TAMPA ― By 8 o’clock the morning after the Bucs’ win in Super Bowl 55, Clyde Christensen had been awake for just a short time and was enjoying a visit from his grandchildren. It had been only four or five hours since the quarterbacks coach had left the team’s postgame party at the Florida Aquarium.
That’s when Christensen’s phone lit up with a FaceTime call from Tom Brady.
“He said, ‘Hey, I didn’t see you after the game. I just wanted to tell you thanks and what a great journey and how much I appreciated everything you did,’” Christensen said.
“The second thing he said: ‘I was just sitting here thinking, and I think we can really be better next year. I think we’re going to be a better team.’ He was already excited about the next year. It’s amazing. That’s how his mind works.”
It is hard to repeat as Super Bowl champs, something that’s only happened twice since the league introduced the salary cap in 1994. Not coincidentally, the last team to do it was the 2003-04 Patriots, quarterbacked by ― you guessed it ― Brady.
For the rest of the NFL, a return trip to the title game is anything but a good possibility. In fact, since 1988, nine teams that won the Super Bowl failed to even reach the playoffs the next season.
A lot of it has to do with the quarterbacks and a natural lack of focus resulting from contract negotiations, endorsement opportunities and other outside forces competing for their time.
Rest assured, that will not be the case in Tampa Bay next season.
If you doubt Brady, be prepared to sweep up after his parade.
“I think the thing about him is the phone call,” Christensen said. “He’s thinking about it the next morning. He’s barely been in a couple hours, and he’s thinking about it the next morning.
“The thing that happens is, teams get distracted. Everyone is trying to make a little more money. Everyone has something going. Some have got a little book deal. They’ve got radio shows going. That doesn’t happen to the Bradys or the Mannings of the world. They don’t get distracted. They don’t get off track.”
Of course, Brady has an injury to recover from this offseason. He recently underwent a minor surgical procedure on his left knee. Coach Bruce Arians said Brady may not be ready to resume workouts until June, but some think it may be sooner than that.
“He was not 100 percent, no,” Christensen said. “Bothering him? That would be too strong of a term. But it just nagged him, I think. It was more of a hassle than pain.”
Assuming there are no complications with the knee, you can expect Brady to be conducting his own off-season workouts as quickly as possible.
Brady’s career is the exception, something that is unrivaled among NFL quarterbacks. Ten Super Bowl appearances in 21 seasons. Seven Lombardi Trophies.
The fact that he just accomplished his latest feat with a new team, new offense and during a pandemic that prevented offseason workouts or preseason games only adds to Brady’s greatness.
Unlike quarterbacks such as Russell Wilson, who signed a four-year, $140 million extension in 2019, Brady has always been willing to accept below-market deals to help his team’s salary-cap situation to acquire players.
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Be honest. Even at 43, Brady could certainly command more than the $25 million he will earn in salary ($15 million) and roster bonus ($10 million). By winning the Super Bowl, he also has $3.375 million that will count against the cap in likely-to-be-earned incentives for 2021.
If the Bucs added another year at $25 million to Brady’s contract for 2022, they could convert the $10 million roster bonus into a signing bonus and spread it out over the next two seasons, lowering his salary-cap value by $5 million in 2021.
That move alone may enable the Bucs to retain free agent placekicker Ryan Succop, for example.
The other part of the Brady factor is the ability to retain and possibly attract free agents.
It’s unlikely the Bucs will be able to re-sign the two dozen or so players set to hit the free-agent market on March 17.
But remember, after Brady signed last year, the Bucs acquired the rights to Rob Gronkowski in a trade from New England and signed running backs LeSean McCoy and Leonard Fournette.
The final piece came midway through the season when receiver Antonio Brown signed a cap-friendly, incentive-laden deal with the Bucs after serving an eight-game suspension.
Unless Gronkowski or Brown suddenly generate a robust free-agent market, they’re likely to want to continue to play in Tampa Bay with Brady.
And because of his history of attracting free agents, the Bucs will likely be in a good position to replace some of those players with other veterans wanting to play with Brady and possibly win a Super Bowl ring.
“It’s his leadership and his ability to get his team in these types of games,” offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich said. “He’s played in a lot of championship games, and it starts with leadership from day one to make sure everybody understands the importance of why we do everything day in and day out to be in these types of moments. I just think the leadership he brings to our team from being in these moments are things we’ve benefitted from.”
Super Bowls aside, Brady has been in an NFL-record 14 conference championship games in his career.
That record of consistency means the Bucs absolutely have a chance to at least play for a chance to repeat as Super Bowl champions.
“That’s the thing with him. All of a sudden, the percentages change in your favor,” Christensen said. “You start with, it’s hard to get back to the playoffs after you’ve won or lost a Super Bowl. Then you compare that to Brady, where about 75 percent of the time he makes the (conference) championship game. He’s a statistics reverser. He trumps the normal statistics.
“You say, ‘Okay, except, it’s Tom Brady.’ You kind of have to pull him out, because he’s an outlier.”