TAMPA — Joe Montana had some time on the clock. That’s why the quarterback who put four Super Bowl trophies in the case for the 49ers in 13 seasons was still dangerous when he arrived in Kansas City in 1993.
At 37, Montana had missed most of the previous two seasons after tearing the flexor tendon off his right (throwing) elbow. But he always won as much with his head as his arm. Even so, switching cities and sidelines isn’t always as seamless as the great ones make it appear.
Montana was fortunate. Former 49ers quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett was the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator, and the West Coast offense had taken root on the plains.
Everything else, however, was different. The hardest part? “Getting used to new teammates and working with new receivers,” Montana said Wednesday.
Perhaps no one can appreciate what Tom Brady is attempting to do by leaving the Patriots after 20 seasons to join the Bucs more than Montana. In his first year in Kansas City, Montana steered the Chiefs to the AFC Championship Game, where they lost to the Bills.
“There’s always pressure to perform, but it’s mostly internal,” Montana said. “(Brady) will want to be as good as he always was, but that’s just how great players are made up inside.”
Many believe that the pressure for Brady, 42, will be adapting to Bruce Arians’ vertical offense. Is Brady’s arm still strong enough to get the ball downfield? Can the Bucs protect him with five eligible receivers spreading the field on every play?
But one reason Brady selected to leave New England for Tampa Bay is that he knows Arians, offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen and special assistant Tom Moore will collaborate with him on how to attack defenses.
“It’s going to be downhill play-action pass and then intermediate routes,” ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky said. “Ten-, 15-, 20-yard throws. Tom Brady’s arm? It’s plenty strong enough to still operate. Now that’s something Tom Brady has really started to do a bunch on the back end of his career in New England, with the hardball play-action stuff, and (he) has a great level of comfort with it. This is not something that’s going to be dropping back seven steps and getting hit 30 times a game and everyone going, ‘I told you so.’ Bruce Arians is going to sit down and figure out what Brady really likes to do, what he doesn’t want to do.
“Scheme-wise, it is a really, really good fit, contrary to what some people think for Tom Brady and Bruce Arians.”
The numbers would seem to bear that out. Jameis Winston led the NFL last season with 99 pass attempts of at least 20 yards. His deep-throw rate of 15.8 percent was the fourth highest in the league, while Brady‘s 10.1 percent ranked 21st.
But Winston’s receivers had trouble getting separation. Winston’s deep-ball rate was 11.1 percent in 2018, 14.3 percent in 2017 and 12.2 percent in 2016. Overall, Brady last season went 26 of 67 passing on deep attempts for 749 yards, seven touchdowns, three interceptions and a passer rating of 97.2.
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It’s a lot easier for Brady to adapt to Arians’ offense and then tweak it than it is to ask 20 other players at different levels of their careers to learn the Patriots’ offense. There is bound to be give and take, push and pull.
“Look, (Brady is) like Peyton (Manning),” Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young said on ESPN on Wednesday. “He’s probably already got the playbook. He’s probably going to have half of it memorized before he even signs the thing. He’ll get the guys down there to meet, the receivers to come together. You think those guys won’t show up at the park and start throwing the ball with Tom Brady? He knows that everyone is going to be watching for his decline, (for him) to fail.
“No matter how truncated the season is, how little they can get together, he will not show up to opening day not ready. He’ll be laser ready to play football.”
If all he does is protect the ball, Brady still could take the Bucs far. Since he arrived as the first overall pick in the 2015 draft, Winston has 23 more turnovers than any other player in the NFL. Brady had just over 1 percent of his pass attempts intercepted last year.
The Bucs, however, need to make sure they don’t overburden Brady with game planning. Brady has his own way of preparing for games, and though collaboration is great, you can’t turn him into the offensive coordinator.
Kurt Warner reached two Super Bowls with the St. Louis Rams, winning one. He went back again with the Cardinals, losing to the Steelers with Arians calling plays for Ben Roethlisberger. But Warner warned that switching offensive systems and being too responsible for play calling and game plans can be tough.
“That was one of the things that really hurt me and forced me to retire in Arizona,” Warner told the Los Angeles Times. “Yeah, they gave me more and more ownership of what we were doing. But with that ownership came so much time and effort and game planning, and coaching, and teaching, and trying to be ready to carry a franchise. Because we weren’t good enough to win different ways.
“All of that stuff starts to weigh on you. … I couldn’t enjoy the Sundays because as soon as it was over, it was like, ‘Okay, now you’ve got to follow that up and you’ve got to do it again next week.’ ”
The Bucs need to strike a balance with Brady. But overall, Arians’ offense won’t be a bad fit for him.