TAMPA, Fla. — The allure of so many weapons in the passing game was a big reason Tom Brady decided to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But the Bucs will need more than just wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin or tight ends O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate. Here are three key areas the team will need to address to help No. 12 be at his best, including some draftable and free-agent options.
Incumbent right tackle Demar Dotson is an unrestricted free agent, and the only real way he would return is as a backup. There are also some questions about left tackle Donovan Smith. The Bucs have done quite a bit of work on offensive tackles leading up to the 2020 NFL draft, and this is definitely a position to watch for at No. 14 in the first round. Depending on who goes ahead of the Bucs in the draft (this is assuming they stay put), Alabama’s Jedrick Wills Jr., Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs, Georgia’s Andrew Thomas, Louisville’s Mekhi Becton and USC’s Austin Jackson are all options. (In Todd McShay’s latest mock draft, Wills, Wirfs and Becton were off the board at No. 14.)
And while the Bucs did surrender 47 sacks last season — one off from most in the NFL — this might not be as much of an issue with Brady as it was with Jameis Winston. Over the past five years, Brady has averaged 2.31 seconds in the pocket before passing, which ranks 14th in the league. Winston has averaged 2.43 seconds in the pocket over the past five years — 32nd in the league. Some of that is a function of long-developing pass plays in Dirk Koetter’s and Bruce Arians’ systems, but it’s also a function of Winston holding on to the ball too long. Should the Bucs’ system evolve into more of a hybrid — merging both Arians’ and Brady’s philosophies — offensive linemen might not need to hold their blocks as long.
Not only do the Bucs need a back who can go between the tackles on first and second downs with Peyton Barber now a free agent, but if Brady and Arians are truly going to utilize a collaborative approach, they’ll need a back with a solid set of hands. Brady loves targeting running backs. In the past five seasons, Brady has had 725 passing attempts to running backs — more than any other quarterback in the league in that span. Brady targeted running backs 182 times in the 2019 regular season, while Winston did so 111 times. Ronald Jones made a ton of strides last season, but the Bucs might want a little more ball security.
Devonta Freeman, who was just released by the Falcons, is a name Bucs fans are familiar with, and he had 410 receiving yards last season. But he averaged only 3.6 yards per carry. Dion Lewis is another name to watch. He played with Brady from 2015-17, and caught 85 passes while with the Patriots. Lewis spent the past two seasons with the Tennessee Titans.
Among players in the draft, Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor eclipsed the 2,000-yard mark twice in three seasons and is coming along as a pass-catcher. He had 26 catches for 252 yards and five touchdowns in 2019. But Taylor has had some issues with fumbling — 18 over three seasons, the most of any NCAA running back in that span.
Georgia’s D’Andre Swift is extremely versatile — he can produce runs inside and has a great set of mitts as a pass-catcher — and moves a lot like Alvin Kamara (especially his juke move). And he matched Taylor’s average of 6.52 yards per scrimmage play. LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire is undersized at 5-foot-8 and 209 pounds, but he might be the draft’s best receiving back, with 453 receiving yards last season — third most in the Power 5. Florida State’s Cam Akers produced 124.5 yards per game from scrimmage last season, 10th in college football and just behind Edwards-Helaire.
The Bucs have Evans and Godwin. They like former Ravens first-round pick Breshad Perriman, who spent 2019 in Tampa but is now a free agent, given the way he came on at the end of the season. But there’s also concern he might have priced himself out of what the Bucs could offer. Free agent Phillip Dorsett, who spent the past three seasons with Brady in New England, makes a lot of sense here, too. He has speed like Perriman.
Dan Graziano sees a chance of Antonio Brown joining Tom Brady on the Buccaneers next season.
There’s the draft, too, of course, and this class is loaded at wide receiver.
There have been questions raised about Antonio Brown being a possibility, as Brown and Brady have remained close. On the surface, it’s not a fit for the Bucs, who enjoy a relatively quiet locker room, whereas Brown brought a camera crew to his tryout with the New Orleans Saints last season, a move that infuriated the Saints’ coaching staff. Arians also publicly called him a “diva,” so the only way this happens is if Brady is able to exert a certain level of roster control, and even then, it would take some serious convincing on his part with Arians.