In a normal NFL offseason, the draft is followed at each team's headquarters by a series of mini-camps and OTA practices, usually concluding around mid-June. Players and coaches then get one last lengthy break before reconvening for training camp, generally near the end of July.
The 2020 NFL Draft was completed more than two weeks ago but, of course, this is not a normal offseason. Due to social distancing requirements to combat the coronavirus pandemic, no team has been able to hold a single practice or even convene with its players this spring. Any workouts that have been conducted have been virtual, with strength and conditioning coaches sending instructions to players remotely.
What did not grind to a halt, however, was the one thing that defines every NFL team's offseason: Roster reconstruction. That certainly has been the case for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have accomplished three major things of note: Kept free agency from dismantling their talented defensive front, made the most dramatic move possible at the sport's most important position, and directly addressed their biggest remaining needs in the draft.
Over the next six weeks we'll look at all of those developments and others more closely through our post-draft, position-by-position review of the Buccaneers' roster. An NFL roster is never fully finalized; last year Tampa Bay made personnel moves in all 12 months of the season, and had at least five roster changes in every month except February and June. That said, the Bucs have 87 players on the roster in mid-May, and the group they take to training camp will be very close to what they have right now. That's the group that Head Coach Bruce Arians and his staff will have to whittle down to 53 for the regular season.
Some positions needed more attention than others after the 2019 season, which ended in a 7-9 record in Arians' first season at the helm. But every spot on the depth chart has seen some turnover, and now that the draft and most of free agency is in the past it's time to review the roster and see where the Bucs stand at every spot.
Roster Review Schedule:
· Wednesday, May 20: Running Backs
· Monday, May 25: Wide Receivers
· Wednesday, May 27: Tight Ends
· Monday, June 1: Offensive Tackles
· Wednesday, June 3: Guards & Centers
· Monday, June 8: Defensive Linemen
· Wednesday, June 10: Outside Linebackers
· Monday, June 15: Inside Linebackers
· Wednesday, June 17: Cornerbacks
· Monday, June 22: Safeties
· Wednesday, June 24: Specialists
We begin with the position that has seen the single most significant modification on the whole team. The Buccaneers' signing of Tom Brady – a move that would have seemed unthinkable just a year ago – signals an all-in mentality for an organization that clearly believes it has the talent to compete for a title. It is the single most eye-opening free agency gambit in franchise history and one of the most newsworthy moves the league has ever seen.
The Buccaneers led the NFL in passing yards last season and their quarterback, Jameis Winston, racked up a franchise-record 33 touchdown passes. However, he also was picked off a league-high 30 times. The Buccaneers are banking on Brady leading a far less mistake-prone attack while still being able to put up big numbers with a talented cast of pass-catchers around him.
Other than that – yes, other than signing the only six-time Super Bowl champion in NFL history – the Bucs didn't have a lot of work to do at the quarterback position. They did bring back one unrestricted free agent and added a developmental passer after the draft.
· Blaine Gabbert…Re-signed after he became an unrestricted free agent; Spent most of 2019 season on injured reserve due to shoulder injury
· Ryan Griffin…Headed into second year of two-year deal he signed in 2019; Saw first NFL regular-season action last season, completing two of four passes for 18 yards in late-season game
· Jameis Winston…Signed with New Orleans as an unrestricted free agent; Started all 16 games and threw for 5,109 yards, 33 touchdowns and 30 interceptions
· Chad Kanoff…Was not re-signed after spending last 11 weeks on practice squad
· Tom Brady…Signed as an unrestricted free agent from New England; in 20th season with Patriots, threw for 4,057 yards, 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions
· Reid Sinnett…Signed as an undrafted free agent; at University of San Diego, threw for 3,528, 32 touchdowns and 10 interceptions as a senior
Brady, who turns 43 in August, signed a two-year deal with the Buccaneers and is unquestionably expected to be the starter in 2020 and 2021. Given his intense devotion to health and fitness and his continued high level of play, it's also possible that his time in Tampa will extend beyond the next two years.
As much as the Bucs were attracted to Brady's incredible statistical achievements – in addition to those six rings he's also second all-time in league history in yards and touchdown passes – they also believe he will help mold a young but talented team into a winner.
"Going after Tom in free agency was our number-one priority this offseason because we knew he would be a perfect fit for what we are trying to do here," said General Manager Jason Licht when announcing the official news of Brady's signing. "He is a Buccaneer today not for what he has done in the past, but for what we know he can accomplish here in the near future as well. We know that Tom is going to have a transformative effect in our locker room and he is going to demand the best out of himself, his teammates and anybody that is around him. This was an all-out effort from every level of the organization – from scouts, to coaches, to front office and especially ownership. Today we begin a new era for the Buccaneers that will define our franchise for many years to come."
The Bucs then re-signed Gabbert, who suffered a shoulder injury during the 2019 preseason and eventually went to injured reserve without seeing any regular-season action. However, Gabbert previously played for Arians in Arizona and is fully familiar with the Bucs' offseason playbook. He was signed a year ago to compete with Griffin, and at the time Arians noted that Gabbert's regular-season experience gave him an edge in the battle to be the primary backup to Winston. It appears as if that same battle will take place again this summer.
On several occasions before the 2020 draft, both Arians and Licht said that they would like to add a developmental young quarterback to the roster, but that it would have to be the right fit of prospect and spot in the draft. That fit never materialized but the Bucs still got their young project in San Diego's Reid Sinnett. Sinnett had to wait behind another talented Toreros quarterback before he got his shot to start last year as a senior, but he made the most of it with a strong performance that led his team to the FCS playoffs.
The big numbers were mentioned above: Winston became the Buccaneers' first 5,000-yard passer, joining a short list of NFL quarterbacks with that feat, but also was the first player in league history to throw at least 30 touchdowns and at least 30 interceptions in the same season.
Arians was eager to work with Winston when he took the Bucs head job in 2019, and he did get some impressive numbers out of the fifth-year passer and Tampa Bay's passing attack. Winston in particular fared significantly better on deep throws, an Arians staple, than he had in the past. If Brady had not been surprisingly available, the Buccaneers might have tried the Arians-Winston combination for at least another year.
"We have a lot of respect for Jameis. Jameis was still part of our plan if things went a different route," said Licht. "I've got a lot of respect for him. I thought he did a lot of great things and I think anybody in our office, or our building, would say the same thing. He did some spectacular things for us. I think he's got a bright future ahead of him. It just really comes down to, we had a chance to get Tom Brady."
The Buccaneers also led the NFL in plays of 20-plus yards, most of them through the air, and two-minute offense scoring and were second in passing first downs.
Meanwhile, Brady led the Patriots to a 12-4 record, their 11th straight playoff appearance and their 18th postseason berth in the 19 seasons in which he started more than one game. That, of course, is where the appeal starts with Brady, who has played in nine Super Bowls and been that game's MVP on four occasions. But Brady also has 541 career regular-season touchdown passes and nearly 75,000 yards, both totals just behind Drew Brees for the all-time top spot. Brady is the NFL's all-time leader in the playoffs in any significant passing category.
Last year, Brady topped 4,000 passing yards for the third year in a row and had an excellent 24-8 TD-INT ratio. His 1.3% interception rate was seventh-best among qualifying passers last year and his career mark of 1.8% is second only to Aaron Rodgers' 1.4% among players with at least 3,000 pass attempts.
View pictures from TE Rob Gronkowski's NFL career thus far.
Three Key Questions:
· How well will Brady's skill set and style of play mesh with Arians' offense?
After the Bucs signed Brady, Arians insisted that the veteran passer can do "everything we want to do in our offense." Arians also stressed that he has always taken a collaborative approach with his quarterbacks in order to fit the passer's skills and preferences with his scheme. Still, there are critics who wonder if Brady still has the downfield passing ability to allow Arians to stick with his "no risk-it, no biscuit" philosophy. Last year, Brady posted a 107.6 passer rating on deep passes according to NFL Next Gen Stats, which was seventh-best in the NFL.
· Who will be Brady's primary backup?
As noted above, Gabbert knows the system, having started five games for Arians' Cardinals in 2017, winning two of them. He never really got a chance to win the job last year due to his shoulder injury but did remain in the building, attending practices, throughout the season. His ingrained knowledge might be seen as an even bigger advantage this year with a truncated offseason. Griffin, on the other hand, has consistently impressed two different coaching staffs on the practice field and did finally get into a regular-season game for a brief cameo last year. He, too, knows the system well. If Sinnett makes the team it would likely be as a third quarterback.
· How quickly can Brady become comfortable in the Buccaneers' offense?
The restrictive realities of the 2020 offseason present challenges for everyone, including NFL players. Those challenges would seemingly be magnified by switching to a new team and having to run an offense with an as-yet-undetermined amount of preparation time. That's what Brady is facing, and he also has to make a connection with the new cast of offensive weapons around him.
"There is a lot of ground to make up because I haven't worked with these players," said Brady in March. "I'm going to have to learn what they do, and their body language and how they like things. That's part of the challenge. It's unfortunate what we're going through in our world. It presents different challenges for all of us, so again, as soon as we have the opportunity to all be together in one place, we can really start working toward that. That's what I'm going to do."