The beginnings of the 2020-2021 NFL season are unfolding like no other. With the continuing spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NFL arena is clouded in uncertainty as club facilities remain shut down and pre-draft events have been postponed for the foreseeable future. Shifts in free agency have dismantled strong teams from previous seasons and fortified other teams lacking in depth. Equally disorienting is the now former Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady’s decision to part ways with the New England franchise.
The football world broke into a frenzy as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced via Twitter the acquisition of Tom Brady. This marked the end of a dynasty that began in 2000 and included six Super Bowl championships, nine conference titles and 17 division titles.
Little was expected of a young Brady when he was drafted out of the University of Michigan by the Patriots as the 199th pick in the 2000 NFL draft. Beginning as a fourth string quarterback, Brady’s opportunity came in his second season as Head Coach Bill Belichick scrambled to find a replacement for injured starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe, the then face of the franchise. Winning 11 of the 14 games he started in the 2001 season, Brady and Belichick made an unlikely run at Super Bowl XXXVI where they defeated the St. Louis Rams for their first Super Bowl win.
Any confusion over the rightful leader of their offensive attack dissolved as Belichik gambled on Brady and Bledsoe was traded to the Buffalo Bills the following season. Brady was now the face of the Patriots and remained so for another 19 years.
The image surrounding Brady, a sixth-round pick, quickly changed. Once thought of as an underdog in his college years, Brady had nixed that reputation and established himself as the franchise’s most consistent player. He was named MVP in four of their six Super Bowl wins.
Although the franchise has managed to continue their dominance, Brady has aged in a physically demanding sport. The 42-year-old quarterback only began to show his age last season when, for a rare moment in his career, he was not selected for the Pro Bowl. An overall disappointing offensive year highly contributed to their early exit in the playoffs as the New England Patriots fell to the Tennessee Titans in the first round.
A system that dominated the league for two decades could hold no longer. With their on-field divorce, a challenge of equal difficulty awaits both Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in new settings.
Critics of Brady argue that he is a system quarterback easily replaceable in any franchise. Despite his age, his move to Florida will give him the chance to demonstrate his leadership with a new squad. The arguments surrounding just how much the success of Head Coach Bill Belichick was in part due to Brady’s individual performance will be answered in the upcoming season. Perhaps Belichick’s coaching methods, which are sometimes questionable, will showcase that they are worthy of their own conversation.
The inclusion of Brady alone to the Buccaneers is enough to excite any previously dismayed fan. Tampa Bay managed to retain key defensive linemen Ndamukong Suh along with quality pass rushers Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett, and are in great position to pave their way to the playoffs and be realistic Super Bowl contenders.
With a new quarterback at the helm of their offense and roughly $20 million left to increase squad depth, General Manager Jason Licht’s project is certainly one to keep an eye on in the upcoming season.
New England’s season could very well be a long one. Even with Brady’s exit, their tight remaining cap space results in $26 million of dead money. The coaching staff will likely choose between backup quarterback Jarret Stidham or the returning Brian Hoyer as the front man of the Patriots offense. With the departure of linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins as well as safety Duron Harmon, Bill Belichick will attempt to maintain his 2019 No. 1 defense. Belichick will work with what he has in a campaign where his team has the toughest strength of schedule across the NFL.
A relief for the fanbase would be making it into the early stages of the playoffs. Anything past that will demonstrate Belichick’s impeccable coaching philosophy.