To see both sides of the ball in Tampa Bay is to view competing, polar opposite team building strategies that exist on the same roster. Their defense, so far the lifeblood of the club, arguably the best unit in football, is full of strong draft picks from almost all rounds, the occasional high-profile dip in to free agency and some genius maneuvers on the secondary market.
The offense, meanwhile, is slowly turning into Tom Brady’s rolling Vegas tour show. A platoon of aging stars working on that leather tan base coat for life in a broadcasting booth from here to eternity.
Friday’s news, that they’re now adding Antonio Brown to the mix, should not be surprising in the least. Brady’s hands are all over the control panels after years of deference in New England. He wants his friends there. He wants his offense. He has convinced everyone from Bruce Arians to motivational guru Tony Robbins that it will all work out, even after Brown’s calendar year of behavior that ranged from purposely erratic to dangerous and threatening.
Unwittingly, perhaps, this is what the Buccaneers signed up for when they went all-in on the Brady experiment. And they’d better hope it all works out, because microwaving one side of the ball, stalling the progress of developing offensive talent at the cost of Brady’s veteran pals getting their targets, their redemption, their one last fun summer away at camp, etc. will have far more dire consequences for the franchise once the tour packs up and leaves town.
To have a unit like Tampa’s defense coached by a brilliant mind like Todd Bowles is to have an extraordinarily valuable asset and building block. And on offense, if you take away all of the components of the team that Brady brought with him, you’d still be left with a formidable roster that has the chance to be built into a sustainable contender.
Maybe the argument is that, because of said talent, it legitimizes their decision to risk it all. Maybe they were not confident in finding another quarterback—a younger quarterback—to make this work on a long-term basis with homegrown receivers and skill position players.
But let’s take a look at the Buccaneers from another, broader perspective. With Drew Brees and Matt Ryan inching ever closer to departing the division, there is a vacancy on tap for a team to grab the steering wheel in the next two years. Instead, they are looking at 2020 as the year they will either win it all or take the entire franchise off a cliff in the process.
We’ve seen teams do this before. The Jets, when they stacked the mercurial Santonio Holmes, Derrick Mason and Plaxico Burress on the same roster after losing in the AFC title game in 2010, sinking what had been a promising start to the Rex Ryan era. Any club, really, that garnered a “dream team” label after a particularly interesting run in free agency. Ask any of those general managers what they learned from the process and they’d probably talk about the importance of chemistry; of an organic building process and some twinge of regret about creating a fireworks show on the roster.
It’s wasted breath to get mad about Brown, specifically, getting work. Teams cannot help contorting themselves into a moral pretzel when the acquisition can somehow bolster their own individual legacies, no matter how unsavory the whole thing feels. The truth is, for every person like Brady out there who thinks they’ll finally be able to make it work, there is another still looking at the path of scorched earth Brown left behind—and that’s not even beginning to dig into what has transpired off the field over the last few years.
With Tampa Bay though, it could be especially sad if it doesn’t all work out because they’re not just costing themselves one bad season. They’re wasting the ingredients of a team that could have been good for a long time and not just relevant for someone else’s ride into the sunset.