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If Tom Brady retires, Bucs again will look for a free-agent quarterback

“We went down that road two years ago,” Bruce Arians said, “and there’s Tom Brady.”
Tom Brady (12) walks off the field following the Bucs' loss to the Rams in an NFC division playoff game Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
Tom Brady (12) walks off the field following the Bucs' loss to the Rams in an NFC division playoff game Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Jan. 24|Updated Jan. 25

TAMPA — If Tom Brady retires, the Bucs will take a hard look at free agency to determine whether they can find another veteran quarterback, head coach Bruce Arians said Monday.

Other than Brady, Tampa Bay has only one other quarterback under contract ― second-year pro and former Florida Gators star Kyle Trask, who was inactive for every game as a rookie.

Backup Blaine Gabbert and practice-squad quarterback Ryan Griffin are set to become free agents in March.

Arians was asked, should Brady retire, is it likely the next Bucs quarterback is already on the roster?

“I’d be comfortable if it is,” Arians said, “I like what we have. But again, you never know what’s behind Door No. 2. We went down that road two years ago, and there’s Tom Brady.”

Related: Rob Gronkowski says he’ll let his mind clear, body heal before deciding on future

Following the 2019 season, the Bucs were considering re-signing Jameis Winston after five seasons. But Arians was insistent on waiting to explore other options, not really expecting Brady to leave New England after 20 seasons.

The Bucs did their homework, with quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen evaluating possible free-agent quarterbacks such as Brady, Philip Rivers and Teddy Bridgewater.

“We do that with every position,” Arians said. “The quarterback, obviously, you start there. Again, see where we’re heading and wait and see what Tom does. But we’ll be doing our homework, that’s for sure.”

There are several potential options at quarterback. Russell Wilson made noise last season about leaving the Seahawks. If the Packers decide to part with Aaron Rodgers, it is unlikely they would trade him to an NFC opponent. Deshaun Watson still wants out of his situation with the Texans but faces more civil litigation and possible sanctions from the league.

As for Brady’s decision, don’t expect the Bucs to push for a quick answer.

The Bucs believe there’s a 50-50 chance Brady, 44, returns to play next season, even though he has consistently said he would like to play until he is 45. The team isn’t pushing for a quick answer.

“I haven’t talked to him yet,” Arians said. “Take all the time he needs, and we’ll see.”

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However, perhaps in an effort to reassure Brady of continuity, Arians said, “there would be a really good chance” he would resume play-calling duties should offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich be hired for an NFL head-coaching job.

Quarterback Tom Brady, right, and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich are seen on the field just prior to Sunday's game.
Quarterback Tom Brady, right, and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich are seen on the field just prior to Sunday's game. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

“I’ve gone through a number of different scenarios in the last few weeks just in case, and we’ll have to wait and see,” Arians said. “It would be a number of different things, just who is on this staff and what we’re doing with compiling it. Doing the meeting each day and all those types of things that go with it. I wouldn’t be doing all of that. It’s just a matter of who and what happens in the next few weeks, how to put that staff together.”

Larry Foote is a good candidate to take over as defensive coordinator if Todd Bowles should get a head-coaching job. Things aren’t as clear cut if Leftwich leaves. Arians is very high on Thad Lewis, a former Duke quarterback who played with at least a half-dozen NFL teams.

There’s also assistant head coach Harold Goodwin and Christensen, who can take on additional roles.

Arians told the Bucs when he was hired that he wouldn’t be calling plays due in part to health reasons. It’s clear if he takes over the offensive play-calling again, he will need help.

Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp (10) hauls in a long pass from quarterback Matthew Stafford to help set up the winning field goal Sunday.
Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp (10) hauls in a long pass from quarterback Matthew Stafford to help set up the winning field goal Sunday. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Brady also may want to some assurances about the supporting cast that will return. Eleven of the Bucs’ 22 starters from Sunday’s game are free agents, including running back Leonard Fournette, tight end Rob Gronkowski, center Ryan Jensen, guard Alex Cappa, receiver Chris Godwin and cornerback Carlton Davis, among others.

“It’s a reload like it is every year,” Arians said. “Our (priority) in free agency will be our guys, see how many that we can get back and then build a team from there. I always look forward to that part of it, and then the draft. Each year is so different and so new. Last year, to get everybody back was amazing. I doubt we can do it all again this year, but we’re sure going to give it our best.’

The best thing for the Bucs would be to bring back Brady, who led the NFL with 5,316 yards and 43 touchdowns during the regular season. But if he doesn’t return, Arians believes Brady’s work ethic will have a lasting impression on the organization long after he is gone.

“I think once you start rebuilding the team and the core guys that are still here, they’re not going to forget that, that’s for sure,” Arians said. “There will be a different sense of urgency, I think, coming into (organized team activities) and minicamp as we put the team together.”

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