In February of 2020, Tom Brady was a tenuous dream for the quarterback-needy Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In February of 2021, Brady was not only a Buccaneer but Super Bowl LV MVP for the first team ever to win the big game on their own home field.
The Buccaneers stunned the sports world when they signed Brady in March (the deal was made official on the 20th), starting a second NFL chapter for the G.O.A.T. who had already won six titles over 20 years in New England. It was undoubtedly the signature move in the team's all-in pursuit of a second championship. Though it wasn't the first roster move chronologically, it almost surely influenced decisions by other players both before and after March 20.
We know this to be true for one subsequent move in particular. Just before the 2020 NFL Draft, General Manager Jason Licht swung a deal to reunite Brady with one of his best buddies. It was the first of three trades Licht would make in 2020, and all of them will be covered in this countdown. The second was a draft-day swap just two days later that is still to come on our list; the third was the midseason deal to acquire former Jets defensive lineman Steve McLendon.
Note: The countdown we are constructing over three weeks does roughly progress towards the most impactful moves at the end, but it is not strictly a ranking. There's not much of a distinction to be drawn between moves listed near each other in the countdown, and we're not trying to say that any particular re-signing on defense was more important than the next. There is, however, a clear number one. These are also not in chronological order.
Countdown: Top 15 Transactions in the Buccaneers' Pursuit of the 2020 Championship
7. Traded for TE Rob Gronkowski, April 21
Brady was already in his 11th season and had already won three Super Bowls when Gronkowski showed up as a second-round pick in 2010. The two became fast friends and one of the most productive passing combinations ever, particularly in the postseason. Over the next nine seasons, Gronkowski led the NFL in touchdown catches in both the regular season (79) and postseason (12).
Gronkowski and Brady also went to four Super Bowls together (Gronkowski missed a fifth due to injury), and the tight end's last catch for the Patriots was a memorable 29-yarder in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIII that set up the only touchdown in New England's 13-3 win over the Rams.
That was his last reception in New England because after that Super Bowl win Gronkowski chose to retire due to general buildup of injuries. However, after a year away from the game he was feeling much better, and when Brady chose to sign with the Buccaneers it created a new and interesting possibility to return to the NFL.
Of course, Gronkowski still had a year left on his last contract with New England when he retired, so the Patriots still had his rights if he wanted to return. That meant Licht had to work out a trade with New England before Gronkowski could play for the Buccaneers. In the end, the deal was a fourth-round pick in the 2020 draft for Gronkowski and a seventh-round pick in the 2020 draft. That seventh-rounder, by the way, was used to draft Temple linebacker Chapelle Russell.
Gronkowski joined a tight end room that already boasted 2017 first-round pick O.J. Howard and productive veteran Cameron Brate. As the most proficient blocker of the three, Gronkowski became the primary starter and saw the most offensive snaps in the season's first month, though Howard played extensively too before suffering a season-ending Achilles tendon tear in Week Four. After that, Brate's playing time increased significantly but Gronkowski remained in the lead role.
Gronkowski started out slowly in terms of producing in the passing game, with just two catches for 11 yards in the first two games as he got his NFL legs back. But he had six catches for 48 yards in a Week Three win at Denver and scored his first Buccaneer touchdown in a Week Six rout of the Packers in which he grabbed five passes for 78 yards. That started a run of three straight games with more than 40 yards and a touchdown.
Gronkowski recorded his first 100-yard game as a Buccaneer in a narrow Week 12 loss to Kansas City and he scored two touchdowns in a Week 15 blowout in Detroit. By the regular season's end he was third on the team behind receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin with 45 receptions for 623 yards and seven touchdowns. It was also the first time since 2011 that Gronkowski had appeared in all 16 games, and his work as a blocker made him an asset all year even when he wasn't heavily involved in the passing attack.
That was evident in the first postseason game, as he spent most of his time blocking for a rushing attack that produced 142 yards while Brate ran more routes and caught four passes for 80 yards. That Wild Card win propelled the Bucs to a Divisional game in New Orleans, and while Gronkowski only caught one pass each in that win and the NFC Championship Game in Green Bay, his time would come. Unsurprisingly, it was in the Super Bowl.
In what would turn out to be a dominant win over the Chiefs, Gronkowski scored the Bucs' first two touchdowns on an eight-yard catch in the first quarter and a 17-yard grab in the second quarter. That turned a 3-0 deficit into a 14-3 lead as Tampa Bay would go on to win, 31-9. Gronkowski would lead all Buccaneer players with six catches for 67 yards.
Gronkowski's two touchdowns improved his career postseason total to 14, second in NFL history only to Jerry Rice (22). All 14 of those scoring passes were thrown by Brady, making those two the most prolific scoring tandem in NFL playoff annals. With his regular season and postseason exploits combined, Gronkowski's second touchdown of Super Bowl LV gave him exactly 100 in his career.
Several Buccaneer free agents, such as Ndamukong, noted that they factored Brady's arrival in Tampa in their own decisions to return. Brady surely had an impact on how the rest of the Bucs' roster shaped up in 2020, but nowhere was that more direct than in the addition of Rob Gronkowski, Super Bowl hero.