TAMPA — Count Bruce Arians among those who would be surprised if quarterback Tom Brady didn’t play for the Bucs next season.
Brady will turn 45 in August and has one year remaining on his contract, although the salary-cap hit wouldn’t be too punitive if he decided to retire after 21 seasons.
After passing for a career-high 5,316 yards and leading the NFL with 43 touchdowns this season, there’s no doubt Brady is playing the best football of his career.
A win over the Rams on Sunday would give Brady a chance to play in the conference championship for the 15th time; he is 10-4 in those previous games.
Regardless of how the season ends — and that could impact Brady’s decision — there are other things to consider. The Bucs have a slew of players who will become free agents in March, so it’s unlikely the band can stay together for a third straight year.
Also, Brady’s three children are getting to the age when they are involved in a lot of school activities, and he knows how much his family sacrifices for him to continue to play.
But Arians is basing his belief that Brady will return on how much enthusiasm and love for the game the future Hall of Famer still has.
Each Friday, the Bucs participate in a quarterback challenge judged by their position coach, Clyde Christensen. Brady, Blaine Gabbert, Kyle Trask and Ryan Griffin take turns throwing footballs through padded tackling donuts anchored to moving golf carts and hitting the cross bar on the goal post, among other inventive challenges.
Brady probably wins more than his share, but it’s the sheer competitiveness he still exhibits that has convinced Arians he’s not done.
“The way he was at practice (Friday), I would be shocked if he didn’t (play next year),” Arians said. “You know they have that Friday quarterback challenge, and he came flying out of the locker room, sprinting two or three fields away and couldn’t wait to get into the challenge. He was like a little kid. I would be shocked.”
Regardless of what Brady decides about his future, Arians said he will be back as Bucs coach. He turns 70 on Oct. 3.
Nobody can be like Mike
Mike Evans is on a career trajectory that could wind up on the steps of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Everyone knows he is the only player to have 1,000 yards receiving in eight straight seasons to start his career.
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That kind of consistency is unparalleled, especially at the receiver position. And Evans shows no signs of slowing down.
Perhaps the only thing that has prevented Evans from being considered among the top two to three receivers in the NFL is his unselfishness and desire to win.
Many receivers tend to turn into full-blown divas when they don’t get their touches. But Evans has always put his personal goals and ego aside for team success.
Even so, Evans’ 14 touchdowns during the regular season were second only to the Rams’ Cooper Kupp (16).
With injuries mounting at the receiver position, Evans stepped it up the past two games and produced 15 catches for 206 yards and three touchdowns.
What kind of production would Evans have if the Bucs forced the ball to their No. 1 receiver or he called for more targets?
“Oh my god. Two-thousand yards a year,” Arians said. “He really is something. That’s what makes him so special because he doesn’t do that. But when he is the guy, he rises to the occasion.”
Head coaching update
Todd Bowles was supposed to have interviews with the Bears and Vikings for their head coaching positions ahead of Sunday’s game. He and Byron Leftwich already have interviewed for the Jaguars job.
Regardless of the outcome against the Rams, it would be foolish to accuse either Bowles or Leftwich of being distracted by other opportunities. Both assistants typically arrive to work before 4 a.m. during the week and get their jobs done earlier than most, leaving plenty of time for other things.
Bowles coached the Jets from 2015-18, going 20-44. He will be interviewing the Bears and Vikings as much as they interview him.
“I hope they both get (head coaching jobs),” Arians said. “I think Byron seems to be getting a lot of attention. Todd, if it’s the right ones, he knows what he’s looking for. He knows what it’s going to take.”
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