TAMPA — So it seems the Bucs are going all in on acquiring Tom Brady.
That’s amazing. It’s bold. It’s exciting. It’s also — and I hope I’m using the term correctly — nuts.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of seeing Brady in a Tampa Bay uniform. It would instantly make the Bucs the most interesting team in the NFL, and might even make them favorites to win the NFC South. And those are darned good reasons to pursue Brady.
But is it still wise? Like in a grown-up, billion-dollar organization, the-fans-are-depending-on-us sense of wise?
Because this strategy feels like mortgaging the future with an AARP card.
If the Bucs win a Super Bowl with Brady calling the shots, then it surpasses the trade for Jon Gruden as the most extraordinary stroke of genius in Tampa Bay history. And if that’s the case, nothing else matters. The cost in salary, the heave ho of Jameis Winston, the uncertain future beyond 2020? All worth it.
But anything less than a Super Bowl 55 reservation in Raymond James Stadium will come with complications.
Such as, what do you do in 2021 when your quarterback is 44 years old?
It’s possible the Bucs draft a quarterback next month and start grooming him for 2021 or 2022. But the odds of finding a franchise quarterback when you’re drafting in the middle of the first round are not promising. And, if you’re shooting for the Super Bowl in 10 months, don’t you have to use your first-round pick on an offensive lineman, or some other necessity?
If the decision has been made to move on from Winston, and it certainly appears that’s the preference, the safer move is going after free agent Teddy Bridgewater. He may not give you a better chance to win a Super Bowl in 2020 than Brady, but he gives you a better chance in 2021. And 2022. And 2023. And so on.
What I fear about the Brady decision is it’s being made for the wrong reasons.
Bruce Arians is obsessed with Brady because he will turn 68 this season and knows his coaching horizon is approaching fast. He wants to win a Super Bowl as a head coach before he retires, and Brady gives him his best shot in 2020.
The Glazers, meanwhile, are obsessed with Brady because their fan base is restless and that has translated to a poorer bottom line. They crave a major turnaround at the box office, and Brady is the only player who can give them that kind of juice.
And you could argue there is a carpe diem charm to that way of thinking:
Hey, fans, we’re willing to do whatever it takes!
But the Glazers and general manager Jason Licht are also supposed to be the adults in the room. They can’t just worry about winning next week’s news conference, or winning a division title for the first time since 2007.
They are also the stewards of a thousand tomorrows. It’s their responsibility to make sure they don’t abandon years of rebuilding pain on a get-rich-quick scheme that, frankly, does not have the greatest chance at success.
Can the Bucs be a good team in this upcoming season? Absolutely. Can they be a great team? Possibly. If you check their statistics from 2019, they look exactly like a playoff team except for the excessive turnovers. And Brady, no doubt, would correct that problem.
But even if they jump from a 7-9 record to 11-5, there’s still a long way to go to the Super Bowl.
And, last time I checked, no 43-year-old has ever led a team there.
Granted, Brady is no ordinary 43-year-old. And he just won a Super Bowl two years ago, so it’s not like the idea is completely out of the question. But there is a lot of uncertainty when coming to a new system. And previous quarterbacks in Arians’ system have often seemed to lead the league in bruises. That doesn’t necessarily sound like a good fit for Brady.
Now, it’s true Peyton Manning went to Denver and reinvented himself after a major injury. He reached the Super Bowl twice in four seasons and won it all at age 39. But Manning was not the reason the Broncos are wearing rings today. He threw 17 interceptions with nine touchdowns that final season, and the Broncos’ lone offensive touchdown in Super Bowl 50 was on a 4-yard drive.
In some ways, this feels like advising a friend not to bet everything on a pair of aces at the poker table. And yet, he still pushes all his chips in.
Chances are, he’s going to bust.
But, damn, you hope he doesn’t.