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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Pro Bowl Bucs: Tom Brady is the G.O.A.T., But We'll Still Be Contenders

The Buccaneers are sorely missing one of their nine Pro Bowl selections in Las Vegas this week following the retirement of Tom Brady, but those who remain think the good times are far from being over


Tom Brady is not at the 2022 Pro Bowl, despite being voted in, because he has chosen to wrap up his unparallelled NFL career. However, eight of his teammates from a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that tied for the NFL's best regular-season record in 2021 are in Vegas for the league's annual all-star showcase. That's a good place to start when assessing the Buccaneers' chances of continuing to be title contenders in the post-G.O.A.T. era.

"We most definitely are still going to be contenders," said outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett, who is preparing for his second Pro Bowl outing in three years. "We've still got a lot of guys on the team who are hungry to have a taste of being in the playoffs, to have a taste of winning a Super Bowl. And I know the front office guys, they loved having a taste of the success that we had. So if anything, it's a replication. Whoever it takes, we're going to get those guys, and then the guys are going to make it happen, whatever we have to do. The offense has got to pick it up, the defense has got to pick it up, the special teams – whatever it is, we're going to make it happen."

Barrett's joined in this year's Pro Bowl by wide receiver Mike Evans, center Ryan Jensen, guard Ali Marpet, defensive lineman Vita Vea, inside linebacker Devin White, safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. and tackle Tristan Wirfs. Wirfs isn't playing in the game due to an ankle injury but came anyway for the experience. Nine Pro Bowl selections ties for the most in a single season in franchise history with the 2000 squad. That team had played in three of the last four postseasons, signed quarterback Brad Johnson the next year and then won the Super Bowl in 2002.

"It's such a strong core in that locker room that there should be a lot of success moving forward," said Marpet. "Tom is a phenomenal player and what he brings is invaluable. But the talent is there, and has been there a while. So I think there will be continued success."

None of which is to suggest that the Bucs' Pro Bowlers wouldn't love to have Brady with them in Las Vegas and more importantly next season. Barrett said he hoped the on-again, off-again reporting of Brady's potential retirement last weekend had him hoping the 22-year veteran would come back for a 23rd go-around and that it "sucks" that won't happen.

"I didn't try to convince him [to return]," said Barrett. "I told him, 'I know you're going to do what's best for you and your family but if you do want to come back we would love to have you back.'

"Trying to find somebody to replace Tom Brady is impossible. There's no other Tom Bradys out there. So we're going to try to find the next best player and help them be the best person they can be, and then rally around him and try to build a contender again."

The Buccaneers do have to contend with a long list of potential free agents this offseason, an issue they have successfully conquered the past two years. Of course, that gets more difficult to duplicate each successive offseason. In fact one of the Bucs' current Pro Bowlers, Jensen, is on that list of potential free agents. There is the obvious concern that Brady's departure could change the thinking of one or more of those players but, again, the Buccaneers still believe they have a very talented roster, which has an allure of its own.

"I don't think that's a huge factor for me right now," said Jensen of Brady's retirement. "I'm just kind of riding through the waves and whatever happens, happens. That's kind of how I've always been. So I'm not too worried about looking into that at this moment. I'm just excited to be here and getting to enjoy the Pro Bowl with some of my teammates."

Indeed, Marpet sees a lot of other reasons why free agents would want to come to – or remain in – Tampa.

"Obviously, for free agents, there's the market and what's out there," he said. "That being said, Tampa's a pretty great place and guys know that. And it's a good locker room, it's a great coaching staff. So there's a lot of great things about Tampa right now."

View photos of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Pro Bowlers from practice on February 3, 2022.

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