The 2010 Tampa Bay Buccaneers won 10 games and missed the playoffs on a fifth-level tiebreaker against the Green Bay Packers. It could be argued that the difference between those Bucs playing in the postseason or watching from home came down to a pair of down-to-the-wire losses to their division rivals, the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons won 27-21 in the Georgia Dome in Week Nine when running back LeGarrette Blount's fourth-and-goal run from the two was rejected. Atlanta completed the sweep at Raymond James Stadium in Week 13, winning 28-24 when Josh Freeman's pass from the Falcons' 27 was intercepted with two minutes to play.
In both games, Atlanta cornerback Brent Grimes had a killer fourth-quarter interception. He was the one who victimized Freeman at the in the second game, and he also ended the Bucs' penultimate chance to score in the first contest. Grimes made the Pro Bowl that year – the first of his four trips to Hawaii – and he surely got a lot of votes from the Buccaneers' locker room.
Grimes was 27 at the time, midway through a six-year run in Atlanta that was followed by three fine seasons in Miami. He was in his prime. On Friday, Grimes moved on to his third NFL team, signing a two-year deal with those same Buccaneers to which he did so much damage in 2010. He is now 32, set to turn 33 just before training camp, but the Buccaneers believe their version of Brent Grimes is primed to play as well as he did six years ago.
"He plays like a young guy," said Buccaneers General Manager Jason Licht, who gave the opening remarks at Grimes' introductory press conference on Monday. "He still has a lot of energy. … He's one of those guys. There are certain players that despite maybe being a little bit older than the average, just continue to make plays and that's Brent. He jumps off the film every time you put it on. He's extremely athletic, one of the most athletic corners in the league and I'm sure he's got a lot of gas left in the tank."
Buccaneer fans have fond memories of just that sort of player, another ageless cornerback who was very effective into his mid-30s. Licht himself referenced that player – Ronde Barber – in describing the arc of Grimes' career, which includes Pro Bowl invites after the 2013-15 seasons in Miami. Grimes picked off 13 passes during his tenure with the Dolphins; only three players in the NFL had more in that span, with 14 each, and only one, Richard Sherman, was a cornerback. Only three players had more than his 43 passes defensed over those three years. He put up those numbers despite having to fit into a new defensive system following his six years with the Falcons. What makes the Bucs' signing of Grimes look even better is that it puts him back into the system he's familiar with from Atlanta, as Tampa Bay's new defensive coordinator is none other than his former head coach, Mike Smith.
Buccaneers Head Coach Dirk Koetter, who also worked with Smith and Grimes in Atlanta, has first-hand knowledge of Grimes' abilities and thinks they can still be brought to bear in 2016.
"I still think it just goes back to the right kind of guy," said Koetter. "I personally am not too tied up on guys' age, especially when I have personal knowledge of them. I think that age is a number and there's successful guys playing at different ages. Turn on the film, the film doesn't lie. A guy can either play or he can't and I mean [Grimes has] been to three straight Pro Bowls. We're looking – we said it time and time again, they have to be the right kind of player and the right kind of guy and if they are I don't think that the age is the biggest deal."
Pictures from Grimes' career with the Miami Dolphins.
Grimes gave some of the credit for his continued success at an advanced age (for an NFL cornerback) to genetics and his wife's cooking. It's safe to assume, however, that his roots as an underdog have also provided him with ongoing motivation to keep his game at a high level. Grimes went undrafted out of Shippensburg University and actually had to prove himself in NFL Europe before getting his shot with the Falcons. His time in Atlanta ended after he suffered an Achilles tendon injury during the 2012 season, but he overcame that to return to form in Miami.
"It was a challenge and I approached the challenge," said Grimes. "I've done that for the majority of my career, as far as coming from a small school, being undrafted. I like challenges and that was a challenge I attacked. I felt like I became a better player as far as knowing things. Going to a different system and excelling in a whole other system, that was a challenge for me and I feel like it made me better.
"I just wanted to be great. I felt like I had the ability to do so. Obviously I came from a small school and now I have a lot more. I wouldn't have the chances that somebody that came from USC, Alabama that would have but I felt like I had the ability, especially when I got to the league and saw 'Oh I can do this', and what drove me was I wanted to become a great player."