A lot can happen between now and then but when the confetti settles next February 13 in the new SoFi Stadium after Super Bowl LVI I’d be shocked if the Tampa Bay Bucs aren’t the last team standing.
Okay, so I’m not selling off everything I own, emptying my bank accounts and selling a kidney on the black market to run to Vegas and put it all on the Buccaneers. But I am tempted.
This Bucs football team, that was already great following their second franchise Super Bowl championship, is even better two months later.
Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
And Tampa Bay hasn’t even drafted a single player yet.
The Bucs entered this offseason with a daunting list of 25 unrestricted free agents and a lower than normal say cap. The team was possibly going to lose a high-profile starter or two, and key contributors to its Super Bowl winning roster. One byproduct of winning a championship is other teams are looking to add some of those players, and hoping some of that magic postseason dust rubs off.
Tampa Bay has lost a few players.
Joe Haeg, Andrew Adams, Ryan Smith and Antony Auclair. I think they can survive the losses.
But major contributors? Nope.
Lavonte David, Shaq Barrett, Leonard Fournette, Rob Gronkowski, Ndamukong Suh, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Ryan Succop, Kevin Minter, Steve McLendon, Aaron Stinnie and a few are all back for at least one more season. And there will likely still be others. Blaine Gabbert probably returns. Antonio Brown may yet still be in pewter and red for another year.
Are you kidding me? In the modern salary cap era of the NFL this is unheard of.
Oh, and they added a year to Tom Brady’s deal and re-signed Donovan Smith to a multi-year contract extension.
The Bucs finally signed a free agent from another team when they added Giovani Bernard, a former No. 2 draft pick of the Bengals.
Bucs RB Giovani Bernard – Photo by: USA Today
You thought the one glaring weakness on the football team was a pass-catching running back who could come in be a change-of-pace back and be Brady’s best friend on third down? No worries, they just found that player.
Besides the talent re-signed – and added – for many of these players it will be just their second or third year in a complex offensive and defensive scheme. Don’t underestimate the impressiveness of the Bucs winning a Super Bowl in a COVID year with many not having any experience in Bruce Arians’ offense and being at a distinct disadvantage of not having an offseason at all to get in the reps. Arians estimated players missed over 400 reps by not having on-the-field OTAs and mini-camps in 2020.
Unbelievable when you think about it.
And even for the players that were here in 2019 during Arians’ first season, this will be just their their third year under offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.
Imagine how much better the defense, in particular, can be with another year under its belt? When players stop thinking on the field and just play football instinctively, it’s a huge advantage. Bucs Hall of Famer Warren Sapp didn’t have to worry what Simeon Rice was going to do. Derrick Brooks wasn’t worrying if Shelton Quarles was going to get his assignment right. Ronde Barber trusted John Lynch and didn’t give it a second thought.
Tampa Bay’s defense achieved a legendary status from 1999 – 2002.
In 2021 Barrett knows Vita Vea will be where he is supposed to be. David and Devin White can just look over at each other prior to the snap and not even need to say a word. Carlton Davis knows if he gambles, safety Antoine Winfield Jr. has his back.
A defense that held the high-powered reigning Super Bowl champs led by an MVP in Patrick Mahomes to just nine points will be better in 2021.
That’s a scary proposition for the other 31 NFL teams.
Scott Reynolds recently wrote about the 2003 Buccaneers team that after winning the Super Bowl, followed it up with a flop of a 7-9 season. Sapp talked about the difficulty of repeating.
“You don’t know what it’s like to be hunted until you are hunted,” Sapp told Reynolds. “Trust me, the worst team in the league gives you their best. It was something we weren’t ready for in 2003. We were not ready for it in any way shape or form.”
But the difference in that 2003 team and the one that will line up in 2021 is one person.
QB Tom Brady – Photo by: USA Today
Thomas Edward Patrick Brady, Jr.
Winning six Super Bowls prior to coming to the Buccaneers and winning his seventh last season, Brady knows a thing or two about being the hunted.
There will be no complacency on this football team. Not with Brady in charge.
While it is not an absolute guarantee that the Bucs win back-to-back Super Bowls – injuries have a way of derailing a sports team’s best laid plans – the 2021 Buccaneers will be better than the 2020 team that won it all.
The talent is back. The coaching staff returns intact. And here’s is a scary thought – the Buccaneers have yet to even draft a single player to make them that much better.
Get your airfare and hotel for February Los Angeles ready, Bucs fans.
• While he never caught a touchdown in Tampa Bay and posted mediocre stats, one of the nicest guys on the Bucs roster over the last few years has found a new home in Houston. Fourth-string tight end Antony Auclair signed a deal with the Houston Texans and is headed west. Auclair was caught up in a numbers game, a by-product of having a roster as talented as the Buccaneers. Auclair, a native Canadian with a smooth French accent always jumped at any chance to help out Pewter Report with our charity events or public appearances.
My favorite Auclair story goes back to his rookie season when we were out at an event and and were were takling, a then-single Auclair noticed a young lady, quite attractive I might add, and whispered to me, “Could you go talk to her for me?” I literally laughed out loud thinking he was joking, but he wasn’t kidding. Here was a handsome, professional athlete with an accent that some women would fawn over, asking me to introduce him to someone.
Good luck in Houston Antony. You’ll be missed here in Tampa Bay, especially during our fall bowling league at Pin Chasers. Hopefully you’ve overcome your shyness.
• Just stop it Antonio Brown. Just stop. If there is an offer on the table from the Buccaneers sign the damn deal.
Do you really think you deserve a long-term deal worth several millions per season? Have you not Googled your name? Do you not remember where you were a year ago? Do you not remember you are still possibly facing discipline from the NFL over sexual assault allegations?
Bucs WR Antonio Brown – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The Buccaneers took a huge gamble on you last season when few – if any – other teams wanted anything to do with you at all. Yes, you did your part and stayed out of trouble. But when does acting like a decent human deserve a pat on the back?
Whatever the Bucs are offering, take it. Clearly teams aren’t lining up for your services. You want to repair your stained reputation? Sign another deal with the Bucs, make a couple millions dollars, stay out of the headlines and win another Super Bowl.
All I am saying is, don’t rule it out.