This was a little over a week after Tom Brady signed with the Buccaneers, and it was the first time Ryan Jensen had the chance to talk to his new quarterback. The two covered a lot of ground over a nice, healthy conversation. Brady wanted to know where he should live in Tampa. He asked about the center’s background. They got to know each other a little.
But before they really got going, Brady had a pretty specific question.
Do you wear a glove on your snap hand, Ryan?
“I’m like, Uh … yeah,” Jensen recalled, laughing about it on Wednesday. “And he’s like, ‘OK, we gotta talk about that.’ These minute details so far that I’ve seen him be concerned with, from something as small as that to cutting on the fourth step, not the fifth step, on a route, it’s stuff like that where I’m sure he carries himself through his life like that. You can tell he’s very detail-oriented that way.”
These will be Brady’s Buccaneers.
You’re surprised that Brady would wrangle eight of his new teammates for an organized workout at a local field, under trying circumstances? Don’t be. This is who he’s always been—even if some were fooled by his OTA absence in Foxboro the last couple years—and now, by extension, this will be what his team will become, and those who’ve been around him are well aware of it.
One of those people is Tampa GM Jason Licht, who did two tours in New England’s personnel department during Brady’s Patriot era. Another is coach Bruce Arians, who had a few big Sundays as a Steeler assistant ruined by his new quarterback. And that part of the package is one reason why even the idea of signing Brady became so enticing, as January became February, and February became March, and fantasy became reality.
What everyone saw, when the Tampa Bay Times caught Camp Brady in action earlier this week, is just the start.
It’s time for this week’s GamePlan, with plenty to get to, even in May, and in a pandemic. Inside this week’s column …
• We’ll forecast the chance of playing time for five rookie quarterbacks.
• We’ll examine unintended consequences of this week’s rule changes.
• We’ll look at a quirk in the calendar and whether it should lead to permanent change.
But we’re starting at a secluded workout staged by the most famous football player on planet earth.
Jensen can plead the fifth on just how many workouts have been held at Camp Brady thus far.
He’s spent most of his offseason at home in Colorado, and returned to Florida on Monday, ready to reacclimate himself to the heat and kick his work toward the 2020 season into high gear. Just before that, he hit up Brady, via text, to let him know he was coming back, in case the quarterback had anything going on in Tampa. Brady, of course, did.
“OK cool,” Brady responded. “If you wanna meet up and get some snaps, meet me here.”
Here wound up being Berkeley Prep, an elite K-12 school in Tampa with a tony campus that, at least on paper, seemed like an ideal hideout. The grounds, per my Berkeley Prep source (ex-MMQB editor Bette Marston’s an alum of the school … but I can’t reveal my source), is gated with security guards stationed at the front and back entrances.
Brady told Jensen to go there Tuesday morning, so Jensen followed that direction to find teammates Mike Evans, Scotty Miller, O.J. Howard, Cam Brate, Blaine Gabbert and Ryan Griffin. The quarterbacks and Jensen worked on snaps. The quarterbacks, tight ends and receivers worked on routes. And everyone hung out for a while after—"just dudes being dudes,” the center said.
Little did they know it was all being chronicled from a distance, and it wasn’t like the players caught the spy in the act. In fact, the players saw the pictures for the first time like the rest of us did. And after I had the layout of the campus explained to me, it was pretty easy to understand why the players thought they were safe from the football paparazzi.
A campus road runs along the west end zone at Berkeley Prep, there’s a parking lot on the south sideline, and a field hockey area running down the east endzone, which basically leaves all those areas in plain sight (with nowhere to hide). To enter the area by car, as I was told, you’d basically have to announce yourself to those on the field. However, off the remaining sideline, there’s a small pond, and woods beyond the pond. So …
“I saw [the pictures] probably about 1:00 [Tuesday], whenever it broke, and where we were at, at that school, how far that picture had to be taken away? That picture was probably taken five-, six-hundred yards away, and through trees,” Jensen said. “I’m kind of impressed, actually. But no, we didn’t see anybody, we weren’t worried about anybody being out there. We were doing everything the correct way, following state guidelines.
“I wasn’t worried about it all.”
Which gives the players a funny story to tell, and also a window into what 2020 is going to be like. The day-to-day reality of being a Buccaneer has most certainly changed.
A lot of this is exactly what the Buccaneers brass consciously signed up for. In the days after the signing, I was talking with someone in the hierarchy there who said the expectation was that Brady’s mere presence would raise the bar for everyone on a talented young team, and that was more than a small piece of the logic in signing No. 12.
“A thousand percent,” this person said. “The standard just rose. What he brings is going to be, obviously, extremely valuable. But what he leaves behind, whenever that is, hopefully it’s more than two years, is equally as valuable. It’s awesome. He’s a different breed.”
And it hasn’t taken long for the players to see it, because Brady isn’t exerting on anyone. It’s who he is, and it didn’t take long for his new teammates to see that.
“He flips a switch,” Jensen says. “Even just in talking, you talk about life, where he should live in Tampa, this is the first conversation we had and, then all of the sudden, when we start talking about ball a little bit, you feel the intensity switch. I think that’s something that you see, and you’ve seen obviously the last 20 years, he can flip that switch in intensity.”
Which brought Jensen back to the story about wearing a glove on his snap hand, and how it was actually something he was prepared for. The center read the story my buddy Nick Underhill wrote last year on the subject, and how particular Brady was in what he wanted from his centers (a quick Google search showed his most recent centers—Ryan Wendell, Bryan Stork, David Andrews and Ted Karras—didn’t wear gloves, while Jensen has).
So there’s that part of it that Jensen knew he had to work on. Then, there was the towel, which Jensen knew he’d be getting direction on to further prevent, uh, moisture from getting on the ball—and as it turned out, the quarterback’s tutorial was actually one thing captured by the spy on the scene, which set up the center’s reaction on social media.
And yeah, it’s pretty great that that happened to be what was caught on camera (“I thought it was funny that happened to be one of the pictures that got taken,” the center agreed). But there’s something more to it, too, as Jensen sees it.
“Luckily for me, I’m not a big-time sweater. But down here in Florida, everyone’s a sweater when it’s the middle of July and it’s humid,” he said. “Just minor things like that, that a lot of people wouldn’t think are important, are extremely important to him.”
Therein is where the guys who were in Tampa last year think Brady helps the Bucs take a major step forward. They weren’t far off last year—Tampa was 7-7 in mid-December, and that was with a quarterback who was very Jekyll (5,000 yards) and Hyde (30 picks). Later in the season, Arians’s program got its footing and, as Jensen explains, “A lot of it was people starting to buy in. … We have a ton of young, talented guys, and they were starting to figure it out and become true pros.”
And now, as having an offseason workout shot by a news photographer from a wooded area would indicate, the stakes have been raised. They have a new quarterback, he’s going to be 43 in August, and, naturally, the Bucs wouldn’t have gone and gotten him if they didn’t think they could compete for a championship in the next year or two.
No one needs to tell any of the Bucs that the pressure is on. They know.
“There’s that sense of excitement right off the bat, you just got the greatest quarterback to ever do it, what he’s gonna bring to the team is gonna be pretty gigantic,” Jensen said. “And I’m a big proponent of having the extra pressure. Like they say, pressure creates diamonds. That’s gonna be good for us. Towards the end of last year, we were really coming along, especially our defense. Having Tom and that added pressure will be really good.”
And even on a Tuesday in May, it’s not hard for any of them to feel it.
Because we’re now at the point in the offseason where rookies would be integrating with their veteran teammates, I figured this would be a good chance to look at when the first-year quarterbacks will actually be out on the field. And so, in the interest of efficiency, I figured we’d throw that in this space, and rank them, in order of when I think each will draw his first start.
Cool? Cool. And if you stick around, I’ll tack a quick history lesson on the end for you.
1) Joe Burrow, Bengals. The skids are greased for Burrow to start Week 1 against the Chargers. His competition in Cincinnati is Ryan Finley, who face-planted in his shot to play last fall. And I actually like the way the Bengals have this set up. Yeah, maybe you make Burrow earn it. But the structure allows the locker room to get behind Burrow quickly, and Burrow to get a high percentage of the first-team reps.
2) Justin Herbert, Chargers. It’s not that I don’t like Tyrod Taylor as a player. It’s that we’ve been down this road before. The Browns liked Taylor too, but it took less than a month of real games for Baker Mayfield to take his job in Cleveland. And Anthony Lynn’s won with a rookie quarterback before. He was a key assistant on Rex Ryan’s 2009 staff, when the Jets went to the AFC title game with Mark Sanchez starting.
3) Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins. I put Tagovailoa third with the full acknowledgment that he could walk in, blow everyone away, and win the job. More likely? More likely, I think, Miami is careful with Tagovailoa coming back, and Brian Flores goes with Ryan Fitzpatrick early with an eye on contending this fall. And then, if Miami falls out of the chase, Tagovailoa gets his shot.
4) Jalen Hurts, Eagles. Carson Wentz’s starts by year: 16, 11, 13, 16. So in two of four years, Wentz has missed significant action. And last year, while starting every game, he got banged up, and the team needed its backup (Josh McCown). I’m not wishing injury on anyone. But after the first three on this list, I feel like little is guaranteed. And so I think Hurts would be the next most likely to start a game in 2020.
5) Jordan Love, Packers. I honestly thought of putting Jacob Eason in this spot, in the case where he starts for the Colts in a game without much meaning (either because they’ve locked up their spot in the playoffs, or they fall out of the race). But then I thought about it, and remembered the Packers got a bye last year, and very well could be in that sort situation in Week 17 themselves. Either way, I believe this will be a true redshirt year for Love.
And that’s a good jumping off point for this—the concept of the redshirt year for a first-round quarterback is basically extinct. Over the 12 draft cycles between 2008 and last year, 35 guys went in the first round. Just one of those 35 failed to start a game as a rookie (Jake Locker), and there was one other de facto redshirt (Patrick Mahomes started in a meaningless Week 17 game for the Chiefs in 2017).
The tie there? Both Locker and Mahomes were on contending teams, meaning their coaches weren’t in a spot to throw them in there, just to see where they were.
Conversely, 16 of the 35 were Week 1 starters for their teams, and 29 of the 35 had starts by the midway point of their first year, with Jared Goff and Lamar Jackson just missing the cut (they both started in their team’s 10th games). The bottom line is, based on history, and even considering the circumstances, chances are good we’ll see Burrow, Tagovailoa and Herbert play plenty this year.
THE BIG QUESTION
Everyone seems to love the change to keep teams from blocking young coaches and scouts from pursuing better jobs, but are there unintended consequences?
As it turns out, there are some. Here are a few I was able to ferret out after talking to a few people this week.
• There will be tremendous pressure on coordinators going forward. Think about it this way: Before all of this, teams might have come out of a season weighing keeping an incumbent against the available field of guys (which was largely dictated by the contract situations of assistant coaches and/or other teams’ policies on letting guys go). Now? They’ll be weighing keeping a coordinator against pursuing any position coach they want. It’s not hard to envision where QB coaches like Mike Kafka or James Urban, or a run- or pass-game coordinator like Mike McDaniel being available might’ve changed some things in January.
• Teams might be a little less liberal about handing out assistant head coach titles. A quick run-through of the league showed that 20 of 32 teams have assistants carrying that title. And the new rule says that having someone on your staff with that title disqualifies you from being able to poach an under-contract position coach on the assistant head coach’s side of the ball. So, for example, Doug Pederson having Duce Staley as assistant head coach last year would’ve prevented him from being able to interview Kafka, who Philly wanted to hire, without getting the 49ers’ position. Which means not having an assistant head coach gives the team more long-term flexibility.
• The price tag for position coaches is about to rise, because teams may have to pay now to keep guys that they really value. The market for quarterback coaches right now is between $400,000 and $750,000 or so. Some offensive line coaches are in seven figures. The bottom end for position coaches is low six figures. And a fair number of these guys just got handed a hammer in the leverage game.
• Some guy who might’ve otherwise gotten chances might not now. With an entire league of position coaches now sitting there as a pool of coordinator candidates, head coaches will have to do a little less research to find guys—which might mean some diamonds in the rough getting overlooked. The equation’s pretty simple. More candidates. Less opportunity.
We’ll see how all this plays out in seven months or so. But there’s no question that the impact it’ll have on both the coaching and scouting ranks promises to be massive.
WHAT NO ONE IS TALKING ABOUT
That maybe, just maybe, the NFL should make waiting until after the draft to finalize their schedule more than just a one-year thing.
And I’ll give our editor Mitch Goldich a shoutout for bringing this one up—it’s something I actually thought about last year when I wrote a schedule story with league execs Howard Katz and Onnie Bose at 345 Park, and something we’d talked about then. It came up when I’d asked those guys about incorporating news into their planning.
“Look I’ve said for years, I wish we could start our process after the draft, rather than complete it before the draft,” Katz said. “We would seem a lot smarter. But we were able to react to Le’Veon Bell going to the Jets, Antonio Brown going to the Raiders, Odell Beckham going to Cleveland. Those were all things that happened in sufficient time to incorporate into our planning.”
So how, at that point, were they working on the possibility, a week before the 2019 draft, that Kyler Murray-in-Arizona could be a big story line come September?
“You don’t know,” Katz said. “And you don’t know if he’s gonna play. It’s not just who gets drafted, it could be who gets traded. What if Josh Rosen gets traded to a team that’s just a quarterback away from being a real contender? There are a lot of things.”
Obviously, things played out where Murray was a big story early in the year, Rosen got traded to a rebuilding team and didn’t play much, and that was sort of that.
This year, with the schedule coming out after the draft?
For one, we’ve got Bengals-Chargers in Week 1, which could be a game between Burrow and Herbert, if those guys win competitions with their teams. And Bengals-Dolphins, with potential for a Burrow-Tagovailoa rematch of last year’s Bama-LSU game is in December, which necessarily increases the probability that both guys will be playing.
Anyway, Mitch was right to bring this up. Even while acknowledging that it could complicate the NFL’s planning with advertisers and all that, it’s definitely something worth thinking about, especially given the draft’s popularity and that next year there’ll be a generational talent at quarterback coming into the league, in Trevor Lawrence.
THE FINAL WORD
Happy Memorial Day to everyone out there! It’s definitely a different one for all of us, but here’s hoping everyone finds a way to celebrate the unofficial start of summer, and one of the best weekends of the year.
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