TAMPA — You are Tom Brady and leaving the New England Patriots after 20 seasons.
You have six Super Bowl rings, one for the thumb, and nine appearances in the NFL title game.
The only NFL head coach you have ever played for is Bill Belichick, a somber savant who drove you to greatness but kept you at an arm’s length each season until the confetti fell.
You sacrificed your body and salary every year to make the Patriots better, but that loyalty wasn’t always reciprocated with an abundance of weapons.
For the first time since you were recruited to the University of Michigan, you have a choice of where to play football. You are 42, with a family and a clock that ticks louder in your helmet every year.
And after meeting the night before with Patriots owner Bob Kraft, who is like a second father, you write a love letter on social media to Patriots fans telling them why the ride is over.
“I don’t know what the future holds, but it’s time to open a new stage for my life and my career," Brady said on Instagram Tuesday.
So why, oh why, did Brady choose to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?
That’s what happened. Can you believe it? The Bucs’ four-decade search for a franchise quarterback has led them to Brady, the greatest of all time.
Brady chose to play for Bruce Arians over Belichick and pass to Mike Evans and Chris Godwin over Julian Edelman. And, yes, he chose the Glazer family over Kraft. Brady has agreed to a contract that is expected to pay him $30 million per year.
It’s antithetical to think a quarterback who has appeared in 11 straight postseasons would go to one that hasn’t appeared in the playoffs in a dozen years.
The most important thing to Brady is winning. But as an elite quarterback, maybe more important than that, is the head coach he will play for. That’s why Arians may be the biggest reason Brady chose to join the Bucs.
Sure, Tampa Bay has a pair of Pro Bowl receivers in Evans and Godwin, and excellent tight ends with O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate. The young defense has the NFL’s sack leader in Shaquil Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, outstanding linebackers and a growing secondary.
There are also family considerations because Brady’s oldest son lives in New York. But the coach-quarterback relationship in the NFL is the most fragile one in all of sports.
Think about Arians, the self-described quarterback whisperer. He knows how to manage iconic and future Hall of Fame quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer.
A two-time NFL coach of the Year, Arians has the resume and longevity in the game to manage a celebrity quarterback. He also would be willing to work with Brady to collaborate on an offensive scheme and game plan to suit his skills.
“Bruce Arians has coached those guys at the very top,” ESPN’s Louis Riddick said. “Byron Leftwich, Tom Moore and all these guys on the offensive side of ball have dealt with and been around bigger than life players.
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“That’s a very unique situation for the coaches and Tom Brady himself. As much as he has nothing, and I mean nothing, to prove to anyone … that pressure after 20 years, I don’t care who you are, you may want to change."
It seems surreal, Brady and the Bucs. The matinee-idol looks. The supermodel wife, Gisele Bundchen. All that.
But if you think about it, this can really work.
Look, there have been a lot of iconic NFL quarterbacks where the second acts fell flat.
Joe Montana took the Chiefs to the AFC Championship game after leaving the 49ers. Brett Favre got just as close with the Vikings. But Joe Namath flamed out with the Rams, and Johnny Unitas did the same with the Chargers.
But this could be more like what Manning experienced when he let the Colts. Bucs quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen was with Manning in the Colts facility, tears filling his eyes before he walked to the podium to say goodbye.
But Manning had no regrets. Even with diminished skills, he went to the Broncos, loved living in Denver, met new teammates, went to two Super Bowls and won another ring.
The Bucs organization knows nothing but runaway brides: Bo Jackson, Bill Parcells (twice), Steve Spurrier, Jimmy Johnson, Brett Favre, Jake Plummer, even Chip Kelly. They all left the Bucs at the altar.
Finally, an engagement ended in marriage.
As Tuesday unfolded, the Bucs’ other options at quarterback disappeared one by one. Teddy Bridgewater reached a deal with Carolina. Philip Rivers joined the Colts. Jameis Winston remained in touch with the Bucs.
But there has been a feeling around the Bucs that this was going to happen all along.
With the Chargers, Brady would be in the AFC West with the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes. He’s not afraid of them, but he would have to go through them.
Ironically, the Bucs play that division in 2020, but their game against the Chiefs and Broncos will be at Raymond James Stadium.
The Glazers have longed for their team to be relevant again. They haven’t been able to win their way back to the top.
The Bucs have been longing for a culture change. Brady is the culture change. As one coach described it, the organization needed this. Brady will make the players work harder. The locker room will be cleaner, the hotels will be nicer and the travel will be faster.
Of course, Brady’s legacy is cemented. He has nothing to prove.
But as if this wasn’t a big enough challenge, there is this: No team has won a Super Bowl in its hometown.
Super Bowl 55 is in Tampa this season.