TAMPA — With their big-ticket offseason acquisitions — highlighted by signing quarterback Tom Brady — the Bucs changed their identity overnight. With a snap of the fingers, they became Super Bowl contenders, at least on paper.
They also became a lot older at key positions.
This happens when a team goes into win-now mode. And the opportunity to sign the 43-year-old Brady, who brings with him the best resume of any quarterback in NFL history, was too good for the franchise to pass up. Brady’s drawing power brought his favorite target with the Patriots, 31-year-old Rob Gronkowski, out of retirement and most recently lured 32-year-old running back LeSean McCoy to the Bucs.
All three players have Hall of Fame credentials, and it’s not a reach to think they will all be enshrined in Canton. Ohio, one day. But their best days on the football field are likely behind them.
Despite being a physical freak to play the game’s most demanding position at 43, Brady has seen his passing yards, touchdown percentage and quarterback rating drop in recent years. Gronkowski has admitted to having “about” nine surgeries and 20 concussions, so many that he’s lost count, and was so beat up physically that he left the game. And McCoy’s role last season with the Chiefs diminished so much down the stretch that he was inactive for the Super Bowl.
Coach Bruce Arians said that while the Bucs roster may be older, the veteran newcomers bring more than just track records.
“I think it’s how they blend together and their commitment to accountability to each other, on and off the field,” he said. “I think we set a culture last year — I don’t know if I’ve ever been around a bunch of guys that worked any harder than our guys did last year. We need to work smarter and play smarter. I think the additions that we have are veteran, smart players who can help young guys, especially on and off the field.”
They don’t have to be the players they used to be. The bigger question: Do those three have enough left in the tank to break the Bucs out of their 12-year postseason drought and compete for the Super Bowl, which this year will be played at Raymond James Stadium?
“Some things you can’t control,” McCoy said. “If you do everything right and you have the leadership and talent, the desire, guys want to win — anything can happen in this game. But if you have those things, I think the chances that you will succeed are very high. At the end of the day, you can’t control everything. Sometimes the ball may roll this way or that way — not in your favor. But, the ultimate goal is just to play together, help each other out and potentially you get that championship.”
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It’s rare to see a team invest so heavily into acquisitions over 30 years old, and it’s by no means a guarantee for success.
Only two other teams have acquired three players with at least five Pro Bowls on their resume in the same offseason: the 2008 Jets and the 2000 Washington team. Neither made the playoffs.
Washington, looking to make a splash in its second season under owner Daniel Snyder, went out and bought future Hall of Famers like defensive end Bruce Smith, cornerback Deion Sanders and wide receiver Andre Reed. The team faded in the second half of the season, losing six of its last eight to finish 8-8.
The Jets executed a blockbuster trade to acquire a 39-year-old Brett Favre, also signed nine-time Pro Bowl offensive guard Alan Faneca and future Hall of Fame cornerback Ty Law. That team finished 9-7, one game out of the playoff picture.
The Bucs have eight players on their roster 30 or older, including each of the three quarterbacks atop their depth chart. With defensive front seven fixtures Ndamukong Suh (32) and Jason Pierre-Paul (31), the Bucs boast five players with at least a decade of experience.
Last season, the Bucs were the NFL’s fifth-youngest team, according to Football Outsiders, which weights the age of a player with the number of snaps he’s taken to create a snap-weighted age statistic. Tampa Bay’s average weighted age in 2019 was 25.8. The oldest team? Brady’s Patriots at 28.6
The current team age (25.5) of the 78-man training camp roster will increase before the Sept. 13 opener in New Orleans. Many of the younger players will not make the final 53-man cut.
Arians said the additions like Brady, Gronkowski and McCoy can pass along valuable leadership and knowledge to younger players. And there is no way to gauge that other than wins.
Cameron Brate has already lauded what Gronkowski brings to the tight ends in terms of experience and personality. Starter Ronald Jones said McCoy had been helping other running backs since he arrived.
“He’s been contributing, giving tips and pointers since Day 1 he got here,” Jones said. “You know his resume, you know what he’s done for this league and at the running back position, so (I’m) just learning from him day in and day out.”
Arians said that Brady and his personal trainer Alex Guerrero — who subscribe to a personalized sports performance regimen to keep Brady healthy — can help players avoid injuries.
“(They can) help them take care of their bodies, (teach them) how to stay hydrated and all those things to stop simple things like soft tissue injuries,” Arians said. “Tom and Alex are great at that. I think those guys that we’ve added are just a library of information for all these young guys. We have a great sports science staff already, and if they just listen and stay hydrated, it will stop a lot of those things.”
Older and wiser?
Eight Bucs on the current roster are 30 or older:
LB Lavonte David, 30
QB Blaine Gabbert, 30
QB Ryan Griffin, 30
TE Rob Gronkowski, 31
LB Jason Pierre-Paul, 31
RB LeSean McCoy, 32
DL Ndamukong Suh, 33
QB Tom Brady, 43
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.