TAMPA — It wasn’t a boast, and it wasn’t a guarantee. More of a confirmation, really, than anything else.
When you sign a quarterback who is soon to turn 43, you are saying the future is now. And that means you think your team is a Super Bowl contender.
Even if the franchise hasn’t won a playoff game in 17 seasons. Even if it hasn’t qualified for the playoffs in the past 12 years. Even if you’re coming off a 7-9 record.
That’s how we should interpret the Tom Brady signing in Tampa Bay, right?
“I think so," Bucs coach Bruce Arians said. “The last meeting we had as a football team, I think every single player in the room believed they should have been in the playoffs, and the major factor was our turnover ratio. We didn’t get enough turnovers and we turned it over way too many times.
“I don’t think talent will be the issue whether we make the playoffs or not. Now the Super Bowl, there’s some luck that comes with that. Like staying healthy and some other things. But talent will not be an issue to keep us out of the playoffs, no."
No pressure there, eh Tom? Just reverse a decade’s worth of losing.
As obvious as it may seem to grab one of history’s greatest quarterbacks when he becomes available, there is still the question of whether Brady and the Bucs offense are simpatico. And how much will the quarterback and coach have to adjust to find their happy place?
For instance, Arians likes to throw the ball downfield. A lot. Among quarterbacks who had at least 300 passes last season, Jameis Winston led the NFL with an average target 10.4 yards downfield. Brady was 20th in the league with an average depth of 7.6 yards.
Then there’s the question of protection. Winston was in the top 10 in the league in the number of times he got hit last season. Brady was in the middle of the pack. If you go by percentage and adjust for their number of dropbacks, Brady would theoretically have been hit an extra dozen times in Tampa Bay. That may not sound like much over the course of a season, but there is an accumulation factor at that age.
These numbers, however, are not necessarily ripe for extrapolation.
Did Winston get hit more because he tried to extend plays by scrambling? Absolutely. Brady, meanwhile, makes decisions and gets rid of the ball quicker than most. The league average for the past seven seasons is 2.7 seconds in the pocket. Brady has been between 2.46 seconds and 2.61 seconds that entire time.
And while it’s true 67 percent of Brady’s passes last season traveled fewer than 10 yards in the air (compared to 63 percent for the league average and 51 percent for Winston), that was probably more a reflection of the game plan and talent in New England in 2019.
Arians said it’s a fallacy to assume Brady doesn’t have the arm to fit in his system.
“I think the perception is just wrong," he said. “I thought his deep ball was outstanding last year. Through their play-action game, they hit a lot of deep balls.
“We do have reads that start deep and come short. I’ve had a couple quarterbacks that just keep looking deep. They won’t throw the check-down. (Assistant coach) Tom Moore has the best saying in the world: You never go broke putting money in the bank. Take the damn check-down. I don’t think you have to teach Tom that."
You would have to assume Brady and Arians have already had these conversations. For a quarterback whose career has been built on decision-making, there is no way Brady would have chosen Tampa Bay without studying Arians’ offense and having confidence in his ability to run it.
“There are some really talented players on this offense who have very unique skill sets," Brady said. “It’s my responsibility — I have one ball and I’ve got to be able to deliver that ball to the guy who can do something with it."
When you consider this signing in the context of Arians’ personality, it makes perfect sense.
As usual, he’s going deep.