Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tom Brady and a Stacked Roster Could Do It Again

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Tom Brady sat in his living room and waited. And waited. And waited some more.

He began to think about life after football.

Then, finally, the Patriots called. They decided to take him with the 199th pick in the 2000 NFL draft.

Over the next two decades in New England, Brady went on to win six Super Bowls and four Super Bowl MVPs. A lot of teams came to regret overlooking him. Surely, if given the chance, they wouldn't do it again.

And yet when Brady became a free agent in March 2020, only one team openly pursued him: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

At the time, it seemed like an odd union—a quarterback known for winning and a franchise known for losing. The Buccaneers hadn't been relevant for years … or put another way, as long as you had been reading Football Outsiders. From 2003 to 2019, they posted a .393 win percentage, fourth worst in the NFL. They finished last in their division 10 times and missed the playoffs 15 times, including 12 straight seasons. The organization was a disaster, bungling coaching hires, draft picks, MRSA outbreaks, and uniform redesigns.

So when the Buccaneers signed Brady, they wanted him to do more than win football games. They wanted him to set a new standard. "He's going to bring the best out of everybody," general manager Jason Licht said during an appearance on Sirius XM NFL Radio.

And ultimately, he did. Tampa Bay showed flashes of dominance early and shot up the DVOA leaderboard. Four weeks into the season, the Buccaneers were No. 1 (No. 7 on offense and No. 2 on defense). Despite sometimes streaky play, they never dropped out of the top three for the rest of the year.

That inconsistency, however, raised questions about their viability as a Super Bowl contender. One week, they played their sloppiest game of the season, committing 11 penalties and surrendering three sacks in a narrow loss to the Bears; the next, they played their cleanest, committing zero penalties and surrendering zero sacks in a blowout win over the Packers...