Bruce Arians won two Super Bowl rings during an eight-year run as a Pittsburgh Steelers assistant, first as a wide receivers coach in 2005 and then as the offensive coordinator in 2008. On Sunday night, however, Arians finally won his first championship as a head coach, guiding the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a 31-9 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV.
Arians, a two-time NFL Coach of the Year winner, famously had to wait more than two decades before he got his first full-time head coaching job in Arizona in 2013. Thus, he was 68 as he hoisted the Lombardi Trophy on Sunday night, making him the oldest head coach ever to win one. Perhaps that was what sparked the report earlier on Super Bowl Sunday that Arians was considering retirement if his Bucs did indeed get the win that night.
This kind of story is, if nothing else, the product of a team still playing football in the month of February. It's usually fleeting, and in this case it lasted only until the next time Arians was at the microphone, which happened to be after his team won the Super Bowl later that night.
"Hell no, I ain't going anywhere," said Arians. "I'm coming back trying to get two, and then we'll see after that."
Who could blame him? The Buccaneers obviously have a loaded roster on both side of the ball and should go into 2021 as one of the favorites to win Super Bowl LVI. That roster got into peak shape in part because of a large number of very successful draft picks – recently, Tristan Wirfs, Antoine Winfield Jr., Devin White and Vita Vea, to name a few – and an aggressive string of moves to bolster the team throughout the 2019 offseason and regular season.
Signing quarterback Tom Brady in March was obviously the masterstroke of the whole process and the catalyst for much of what happened in the months that followed. But the process started with an intense effort to keep a rising defense intact through the retention of such stars as Shaq Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh. Then Arians and General Manager Jason Licht gradually filled every crack on the offense with the additions of Rob Gronkowski, Leonard Fournette and Antonio Brown.
All of that took the Bucs to the promised land, but as every Super Bowl champion finds out in the weeks that follow, an extended playoff run means less time until the frenzy of the next season begins and the roster is once again a fluid and unpredictable thing. The Buccaneers are going to have to be as active as they were a year ago if they want to keep their championship core intact and make a run for it. And soon. It's only 15 days until the period when franchise tags can be used begins, and then free agency starts on March 17.
Arians thinks they can keep the gang together.
"I'm very, very confident," he said. "I have all the trust in the world in Jason and what he will do. These guys, they have a bond. They're will be dollars involved, but I think this group is so, so close that sometimes dollars don't matter. But we're going to do everything we can to get the dollars right, too, because they earned it."
Among the players who currently aren't under contract for 2020 are Barrett, Suh, Gronkowski, Fournette, Brown, inside linebacker Lavonte David and wide receiver Chris Godwin. David is finishing up a five-year deal he signed in 2016 while Godwin is at the end of his rookie contract and one of the Bucs' free agents likely to get the biggest jump in salary in 2021. Barrett played the 2020 season on the franchise tag while Suh had signed a second straight one-year deal in Tampa. Several of those players indicated a desire to remain with the Bucs after the Super Bowl, including Barrett, Gronkowski and Brown.
As Arians noted, as much lure as there is for pending free agents to remain with a team that looks set up for a long run of contention, those players will still be rightfully looking to maximize their market value. That said, Arians is clearly comforted by what he believes is a very strong bond that formed on the Bucs' 2020 roster, which would hopefully drive the urge for many of those players to return.
"This thing started in August and it was all about sacrifice and commitment to each other," he said. "We had to beat the virus before we could beat another team, and I can't say enough about our guys' commitment to each other. This is one of the closest teams I've ever been on…and we couldn't eat together, we couldn't talk to each other. For them to care this much about each other and the bonding experience somehow not happening, I'm still trying to figure out how. Because under the pandemic this was so, so hard of a year for a team to be close and this is one of the closest teams I've ever been on."
Last year, plans 1A and 1B for Arians and Licht in the weeks leading up to free agency were to keep the defense intact and lure Brady to Tampa. This year, those two will surely be looking to keep as much of an offense together that just averaged 30.8 points per game in the regular season and 30.8 points per game in the postseason. Arians thinks the Bucs' offense is capable of scoring 35 points per game in 2021 with a full offseason to get Brady and the rest of that crew on the same page before the actual games begin.
"I don't think there's any doubt about that," he said. "I was pissed because we really had about 40 or 45 [points] out there last night. We left a few out there. This group of guys, there so, so, so special. Hopefully we can keep this band together and have an offseason where we actually know what the hell we're doing and all on the same page. Yeah, I think the sky's the limit for this group."