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FAB 1. Uncertainty Surrounds Bucs’ 2020 Season
One of the most disappointing things in life is disappointment itself. Having high expectations and falling short can create a great deal of disappointment.
Expectations are understandably high in Tampa Bay for the 2020 season after progress was made in Bruce Arians’ first year as head coach in 2019, and a revamped roster this offseason that now includes the likes of a living legend at quarterback.
Be excited. Be eager, Bucs fans. But also be prepared for disappointment.
Be prepared for disappointment that is beyond the team’s control and temper your enthusiasm.
The upcoming 2020 Buccaneers season is already not what everyone hoped for or envisioned it would be the day Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht, head coach Bruce Arians and director of football administration Mike Greenberg successfully landed former New England quarterback Tom Brady in free agency.
That was on March 20 – a few weeks after the nation and the world began to lock down as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
That was nearly three months ago.
Because the AdventHealth Training Center has been locked down for most of the offseason, I have yet to see Brady, meet Brady, or interview Brady outside of his initial Zoom conference call with reporters.
I might not actually see, talk to, or interview Brady until September when the 2020 season is supposed to start amid the COVID craziness. And you might not see him in person until then, either.
The Bucs have already said that training camp will be off limits to fans this year due to COVID-19 concerns and public safety. Those are actually the NFL’s rules – not just Tampa Bay’s. That might apply to the media, too.
I feel for the fans that were dying to see Brady don a Buccaneer helmet in person at training camp and connect on a 20-yard strike to Gronkowski down the middle or a 40-yard heave to Mike Evans down the sidelines. I might be in the same boat – along with PewterReport.com and the rest of the local Tampa Bay media – in not being able to attend training camp.
Actually, I’m hearing that Arians might have jumped the gun on the July 21 date, as that’s not yet official. Neither is the QB camp or rookie camp the week prior that he mentioned on his most recent Zoom conference call with the media.
We’re five weeks away from the supposed start to training camp and are still in the dark about the specifics. And when I say “we” I mean the Buccaneers organization itself.
There is so much uncertainty, which could lead to so much disappointment.
I’m not trying to depress you, Bucs fans. I’m simply trying to prepare you for a 2020 season unlike any other the NFL has ever experienced.
Hopefully there is not a COVID-19 resurgence in the fall that leads to a shutdown of the NFL season mid-year, as was the case with the NBA and NHL seasons, as well as college basketball, which saw a different kind of March Madness when the NCAA tournament was abruptly cancelled.
Even if the entire 2020 season is played, it is highly doubtful that the NFL will allow media into locker rooms during the week or after games for interviews this year. At most, the media would get select players, assistants and Arians at the podium for press conferences, but that too may be wishful thinking.
Zoom calls with players, assistants and Arians himself have already taken place and have become the new norm. I expect that practice to continue through the 2020 season as teams like the Bucs will take every precaution to safeguard their rosters.
Why would the league want to risk infection to the Tampa Bay players or coaches by even having media members or non-essential personnel at the AdventHealth Training Center? I – and my Bucs media colleagues – may be forced to cover the team remotely this year, which sounds crazy, but may happen.
It’s a good thing that we at PewterReport.com have forged solid relationships inside the locker room and have a lot of the Bucs’ phone numbers so we can get additional information and inside scoop outside of the general Zoom conference calls. Those relationships help us deliver content during the offseason and that practice will have to continue during the season without any face-to-face interactions with the players and personnel at the AdventHealth Training Center.
The Bucs organization has seen a massive surge in ticket sales due to the arrival of Brady and the acquisition of Pro Bowl tight end and three-time Super Bowl champion Rob Gronkowski. The word I’ve heard is that every game should be sold out at Raymond James Stadium.
This coming on the heels of games where there were nearly 20,000 empty seats on some Sundays last year.
But less than three months away from the start of the 2020 campaign, the Bucs have no idea if they will be able to accommodate over 65,000 in the stands. What will the NFL allow due to COVID-19 social distancing concerns? What if the league only allows for stadiums to be at half occupancy? How will the Bucs and other NFL teams navigate who gets to go to games and who doesn’t?
The toughest job at Tampa Bay’s team headquarters used to be in the ticket office, desperately trying to find new season ticket holders and retain the ones the Bucs had despite just two winning seasons over the last 12 when sellouts were scarce. Now the ticket office has a new, perhaps more difficult problem on its hands in trying to figure out how to accommodate the 65,000 fans who now want to go see the Bucs play and do it safely within NFL guidelines, which may mean stadiums at less than full capacity.
I don’t envy the folks in the Bucs ticket office. The only way they’ll come out of this not vilified is if somehow the NFL allows stadiums to operate at full capacity, which would be welcomed news. We’ll see what happens.
But what if there is resurgence of COVID-19 midseason? What if the league forces teams to go to half capacity in October or November in an attempt to prevent a complete shutdown of the 2020 season? How will the Bucs ticket office decide which fans get to attend the Packers game on October 18 or the Saints game on November 8?
Again, I’m not trying to be negative. I’m just trying to get Bucs fans to recalibrate their expectations a bit because the NFL is in completely uncharted territory due to the pandemic.
I’m not talking about expectations in terms of making playoffs, either. This isn’t about me suggesting that Bucs could go 7-9 again instead of 10-6.
In a perfect world – or even a regular NFL season – I believe this is a 10-6 Buccaneers team and a legit playoff contender. But it looks like the 2020 season will be far from regular and likely not normal.
Now let’s talk about the team itself.
There will be mandatory COVID-19 tests regularly for the players and coaches. Medically, testing positive means that the affected person should be quarantined for two weeks. Could you imagine if Brady tests positive for COVID-19 before the season opener at New Orleans and misses the Saints game and the home opener against Carolina the following week – even if he’s asymptomatic?
Could you imagine Brady telling the media – and fans – through a Zoom conference call that he feels fine, no fever, no symptoms, but because he tested positive he can’t play?
Can you imagine the meltdown from Tampa Bay fans if they were forced to watch Blaine Gabbert duel with Drew Brees and Teddy Bridgewater the first two weeks?
It would be the same in Kansas City if Patrick Mahomes had to miss games back-to-back games against the division rival Raiders and then the Bucs in Weeks 11 and 12. Chiefs fans dying to see a Mahomes vs. Brady match-up would be forced to see Chad Henne under center.
Nobody wants to see star players – or any players – having to miss games due to quarantine situations – especially if they are asymptomatic.
In my 25 years of covering the Bucs, I’ve seen plenty of players play on Sunday with fevers from the flu and colds, tonsillitis, and some even battling the stomach flu. This has been going on for years – and not necessarily at the request of the teams. These are players who only have 16 opportunities to play football a year wanting to suit up and play and not let their teammates down – even if they aren’t near 100 percent.
Now all of a sudden, asymptomatic players might not be able to practice or play just because of a positive test? That’s crazy to think about – and some of the COVID-19 tests have even given off false positive results, which adds another layer of concern to all of this.
What if a Buccaneer like center Ryan Jensen contracts COVID-19 and has a false negative test and is let in the building, goes to the offensive line meeting room, practices, and then unintentionally infects Alex Cappa, Ali Marpet and Donovan Smith? Now four-fifths of the starting offensive line has to be quarantined and miss two weeks worth of games?
Does anyone want to see Josh Wells, Joe Haeg, Zack Bailey and Anthony Fabiano line up next to rookie Tristan Wirfs and block for Brady for two weeks? Actually, Brady would likely contract the illness from Jensen’s snaps and we’d be watching Gabbert run for his life for two weeks instead.
Could the NFL playoffs in 2020 literally be determined by which rosters are the most COVID-free rather than the best teams?
These are the things that are running through my mind as I wade through the first offseason in my 25 years on the job where there hasn’t been a single mini-camp or OTA practice. These are things that could really dampen the 2020 season in Tampa Bay and around the league.
This was supposed to be the most exciting Buccaneers season since the Jon Gruden era – one that could end in a Super Bowl appearance right here in Tampa Bay of all places, which hosts Super Bowl 55.
I hope that it can be.
But if it’s not, it likely won’t be due to the poor play and poor coaching we’ve seen over the last decade for a change – and the penchant the Bucs have had for beating themselves way too often.
It will be due to a particular flu that has negatively impacted our society, our politics and even sports, which is supposed to be our escape from society and politics.
I hope this uncertain Bucs season we’re about to embark on doesn’t end prematurely or in disappointment beyond the team’s control.
I hope that treatments and a vaccine can be quickly developed to quell COVID-19.
I also hope to meet Brady one day, and see him throw that 20-yard strike to Gronkowski in person.
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