TAMPA — Tom Brady celebrated his 21st anniversary of being drafted with a coming-of-age tweet.
“Big day. My NFL career can legally buy a beer.”
Brady doesn’t seem to be growing tired of football, much less growing old. But like it or not, he will be 44 in August and is much closer to the end of his career than the beginning.
Wouldn’t this be the perfect time for the Bucs to draft his eventual successor?
Then again, the Bucs are trying to win back-to-back Super Bowls with Brady. Their window to win another championship is more of a porthole.
Furthermore, quarterback mobility is all the rage and Brady started it.
Not his movement in the pocket. Brady stands in one place so long that grass won’t grow under his feet. We’re talking about that type of mobility as a free agent that brought Brady to Tampa Bay in the first place.
It’s what may prompt Aaron Rodgers to one day take his game from Green Bay to somewhere other than Jeopardy! It’s what made the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson willing to waive his no-trade clause for four teams and had Deshaun Watson asking to be dealt from Houston prior to being dogged by off-field troubles.
The Rams swapped Jared Goff to the Lions for Matthew Stafford. A year ago, Philip Rivers left the Chargers for the Colts. Teddy Bridgewater went from the Saints to the Panthers. Jameis Winston went from the Bucs to New Orleans. Cam Newton wound up in New England.
“I think it’s an interesting time,” said John Spytek, the Bucs’ director of player personnel. “Do you need to get a quarterback because Tom is not going to be here forever? Well, how much longer is he going to play? We got Tom out of nowhere, so could you do it again?
“Now you’re starting to see a lot more and more quarterbacks move or wanting to move. Does that change things?”
Younger not always better
For an organization that has a career boneyard from quarterbacks selected high in the NFL draft, it may not be a coincidence that both Super Bowls were won by veteran free agents: Brad Johnson and Brady.
The Bucs currently have only two quarterbacks under contract: Brady and seventh-year pro Ryan Griffin. Now 31, Griffin has attempted only four regular-season passes and his career highlight is steadying an intoxicated Brady after the Super Bowl boat parade.
The Bucs have said they intend to re-sign backup Blaine Gabbert, 31, giving them the oldest quarterback room in the NFL again in 2021.
The Patriots made several attempts to draft Brady’s successor in New England but he outlasted all of them.
Rodgers was so dismayed by the Packers’ decision last year to draft Utah State quarterback Jordan Love that he went out and had an MVP season.
“It’s a tough call to make,” Spytek said. “I can certainly understand why the Packers did what they did last year, but at the same time, you’re like well, how much did that help you win a game like the NFC Championship? But it had already worked for them once (when Rodgers replaced Brett Favre). If you’re (Bucs general manger) Jason (Licht) or you’re (GM) Brian Gutekunst up there in Green Bay, you kind of have a responsibility to the franchise to keep it set up for years to come and there’s no better way to do that than to have a quarterback ready to go when you need him.
“But I don’t know ... it just seems like some of these quarterbacks that once only played for 15 years somewhere then left, they might move around a little more. ... Guys just aren’t just trying to play their entire careers in one place anymore.”
Spytek worked under John Elway in Denver as a scout before coming to Tampa Bay five years ago. He saw what happened after the Broncos won Super Bowl 50 over the Panthers behind Peyton Manning.
Since Manning retired, the Broncos have failed to replace him despite numerous trades and draft picks.
“It’s astounding to look back at those Denver teams and realize there’s two guys left on those Broncos teams,” Spytek said. “There’s Von Miller and Brandon McManus. And that was only five years ago. ... It ends pretty quick.”
The problem is that the Bucs own the 32nd pick in the NFL draft. They’re not in range to select one of the top-tier quarterbacks. In fact, they hope to never be again because it typically means you’ve lost 12 or 13 games the previous year.
A picky situation
So where does that leave the Bucs?
“You want everybody to be onboard and the guy has got to have the right mindset,” Licht said. “He’s got to be obviously talented throwing the ball, but he’s got to be someone that we all feel comfortable with above the neck. So there’s always positives to drafting a quarterback if those things align.”
They have needs on the defensive and offensive line. They need another edge rusher at outside linebacker.
If the Bucs want to select a quarterback in this year’s draft, at best they would be considering players such as Florida’s Kyle Trask and Stanford’s Davis Mills.
Another option is to wait until the middle rounds and select a developmental project, such as Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond or Wake Forest’s Jamie Newman.
“In the personnel department, we’re more cognizant than anyone else, how do we win now but how do we set it up for the future, too?” Spytek said. “I don’t know a better way to do it than in the draft.
“I feel like people kind of notice our roster now because we won. We always felt we had a good roster and that’s one of the reasons (Brady) came here. He wasn’t going to a team that wasn’t good.”
Spytek termed the Bucs’ pursuit of Brady “Operation Shoeless Joe Jackson,” using the Field of Dreams anthem of “If you build it, he will come.”
Quarterbacks are on the move. Drafting and developing a quarterback may be tougher than luring a great one from another team.
“It’s changed,” Spytek said. “It really has. Again, I may be wrong, but it almost seems like we’re maybe just on the cusp of a new way of thinking and a new way of player movement.”
April 29: Round 1, 8 p.m
April 30: Rounds 2-3, 7 p.m.
May 1: Rounds 4-7, noon
TV/streaming: ESPN, ABC, NFL Network
Bucs picks: 32nd overall (Day 1); 64th and 95th (Day 2); and 137th, 176th, 217th, 251st, 259th (Day 3)
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