Tom Brady Brings National Spotlight to Deserving Bucs Players
When the NFL officially announced their 2020 schedule Thursday night, it was no surprise to see the Tampa Bay Buccaneers landing five prime-time slots in front of a national audience.
That's because they signed the greatest quarterback of all time, Tom Brady, in free agency this offseason.
Yes, luring Rob Gronkowski out of retirement to join him certainly helps, but Tampa Bay's loaded prime-time slate was secured the moment Brady put pen to paper back in March.
Fans all across the country will come to watch Bucs games this season mostly because of Brady, and to a lesser degree, Gronk. But they'll stay because this Tampa Bay roster is loaded with other stars on both sides of the ball who have long been deserving of such a bright spotlight.
They'll stay because of Lavonte David, arguably the most underrated player in the entire NFL. Since entering the league in 2012, David has more solo tackles than any player in the league, his 116 tackles for loss rank second to J.J. Watt, and he leads the league in fumble recoveries over that stretch, as well. He is one of just two players in NFL history to record over 800 tackles, 20 sacks and 10 interceptions in his first seven seasons, joining Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher. David is the only active NFL player with more than 20 sacks and 10 interceptions since 2012.
They'll stay for Mike Evans, who is currently on a Hall of Fame pace through six NFL seasons. The first draft pick of the Jason Licht era in Tampa Bay, Evans has lived up to the hype of being a top-10 selection, becoming one of the most dominant and consistent pass-catchers in the entire league. He is one of just two players in NFL history to start his career with six straight seasons of at least 1,000 receiving yards, with Hall of Famer Randy Moss being the only other. If he surpasses 1,000 yards for a seventh consecutive year in 2020, Evans will be all alone on that list.
They'll stay to watch Chris Godwin, the steal of the entire 2017 NFL Draft. After waiting under Evans' shadow during his first two seasons, Godwin broke out in a big way last season, finishing third in the NFL with 1,333 receiving yards, despite missing the last 2.5 games of the year with a hamstring injury. He earned his first Pro Bowl berth in 2019, joining Evans and giving the Bucs the rare luxury of having two "No. 1" receivers.
The'll stay to see Shaq Barrett, the best free agent any NFL team signed last offseason. Barrett took a one-year, $4 million deal with the Bucs, and turned it into one of the most dominant seasons the league has ever seen from an edge rusher. He led the league with 19.5 sacks, forcing six fumbles and constantly terrorizing opposing quarterbacks, no matter how many people they sent to block him.
They'll stay because they're reminded of Jason Pierre-Paul, who once dominated opposing blockers for the New York Giants on his way to multiple Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl XLVI victory. Despite losing part of his hand to a fireworks accident, and fracturing his neck in a car crash, Pierre-Paul continues to overcome the odds. He's racked up 21 sacks in 26 games over two seasons in Tampa Bay, and his high-energy leadership has permeated the Tampa Bay locker room.
They'll stay when they see Devin White, the NFL's next great inside linebacker. Many wondered why the Bucs would spend a top-five pick at that position last year, but just ask Chris Carson whether or not a player with White's athleticism, explosiveness, versatility and heart was worth taking that high. White was everywhere for the Bucs last season, and has already established himself as a vocal leader for one of the league's ascending defenses.
They'll stay for the NFL's most underrated offensive lineman, left guard Ali Marpet. A second-round pick out of tiny Hobart College, Marpet has become one of the league's most reliable interior blockers. He's snubbed by the Pro Bowl and All-Pro lists every year, but that should end this season.
They'll stay because they can't miss the largest human on the field, nose tackle Vita Vea. At 6-4, 347 pounds, with athleticism that just seems plain unfair at that size, Vea is a mountain of a man who requires at least two blockers to keep him at bay. When he's not blowing up plays in opposing backfields, he's plowing the road for Tampa Bay's ground game as a lead-blocker in goal-line situations. Last year, he became the biggest player in NFL history to catch a touchdown pass.
They'll stay for Gronk's running mates at tight end, Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard. Once a training camp afterthought, Brate has established himself as one of the team's most reliable pass-catchers over the years. Despite persistent trade rumors, the Bucs still have high hopes for the promising Howard, a former top-20 pick with rare athleticism for his size. There's a reason the Bucs kept both even after trading for Gronk, and Brady will show us all why this season.
They'll stay to watch the development of one of the NFL's most promising young secondaries. The Bucs have invested tons of early-round draft picks in their defensive backfield over the last few years, and they're starting to see the results. Sean Murphy-Bunting made the NFL's All-Rookie team, while fellow rookie corner Jamel Dean finished fourth in the league with 17 pass breakups, despite only playing 33 percent of Tampa Bay's defensive snaps last year. Carlton Davis III and Jordan Whitehead both made huge strides last season, and the addition of second-round pick Antoine Winfield, Jr. will only make this unit even stronger.
The Bucs code-named their offseason pursuit of Brady, "Operation Shoeless Joe Jackson," because it was more likely that Ray Liotta would come walking out of that cornfield in Iowa than it would be for the GOAT to leave New England for Tampa Bay.
Well, he's here now.
And people will come. People will most definitely come.
They'll come for Brady, but they'll stay for the rest.