TAMPA — Anyone who watched Tom Brady last season with the New England Patriots knew something was wrong. It wasn’t his arm, which was plenty strong. He still had the fire and passion for the game. But there was something holding him back.
It was a lack of speed and skill around him, players he couldn’t elevate.
“I think Tom’s frustration level is what I think we all saw,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said. “We really didn’t know how big a frustration level that was especially when we watched him on the sideline last year. That’s why he’s here now.”
Brady is surrounded by talent. In fact, the Bucs are going to need a bigger boat.
Tampa Bay reached an agreement on a one-year deal with former Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette on Wednesday night, giving Brady an established two-time 1,000-yard rusher who caught 76 passes last season.
Brady, 43, has been the catalyst for improvement of the Bucs. He has attracted established stars to Tampa Bay the way the beach draws sunbathers.
First, he talked 31-year-old tight end Rob Gronkowski out of retirement, and the Bucs traded for his rights from New England.
Then, the Bucs added 32-year-old running back LeSean McCoy, who was part of the Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl team.
They joined an already star-studded collection of pass catchers that include Pro Bowl receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, tight ends O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate, and running back Ronald Jones. He already has improved receivers Scotty Miller and Justin Watson.
At 6-foot, 228 pounds, Fournette gives the Bucs a powerful runner and an ascending player who is only 25 years old. Released by the Jaguars earlier this week, he cleared waivers Tuesday and was willing to accept a one-year prove deal, allowing him to become a free agent again in 2021. Once he arrives in Tampa, he will need several days to go through the COVID-19 protocol before he can take a physical and officially sign with the team.
The Bucs will need to renegotiate some contracts in order to create enough salary cap room to sign Fournette.
But with Brady, Gronk and Arians, this is not an organization that is buying green bananas. Perhaps no team in the NFL has more of a win now — right now — mantra in 2020 than the Bucs.
On Monday, they signed veteran place-kicker Ryan Succop to a $1.05 million contract and he almost certainly will replace wayward second-year kicker Matt Gay.
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The Bucs suddenly have a logjam at running back. In addition to Jones and McCoy, Dare Ogunbowale is a former special teams captain. The Bucs also drafted Vanderbilt running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn in the third round and Louisiana’s Raymond Calais in the seventh round.
On the surface, it would appear that Ogunbowale may be the odd man out. But neither Jones nor McCoy play special teams.
The Bucs were 27th in the NFL in rushing last season with a 3.7-yard average. In fact, they haven’t had a player rush for at least 1,000 yards since Doug Martin in 2015. Fournette could end that bleak streak.
Running the ball will keep the heat off Brady and the Bucs offensive line, allowing play-action to work so he can get the ball downfield to his explosive receivers and tight ends.
Shortly after agreeing to terms with the Bucs, Fournette’s representatives at Roc Nation posted a picture of him in a No. 27 Bucs jersey. That has been Jones’ number.
All that will get sorted out in the next few days. But Brady and the Bucs have nothing to complain about.
“These guys (are who) you go to battle with and you compete hard with,” Brady said last week following a scrimmage at Raymond James Stadium. “You gain a different level of love for them as people because you see the way they compete.”
The Bucs already had become a chic pick to win the NFC. They begin the 2020 season at New Orleans on Sept. 13.
When Brady walks into the huddle, however, he will face a new problem: how does he keep all these players happy?