If you read the mailbag semi-regularly, you might recall a point last season where I fell into a little bit of a cycle where it seemed like I was writing about Mike Evans in the intro almost every week. I mean, he just kept giving me good reasons to do so!
I've managed to keep that in check during the 2022 offseason, only making Evans the primary subject of the intro once. (There was another one about Evans and Chris Godwin and their overlapping tenures, so I guess you could call it 1.5 times.) But you know who I haven't written about even once in the mailbag intro this year? Tom Brady! That seems like a real big missed opportunity. Okay, there was one about the greatest free agency signings in Tampa Bay Buccaneers history, but there haven't been any with Brady as the primary subject.
That's about to change. We were overdue.
What's the occasion? Nothing, really, but it's the slowest stretch on the NFL calendar and it's always enjoyable to wade through some of the unbelievable stats, accomplishments and notes that Brady has generated and keeps on generating. In this case, I was prompted by some fresh notes on the G.O.A.T. sent over by the NFL Research Team in advance of training camp. Some of them you may have heard before, some of them not, depending on how big of a TB12 expert you are. I found one in particular that kind of blew my mind all over again.
I did answer a question about Tom Brady's accomplishments in a mailbag a couple weeks ago. I was asked to point out another big milestone on the horizon for Brady in 2022, and I chose the one about him needing just 2,431 passing yards to reach 100,000 on his career, with postseason totals included. The NFL Research Team included that one, too, and also noted that he is 40 passing touchdowns away from 750. With the playoffs included, Brady threw 50 touchdown passes in 2020 and 46 in 2021.
The NFL also had a pretty neat note making the argument that Brady has had three different stretches in his career (2000-07, 2008-15 and 2016-21) that, taken on their own, would be good enough to warrant induction into the Hall of Fame. The note compares those three stretches to the careers of confirmed Hall of Famers Kurt Warner, Jim Kelly and Troy Aikman.
But I said one of them was new to me and blew my mind, and here it is: Tom Brady has more passing yards and touchdown passes since he turned 40 than he had in his 20s. It's true! Check it out:
Tom Brady in his 20s – 21,564 yards, 147 touchdown passes
Tom Brady in his 40s – 22,938 yards, 168 touchdown passes
That's despite the fact that he played 94 games in his 20s and so far has only played 81 in his 40s. But, of course, he's not done yet. Brady will turn 45 during Buccaneers training camp, on August 3, and he just keeps doing things the league has never seen before. Last year, at age 44, he led the NFL in pass attempts (719), completions (485), yards (5,316) and touchdown passes (43), and all of those except the touchdowns were also new career highs for him (he threw 50 in 2007). He is now the oldest player ever to lead the league in passing yards or TD passes, shattering the previous records of 37 in both categories by Peyton Manning in 2013.
Want a few more? Okay…
· Brady has 60 regular-season "QB wins" since he turned 40; all the other quarterbacks in league history who started a game at the age of 40+ have combined for 69 QB wins.
· Last year, Brady was just the fifth player in NFL history to combine 5,000+ passing yards, 40+ touchdown passes and a passer rating of 100 or better in a single season. The other four, with their ages when they did it: Dan Marino (23), Patrick Mahomes (23), Drew Brees (32), Peyton Manning (37).
· Brady threw 18 touchdown passes on third or fourth down in 2021, tied with Buffalo's Josh Allen for the most in the league.
Could I go on? Yes I could. Brady is a nearly endless wellspring of mind-blowing notes. But I think that's enough for now. Let's save the rest for another slow news day and move on to your questions.
A reminder that you can send questions to me anytime you want on Twitter (@ScottSBucs) and they're easier to find if you include the hashtag #SSMailbagBucs. We are also now soliciting questions each week on our Instagram page; look for that story on Wednesdays. As always, if you want to get a longer question into the mailbag and would prefer to email your question, you can do so to
Enjoyed Warren's suggestions for rule changes, Scott.
I would like to add this: 86 the coin flip. Why leave anything to chance when you don't need to? Give the decision regarding the first OT possession to whichever team totaled the most yards during regulation. This would likely mean fewer boring kneel-downs since extra yards at the end of the fourth quarter could determine who gets the ball first in OT.
Thanks for the forum,
Don Lee, St. Pete (via email to firstname.lastname@example.org)
If you missed last week's mailbag, a reader named Warren sent in a long list of proposed NFL rule changes and asked for my opinions on them. There were a couple I would support and a couple I think will eventually happen, but I didn't agree with all of them, and I humbly write that I don't agree with this one either, Don.
I think we would all be well-served to remember that yards allowed is a stat that NFL coaches don't give one whit about. They care about points allowed, of course, but if their defense gives up 400 yards in a 30-10 victory, you'll never hear a complaint.
There are many different ways to win and lose an NFL game, and sometimes you win while losing the yardage battle and sometimes you lose while winning the yardage battle. It's kind of arbitrary to choose that one stat as the thing that would afford one team a big advantage in overtime. I can just imagine the steam that would be coming out of Todd Bowles' ears in November if his defense allowed the exact same number of points as the opposing defense but his has to go back on the field first because they gave up 10 more yards. No coach would ever support this rule and I think they would make that abundantly clear to their respective owners if this was up for a vote at the league meetings.
Also, how many times are you kneeling at the end of regulation in a tied game? If you have even 20 or 30 seconds left you're going to give Tom Brady (or whoever your stud QB is) a chance to do what he's done many times before and get his team in position to win before overtime. At most you're probably going to have one kneel-down and I can't imagine there would be too many times that would matter in the overall yardage totals.
As was the case with a number of Warren's suggestions last week, I do appreciate the sentiment here. Like Don, I would love for the league to "86 the coin flip" (that's restaurant lingo for "take if off the menu," in case anyone reading is unfamiliar with the term). It really is such an arbitrary and artificial way to confer what may be the game-winning advantage, as was the case in the incredible Chiefs-Bills playoff game last January. But you know what? That game was the final driving force in the NFL changing its overtime rules this spring. Now each team is guaranteed at least one possession, even if the team that goes first scores a touchdown. There's still an advantage for the team that wins the coin toss, because if both teams score touchdowns on their first overtime possessions it then becomes sudden death. Still, it's better than it was before and that overtime coin flip has lost a little bit of its power. I'd still like to see it go away altogether, as Don would, but I don't think this is the solution.
* Had you the inclination, you would have realized I only went "On to Cincinnati" for forty days! I'm back for TB12's final year. My question is do we really want Gronk? Sacrelige, to be sure! His first year here he had had a year off and we all rejoiced at his gronkness! Last year was more typically the Gronk of old. He's no Steve Austin and his body has seen better days. Don't get me wrong, I would love to see Tommy and Gronky connect for another season, but my question is that best for Tampa? Par example: the NHL Oilers had a player they said was inspiring with the injuries he was playing through. But to me that sounded selfish on a 22 person roster. So he got 4 points against Calgary in game 7, (yeah, I ate some crow!) but where are they now?*
Go Lightning! Anton (via email to email@example.com)
Okay, this is now a moot point, and we'll get into the Buccaneers' tight end situation more in a minute, but I still wanted to address the basic concept here, which was thought up before Rob Gronkowski announced his re-retirement on Tuesday.
So basically you were suggesting, Anton, that if Rob Gronkowski had decided in the coming weeks that he does want to come back for another season with Tom and the Bucs that the team should have at least considered responding with a, "Nah, we're good, but thanks anyway?"
Yeah, no. I'm not on board with that.
You know who else wasn't on board with that. Byron Leftwich, the man who has been directing the Bucs' offense since Gronkowski got to town and obviously wants the most talented offensive roster he can have. Early in May, Leftwich was asked what the Buccaneers' offense would be like with and without Gronkowski in 2022. Leftwich usually gives fairly long and detailed answers when at the podium, but in this case he was done in about 10 seconds. This is how he started:
"I don't want to talk about if he doesn't come back."
Clearly, Leftwich thought the Bucs would be better off with Gronkowski than without him, to the point that he wasn't going to worry about that latter option until when and if it was a sure thing. Which it now is. Unless Brady talks Gronk out of it. You never know, but I doubt it.
I can't really tell, Anton, if you're saying Gronkowski's 2020 or 2021 season was better, but I would take a reasonable facsimile of either one in 2022. In 2020, he notably played in all 20 games, playoffs included, setting a new career high for a single season and failing to miss a game for the first time since his second NFL campaign in 2011. That was notable in itself but he also contributed 45 catches for 623 yards and seven touchdowns. No, those aren't Travis Kelce numbers, or even prime Gronkowski numbers, but they were still pretty useful. Gronkowski's yardage total was the most by a Buccaneers tight end since Cam Brate had 660 in 2016. He was also the team's best blocking tight end, and he memorably scored two touchdowns in the Bucs' Super Bowl LV victory over Kansas City.
Last season, the injury bug bit Gronkowski again and he did miss almost six full games. But he still put up 802 yards, the second most by a tight end in any season in franchise history. His 66.8 receiving yards per game were the most ever in a season by a Tampa Bay tight end, and among all NFL tight ends in 2021 he trailed only Baltimore's Mark Andrew's (80.1) and Kansas City's Kelce (70.3). Now, if you want to make the argument that a 33-year-old Gronkowski was going to decline to some degree from last year, I wouldn't necessarily agree but I will concede the possibility. Even so, 80% of what Gronkowski did last year would have been quite enough to make a big impact on the Bucs' offense, and that's including the things that don't show up in the box score, like his pass protection and his connection with Brady that allowed the two to adjust on the fly and make clutch plays.
The Buccaneers have made some moves to begin rebuilding their tight end room for the near future, drafting Washington's Cade Otton and Minnesota's Ko Kieft in April. It's possible that Otton develops into a good two-way tight end and could even make an impact in 2021, and it's possible that Kieft will emerge as the best blocking tight end on the roster. But there's no guarantee of any of that, especially so early in their careers. For the 2022 season, I think the Buccaneers would undeniably have been better at tight end with Gronkowski on the roster.
What are the Bucs' options at the TE1 position now that Gronkowski is retired?
- _jackspade (via Instagram)
Since Gronkowski isn't returning, how does the Bucs salary cap situation look, and could they bring in some more veteran players before training camp?
-donaldbolton77 (vis Instagram)
Well, Gronkowski's retirement doesn't affect the Bucs' salary cap situation, since he was already off the books, but perhaps you are referring to dollars and cap space that would have been devoted to the veteran tight end had he returned. The Buccaneers don't officially comment on contract figures, cap space or other financial specifics but according to Spotrac they were currently riding with a leeway of about $10.5 million as of Tuesday, which is right around the middle of the pack. That should go up a bit after the release of veteran punter Bradley Pinion on Wednesday.
Could they use that on another veteran free agent or two, maybe even at the tight end position? Sure, but I wouldn't bet on it. Some of that will go to the two still-unsigned rookies, Otton and Logan Hall, and it's never a bad idea to carry some space into the season for flexibility in case the team wants to sign or trade for a player or two along the way.
The most notable tight end names still available are probably Eric Ebron, Kyle Rudolph, Jimmy Graham and Jared Cook. Neither Graham nor Ebron reached 20 catches or 300 snaps last year. Cook was the most productive of the bunch, with 48 catches for 564 yards on 644 snaps, so I guess he could be a consideration, but he's also 35 years old and has always been more of a pass-catcher than an inline blocker. The Bucs already have Cameron Brate, who has always been a great red zone threat and caught 30 passes for 245 yards while playing 469 snaps last year.
This seems like a position where youth will need to be served. I noted above the possible outcomes for Otton and Kieft, and I guess the expectations for both will need to be accelerated. I'm presuming that Otton will be done with his recovery from an ankle injury and ready to go for the start of training camp; that's crucial for him because he needs that time to get integrated in the offense if he's going to be a factor from Day One.
Otton is certainly intriguing in that many draft analysts believe his college pass-catching numbers don't reflect his true potential. He dealt with some injuries at Washington and the Huskies didn't always have stellar quarterback play during his tenure. He's already considered an above-average and very willing blocker, so there is the potential for him to be the one tight end the Buccaneers keep on the field most often. I guess that makes him the best answer for the first question above, as to who would be the Bucs' "number one" tight end in 2022, if in fact there is one solid option for that question.
It may be that there isn't a single clear answer to that question, though. If the Buccaneers were to roll with Brate, Otton, Kieft and, say, Codey McElroy, they may just spend the season mixing and matching with different packages depending on the situation and play calls. It's worth noting that, prior to the arrival of Gronkowski, tight ends were rarely heavily featured in Bruce Arians' passing attack. Arians is no longer the head coach but his play-caller for the last three seasons and his protégé dating back to Arizona, Byron Leftwich, is still the offensive coordinator. The Bucs may not have or need a 40 or 50-catch tight end in 2022; a bigger share of Tom Brady's targets could go to a third receiver like Russell Gage or perhaps running backs Leonard Fournette, Rachaad White and Giovani Bernard.
How likely is it that Mike Evans will once again eclipse 1,000 receiving yards this season?
-fearsteven813 (via Instagram)
This is a good question because I think we've gotten to the point now in Evans' career that we are taking his incredibly consistent production for granted. Evans' greatest statistical stat note is that he is the first player in NFL history to begin his career with eight straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons. We all know that one. But his streak has gone on so long that it's now become incredibly impressive regardless of when in his career it began.
Evans is now one of six players in NFL history to have an eight-season streak of 1,000-yard campaigns, and with one more he would tie for the second longest such run. Just look at the other names on that list of six: Jerry Rice (11), Tim Brown (9), Cris Carter (8), Marvin Harrison (8) and Torry Holt (8). That would be Hall of Famer, Hall of Famer, Hall of Famer, Hall of Famer, three-time Hall of Fame finalist. There are dozens more receivers in the Hall of Fame who never had a streak like Mike's. Clearly, it is not easy to do.
Part of that, of course, is good health fortune. Take Randy Moss, who had six straight 1,000-yard seasons to start his career, during which he never missed a game. He missed three games in 2004 and finished with 767 yards, only to later tack on four more 1,000-yard campaigns. Evans hasn't completely missed the injury bug, missing at least one game in half of his seasons so far, but he's never played fewer than 13, and that was in a 2019 Pro Bowl season in which he had blown by the 1,000-yard mark before December. In each of the last two years and in 2017, Evans has needed the last game of the season to clear the bar. So if he produces at the levels he has in recent years, he's going to need to play in nearly every game to make it again.
Now, I should say that "good health fortune" isn't all luck. One of the main takeaways from Evans' meeting with the press during minicamp is that he has continued to evolve throughout his career in terms of keeping his body in shape. Clearly, it's working. While it's probably true that Evans will need to play almost a full season in order to hit 1,000 again in 2022, it's also fair to say that he's got a good chance of doing so.
Otherwise, why not? He's still only 28 (he'll turn 29 during the preseason) and he still has one of the best quarterbacks in the league delivering the ball in an offense that has led the league in passing yards over the past three seasons combined (by a margin of 654 yards, too). There are a lot of footballs to go around, even with such a talented cast of pass-catchers around him. That group notably will not include Gronkowski anymore, so all the receivers might see an uptick in targets.
Evans has averaged 15.3 yards per reception in his career. That number has declined a little bit over the last two years, to 14.4 in 2020 and 14.0 last year, so let's be conservative and say he averages 14.5 yards per reception in 2022. If he does, he'll need about 69 catches to get to 1,000 yards. The lowest he's ever had in that category was 68 as a rookie and 67 in the aforementioned 2019 campaign in which he missed three games. If he plays 17 games, that's a little over four receptions per game. That seems very reasonable. Oh, and yeah, 17 games. That helps, too.
Again, Evans is just turning 29. Tim Brown was only three years into his streak at the age of 29. Cris Carter was only two such seasons in at that point. Marvin Harrison got the last of his at the age of 34. Evans should have plenty of big seasons ahead of him, and I have no reason to expect 2022 won't be one of them.