If he’s healthy, don’t expect Bucs to part ways with Antonio Brown in three weeks

The Bucs are 5-0 with Brown in the lineup this season and Tom Brady will want him back for the stretch run.
Wide receiver Antonio Brown is one of Tom Brady's favorite targets and the Bucs are unbeaten with him in the lineup this season.
Wide receiver Antonio Brown is one of Tom Brady's favorite targets and the Bucs are unbeaten with him in the lineup this season. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Dec. 4, 2021

TAMPA — No one has worked harder for the Bucs at beating coronavirus than Bruce Arians.

A three-time cancer survivor, the 69-year-old Arians warned his team before the start of the 2020 season that they had better not infect him or 83-year-old offensive assistant Tom Moore.

“If any of you ... get me or Tom (Moore) sick, I’ve got a gun, I’m going to shoot you in the knees,” Arians is quoted as saying in A Season in the Sun: Bruce Arians, Tom Brady, and the Inside Story of the Making of a Champion by Lars Anderson.

On Friday, Arians said he would not address the futures of receiver Antonio Brown and safety Mike Edwards, suspended three games by the NFL for using fake vaccination cards, until they return.

Brown is recovering from an ankle injury and would have missed the next two games anyway. Both players, who are now vaccinated, are eligible to return in time to prepare for the Dec. 26 game at Carolina.

What will Arians do?

Multiple times after signing Brown following his eight-game suspension by the NFL for violating the league’s conduct policy last season, Arians said he had a zero-tolerance policy for the veteran receiver. But if Arians was going to cut ties with Brown, he likely would have done so after Thursday’s suspensions were announced.

Edwards, meanwhile, has never had any off-field problems.

There are a few other notable factors when it comes to Brown.

When healthy, he’s still a talented player who makes the passing game run a lot smoother when teams can’t always double Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. And the Bucs are 5-0 with him this season.

But they also can win without Brown. Tampa Bay proved that in the NFC Championship Game at Green Bay last season. With Brown sidelined by a knee injury, who made the biggest play of the 2020 season? Scotty Miller, whose touchdown reception with seconds remaining in the first half gave the Bucs a comfortable lead.

But the only thing that matters in Arians’ decision-making is this: What does Tom Brady want?

Brady wants Brown back in the lineup because he gives the Bucs the best chance to win and perhaps repeat as Super Bowl champions.

The only thing that may change that is if Brown’s injury, which involves the heel, doesn’t improve and the Bucs decide just to let him finish the season on injured reserve. Brown would receive what he’s owed and the Bucs can re-evaluate his future with the team in the offseason.

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Managing workloads

Bucs quarterback Tom Brady (12) and coach Bruce Arians talk on the sideline during the fourth quarter of an Oct. 24 game against the Bears.
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady (12) and coach Bruce Arians talk on the sideline during the fourth quarter of an Oct. 24 game against the Bears. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

A 17-game season isn’t doing the oldest team in the NFL any favors.

The Bucs could use a few lopsided victories to help manage the workload of some of their veteran players, including the 44-year-old Brady.

But barring big leads in the fourth quarter, the rest will come during the week with days off from practice. Brady is now among the veteran players taking at least one day off from workouts during the week.

“Game snaps? No, more practice snaps,” Arians said when asked how he would manage the workload down the stretch. “Now if we get a lead, that’s different. Like we’ve gotten Tom and some guys out in the fourth quarter so far. But, no, we try to limit it all out here (at practice) so that they can go full speed on Sundays.

“January won’t happen if we don’t take care of business now. ... Like last year — we go to Green Bay, we don’t have (Brown), we don’t have Antoine (Winfield Jr.). Guys stepped in and stepped up. You can’t worry about that. You’ve got to win now to make sure you’re in January.”

My Cleats, My Cause

Dee Delaney’s daughter, Madison, is only 18 months old and she’s already glued in tight coverage with the Bucs cornerback.

“Anytime she sees me, she wants to come to me,” Delaney said. “She doesn’t want to go to nobody else. You know, it doesn’t matter if her mom is in the room, she wants to come to me. Like you say, she can feel your energy off you. She wants to hug you. Be up on you. She’s always smiling, laughing and playing so it’s great to be around her.”

The Bucs cornerback will wear power blue shoes with Elmo and his daughter’s name in Sunday’s game at Atlanta, his choice for the NFL’s My Cleats, My Cause initiative. Madison, who has Down syndrome, loves Elmo and gets locked in every time she sees him.

He is raising awareness for Gigi’s Playhouse, a Down syndrome achievement center. “I’ll do my best to represent those guys and my daughter.”

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