TAMPA — And on the first day, Tom Brady brought back relevance.
Just like that, the Buccaneers are consequential again. Twelve years of disappointment brushed aside by a quarterback with enough star power to illuminate a franchise.
There’s your first miracle comeback. By simply signing a two-year contract, Tom Terrific has already done what Greg Schiano, Lovie Smith, Dirk Koetter, Josh Freeman, Gerald McCoy and Jameis Winston could not do. He made you care again. Or at least pay attention again.
And for now, that’s enough.
There will be plenty of time to worry about how Brady fits into Bruce Arians’ playbook or how a soon-to-be 43-year-old quarterback performs in the pocket. But today, even if you question the wisdom of this all-in gambit, you should be reflecting on the audacity of the move.
Brady is a six-time Super Bowl champion with more victories on his resume than any quarterback who has ever played the game. And when the rest of the world was certain he would never leave New England, the Bucs convinced him this was the final uniform he should wear.
So do not confuse this with Johnny Unitas in San Diego or Joe Montana in Kansas City or Brett Favre in Minnesota. Those legends were being nudged toward the door for one reason or another. Brady made this call on his own.
He could have gotten similar money in New England, he could have stayed tethered to a Hall of Fame-bound coach, he could have finished his career in front of adoring fans, and yet he decided his best chance for a seventh Super Bowl was in Tampa Bay.
How often does that happen around here?
The Rays are one of the best-run franchises in baseball, but they are not a destination spot for free agents. The Lightning might be the best-run franchise in any sport, but their biggest stars have always been homegrown. And the Bucs? They’re the team quarterbacks flee.
Yet this time, the legend chose us. And even if this is merely the coda to a career, Tampa Bay will never quite look the same.
“Everything changes the day he walks in the building because he is going to set the bar so much higher than it’s ever been," said NFL on CBS analyst and longtime quarterback Rich Gannon. “The sense of urgency will change for everyone. If you don’t do your job, you’re not going to have a job. That goes for the trainer, for the people in the dining room, the guy who cuts film, the PR guy, the assistant coaches.
“It will be a different standard from now on. He’s not going to tolerate someone being two minutes late to a meeting or a second-year receiver coming to the huddle and not knowing his assignment. He’s going to force everybody to raise their game. That’s what Peyton Manning did in Denver, and that’s what you’re going to see happen in Tampa."
That’s what $50 million has bought the Bucs.
It has bought them higher expectations, greater ticket sales and a grander spotlight. It has bought them credibility with fans, attention from television networks and curiosity around the globe. And that’s just the ancillary benefits.
On the field, it has bought them a quarterback who doesn’t run as well, throw as far or stand as tall in the pocket as Jameis Winston. But if you want to understand the difference beyond the won-loss percentage, chew on these numbers:
In 72 career regular-season games, Winston has thrown three interceptions or more 11 times.
In 285 career regular-season games, Brady has thrown three interceptions or more eight times.
Of course, you know there is no such thing as a sure bet in sports. And as sterling as Brady’s career has been, there are still hefty odds when you’re talking about a player of this age switching locker rooms after two decades.
And when you think about it, that explains Brady’s stature as much as anything else. What other quarterback would ever cause this kind of commotion when switching teams in the season of his 43rd birthday?
Brady is one-of-a-kind.
And as of today, he’s yours, Tampa Bay.