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Bucs don’t need Tom Brady to be a passing savior, just the anti-Jameis

John Romano | A year after Tampa Bay set a franchise record for scoring, the team would rather have stability on offense.
It's not the records or the passing yards the Bucs need from Tom Brady. It's his ability to win. To know when to gamble and when to play it safe.
It's not the records or the passing yards the Bucs need from Tom Brady. It's his ability to win. To know when to gamble and when to play it safe. [ DAVID J. PHILLIP | AP ]
Published Mar. 18, 2020

TAMPA — What do you get when the NFL’s most prolific passing offense adds history’s most accomplished quarterback?

If all goes well, fewer yards and maybe even fewer points.

The Buccaneers do not need Tom Brady to outgun Jameis Winston. In fact, if Brady surpasses Winston’s 5,109 yards from 2019, then something has likely gone very wrong.

No team in the league threw for more yards than Tampa Bay did last season. And that was no fluke. For the past four seasons, the Bucs have thrown for more yards than any NFL team. And all it’s gotten fans is a 26-38 record and no postseason appearances.

Related: New rules may delay Tom Brady’s official signing with Bucs

The correlation between success and gobs of passing yards is tenuous at best, and may even be counterintuitive. A lot of teams go into passing mode because they’re constantly chasing the lead for one reason or another.

And that’s the allure of Brady. He’s not bringing a bigger arm, he’s bringing a more calculated approach.

Tampa Bay finished with a franchise record 458 points last season and still had a losing record. That’s what happens when your quarterback constantly gives up field position and touchdowns on interceptions.

Here’s what I mean:

The average NFL defense gave up 22.8 points per game in 2019. The Bucs defense exceeded that average in 12 games. Not good, right? But the caveat is Tampa Bay’s offense was giving up an average of 3.1 turnovers in those games. In the four games where the defense gave up 22 points or fewer, the Bucs only averaged one turnover.

It doesn’t take a mathematician to see the connection. When Winston had a lot of turnovers, the Bucs defense paid the price.

Which brings us, and the Bucs, to Brady, assuming he ever signs that apparent $30 million a year contract.

Related: Jameis Winston’s free agency appears to be unprecedented

There are already rumblings about whether Brady’s arm strength, particularly when he will be going into the season at age 43, is a match for Bruce Arians’ downfield attack. It probably isn’t, but I don’t think that matters. Brady’s arm should be plenty strong enough to make the throws that matter, and the Bucs will adjust accordingly.

Because, ultimately, the point is not to throw for 300 yards or hang 30 on the scoreboard. The point is to win. And nobody has done that better than Brady. So if that means utilizing the tight ends and running backs more on shorter routes, the Bucs will do that. If it means throwing the ball away more, Brady will do that. If it means winning 24-20, the Bucs will shoot for that.

Remember when I said the Bucs have thrown for more yards than any NFL team since 2016? The exact total is 18,262. Brady and New England are sixth on that list with 16,945 yards. But here’s the real difference:

Tampa Bay had 88 interceptions in that span; the Patriots had 30. Also, the Patriots won about twice as many games.

None of this means that Brady is a miracle worker. His numbers went down last season when the Patriots had a shaky offensive line and limited receiving options. And, as everyone knows, his biological clock is sounding more like a grandfather clock these days.

Related: We’re about to discover if we’ve been too harsh on Jameis Winston

But he instantly gets offensive upgrades with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin at receiver. He could also turn O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate into even bigger weapons. The Bucs probably need a new right tackle and a proven receiver out of the backfield, but they still have room under the salary cap and plenty of time to shop.

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There is no guarantee that Brady can deliver on all of this hope because there is no precedent for a quarterback of that age to play an entire season under the center. And certainly not for a playoff contender.

But even with that potential warning sign, the Bucs still craved the one thing Winston lacked and Brady has always delivered:

A more measured and nuanced approach to winning.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.