he goes into the market and discovers there is not a team willing to hand him the starting job with starter’s money. Winston at $18 million to $21 million for one year and the ability to retain most of the Bucs defense may make the most sense for both.

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But that’s not the plan. That’s not the play.

The Bucs are all in on Brady.

Super Bowl 55 is in Tampa. The Bucs and Brady want to get there. Why not do it together?

Contact Rick Stroud at rstroud@tampabay.com. Follow @NFLStroud

TAMPA — The Bucs are going all in on Tom Brady.

It’s true. The franchise that has not reached the postseason in 12 years will do almost anything to land the quarterback who has been to the playoffs for 11 straight seasons and won six Super Bowls.

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