Though the agreement had been hammered out days earlier, veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick actually signed his contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday, right around noon. As it turned out, Fitzpatrick was in the player personnel department at One Buccaneer Place at the exact same time rookie tight end O.J. Howard was there to ink his first NFL contract.
In a way, both Fitzpatrick and Howard are "final pieces" to what could be the most productive offense in the franchise's 42-year history.
RELATED: O.J. HOWARD SIGNS FIRST CONTRACT
Veteran quarterbacks have signed in Tampa before, throughout those 42 years. Sometimes, it was a chance to extend their shelf life as a starter, as with Steve DeBerg in 1992. Sometimes the Bucs offered a likely starting spot and the support of a top-notch defense, as with Brad Johnson in 2001 or Jeff Garcia in 2007. Rob Johnson, who signed with the Buccaneers in 2002, was probably drawn by the chance to team up with Jon Gruden, a coach who thought he could bring out the best in the once-promising Buffalo Bill. Byron Leftwich surely knew he was keeping a seat warm for first-rounder Josh Freeman when he came to Tampa in 2009, but he at least had a shot to re-emerge as an NFL starter after several years as a backup. And for players of every position who choose the Buccaneers over other options, there is always the promise of warm weather and the absence of state income taxes.
Photos from Fitzpatrick's career.
The 2017 Buccaneers, however, might be the first group in franchise history where the most compelling lure for a free agent quarterback is the cast of weapons in the passing attack. That offensive potential is part of what attracted Fitzpatrick, a 13th-year veteran with extensive starting experience, to Tampa even though the team has Jameis Winston entrenched as the front-line quarterback.
Winston has started every game and thrown all but 11 of the team's regular-season passes since being drafted first overall in 2015, but the Buccaneers clearly wanted a more experienced backup in case their young starter was unavailable at any point this fall. With high expectations coming off a 9-7 campaign, the Bucs would hate to see inexperience at the most important position hurt their playoff chances. Fitzpatrick will battle young holdover Ryan Griffin for the next spot on the depth chart behind Winston.
Obviously, the Buccaneers would love to see Winston start another 16 games and build on his 4,000-yard, 28-touchdown performance of a year ago. If that's the case, Fitzpatrick can help in a supporting role, available to impart lessons learned over 116 NFL starts, which he is fully prepared to do. But if the Buccaneers need him on the field this season, Fitzpatrick would be thrilled to play with Howard and the rest of the Bucs' offensive cast.
"I thought it was a great opportunity for me to come to a team that's really on the rise, with a great young quarterback in Jameis, just to come and try to provide some of my experiences," said Fitzpatrick. "I just met him for the first time today. He seems like a great kid, though, lots of energy. I'm very excited to work with him and I think he's excited to have me here. We'll get to work pretty soon.
"This is also a place where, if need be, I've got to be ready to step up and play with a pretty explosive offense. So there are a lot of good things about this decision."
Howard, the 19th overall pick in last month's NFL Draft and the first tight end ever taken in the first round by Tampa Bay, is the latest addition to that offense. The Buccaneers also fleshed out their passing game in the early hours of free agency by landing big-play specialist DeSean Jackson. He and 2017 third-round pick Chris Godwin join a pass-catching crew that also includes Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans and a pair of rising, 50-catch players in wide receiver Adam Humphries and tight end Cameron Brate. A deep stable of backs, including Doug Martin, Charles Sims, Jacquizz Rodgers and Charles Sims can also contribute significantly to the aerial attack. That is a much deeper group of targets than Winston has worked with in his first two seasons while racking up 8,132 passing yards and 50 touchdowns.
The Bucs know that Fitzpatrick can take advantage of that same supporting cast if he is called upon in the regular season. In 2014, when he paired with the likes of Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins and Arian Foster in Houston, Fitzpatrick threw for 2,400 yards and 17 touchdowns in 12 games and compiled a passer rating of 95.3. The 2015 New York Jets had Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker and pass-catching backs Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory, and Fitzpatrick distributed the football to them to the tune of nearly 4,000 yards and 31 touchdowns.
One could argue that the Buccaneers have a deeper group of targets than either of those teams, though players like Howard and Godwin still have to prove themselves in the NFL. It's understandable that the Buccaneers would want to be as solid as possible under center to take advantage of that cast.
"I think both sides were excited because there are a lot of good pieces here," said Fitzpatrick. "I just wanted to be a part of it and I'm happy they have me here.
Though Fitzpatrick has already seen some familiar faces at One Buccaneer Place – he's teamed with coaches Brett Maxie, Jay Hayes and Nate Kaczor before and he was drafted in the same 2005 class as Director of Player Development Duke Preston and Pro Scout Alex Smith – he hasn't had any NFL overlap with Bucs Head Coach Dirk Koetter. That means Fitzpatrick will be getting a crash course on a new offense, but that shouldn't cause him any concern. The former seventh-round pick has played for six other NFL teams and made starts at every spot, and he had no trouble producing right away in Houston or New York in recent years.
"I've had a lot of experience going through something like this," said Fitzpatrick. "I think I have an ability to fit in right away. There are some guys I've played with who are on the roster, Nick Folk and Garrison Sanborn. I'm excited to be here, I'm excited to get to work."