On November 22, 1963 (this writer’s fifth birthday), Walter Cronkite of CBS News was the first to report the shooting in Dallas of President Kennedy, but was the last to confirm his actual death.
The venerable newsman waited and waited and waited…for the AP news flash to be official. Dan Rather said the president was dead. Eddie Barker of a local Dallas TV station had heard the president was dead. Sources said that priests had performed the Last Rites of the catholic church. All of this could have been conjecture. Nothing official.
Until the presidential press secretary held a press conference at Parkland Hospital. President Kennedy died at 1:00 PM CST.
And then Cronkite told his audience, almost losing it in the process.
Over the last three days, you the Patriot fan can’t quite wrap your head around the reports. Tom Brady is leaving the Patriots. Tom Brady is going to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tom Brady has to pass a physical first. Because of the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, he has to go to New York City, to a secret neutral doctor to receive the physical.
But on Thursday, it’s finally official. Brady texted a picture of himself signing the contract. Two years, $50 million (originally, the figure was $60 million, that’s why we wait for official word), with other incentives added to the deal.
And with that, the Brady Era is over. Thud. That’s the sound of that door closing, a door bigger, thicker and wider than a bank vault.
Same city. Twenty-six years after the JFK assassination, people in the Dallas area woke up to read the Dallas Morning News, and found this jarring headline:
“SOLD! Landry Era Ends”
That was the day when Jerry Jones bought the Dallas Cowboys from H.R. “Bum” Bright, and summarily fired Tom Landry, the only coach in Cowboy history. It was, and perhaps still is, the most disrespectful and regrettable firing of a coaching icon in sports history. Of course, nobody could have known at the time that the Cowboys would soon embark on a four-year run of three Super Bowl wins, but at the time, Cowboy fans were outraged and Jones was despised from the start. Jones still owns the Cowboys, and those three wins are all Jones has to show for his long run as Cowboy owner other than his status with the league and his ownership brethren.
Here, Brady was a quarterback icon and not a coaching icon, but the feeling is the same. Either Bill Belichick didn’t want Brady around anymore, Brady had had it with Belichick and wanted to move on, or a combination of the two. But even though you all knew that this day would come, to have Brady suddenly leave the Patriots and move on to the historically mediocre Buccaneers is not at all the way Patriot Nation had envisioned the ending of the greatest sports career in the history of New England taking place.
We’ll exalt Brady on another day, if that’s at all possible in 1000 words or less. For now, here’s what we project for both teams.
According to reports, season ticket sales is spiking. That said, this is still a region where fans stay away from sports teams in droves. Nobody goes to see the Tampa Bay Rays, but most of the reason is that God-awful Tropicana Field, and it sure isn’t because of bad baseball. The Buccaneers ranked near the bottom of the NFL in attendance, despite playing in Raymond James Stadium, which is a nice looking stadium with its gimmick end zone pirate ship. Tampa Bay is not known for rabid fans. It could be that their favorite team is the Lightning, and Steven Stamkos is the face of Tampa Bay sports (it certainly isn’t Jameis Winston, or anyone on the Rays, if you can name any of them).
Brady joins a team that has some dynamic offensive weapons. Wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are perhaps the best tandem in the NFL. Tight end O.J. Howard is decent. Beyond that, Brady has to hope that his offensive line can give him the protection he needs to make his throws.
Brady will be 43 years old in August. At some point, even though we really haven’t seen it yet, age will have to come into play. Some people avoid it longer than others, but aging is as inevitable as death.
And then there is the integration into a new system. Bruce Arians, his new head coach, will either kowtow to Brady and give him everything he wants schematically, or he will make Brady blend into his system. This may be where Brady finds out if he made the right decision or not. You won’t really know how this turns out until he actually lines up against another team and he finally sees what he has to work with.
Belichick will now finally get to show everyone that he can win without Brady. Since Brady became the starter, the Patriots are 14-6 in games started by quarterbacks other than Brady (Matt Cassel, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett). But his record before September 2001 was 41-57, including his time at Cleveland.
Belichick had some abysmal quarterbacks in Cleveland, and one good one in Vinny Testaverde. He went to the playoffs with Testaverde and beat New England. But he was vilified in Cleveland, even though it wasn’t his fault that Bernie Kosar stopped being as good as he was when he was younger, and it wasn’t his fault that Art Modell decided to move the Browns to Baltimore in 1995.
What is more worrisome to Patriot fans is who has left the Patriots on the defensive side of the ball. Guys like Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Duron Harmon, Danny Shelton, and special teams standout Nate Ebner, all have left the Patriots. Whoever takes over for Brady won’t be in the defensive backfield making tackles or covering receivers. It won’t matter if the offense scores 35 and the defense gives up 38.
As for quarterback, most experts look at Jarrett Stidham as the heir apparent. Some others still envision a trade for Andy Dalton. And then there’s the possibility of trading up in the draft, maybe taking a shot at Oregon’s Justin Herbert. Whatever happens, retaining Joe Thuney with the franchise tag was a good move. The offensive line, if healthy (read: David Andrews, Isaiah Wynn) and fullback, if healthy (read: James Develin) should both help greatly. Belichick and Josh McDaniels could re-design the offense so that Stidham can manage the game without winning it. Belichick can go back and watch the game film of Super Bowl 50 to see how Denver won it with zero passing offense from Peyton Manning. This may turn out to be the breakout season for Sony Michel, as opposed to last year.
Whatever the case, don’t be surprised if the season ends and both Brady and Belichick come away with egg on their faces, and a melancholy feeling of what might have been if Belichick had been a little more prescient and Brady a little less annoyed.
But it is official. Brady is a Buc. Now, let’s get rid of this pandemic so that, in August and September, we can actually find out what becomes of this seismic change in the NFL.