Tom Brady to Bucs, NFL free agency fallout, power rankings and more


Tom Brady joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers isn’t only a historic move. It’s the revival of one franchise and the death of another.

The New England Patriots are dead.

After a decade of wondering if every Patriots loss portended demise, death came swiftly for a franchise atop the football world for 20 years. New England still has Bill Belichick and a committed owner in Robert Kraft, but without Tom Brady, the fat lady is belting her tune.

While some will dance atop their figurative grave, a moment to reflect.

The Patriots won six Super Bowls and reached nine in 19 seasons. They played in 12 conference title games over that span, including eight consecutively. They are without question the greatest dynasty in NFL history, somehow accomplished completely in the salary cap era.

We often say something is special, but the word is grossly overused.

The Patriots were special. It’s exceedingly likely we will never see their like again.

Love or hate them, they deserve their moment of testimony.

As for Brady’s decision to head for the NFC and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? It is a seismic change for both the NFL and the Bucs alike.

For the league, this is the end of Foxborough being one of the sport’s most hallowed grounds. Now it’s just another game on the schedule most weeks, a small town alongside I-95 hosting an inconsequential affair.

For the Buccaneers, it’s a revival.

Tampa Bay has wandered in the football wilderness since winning the Super Bowl in 2002, ironically sandwiched between Brady’s first three titles. The Buccaneers haven’t won a playoff game since, and haven’t been to the postseason since 2007.

As of Sunday night, Tampa Bay comes off in Vegas at 18/1 to win Super Bowl LV, only trailing the Kansas City Chiefs (13/2), Baltimore Ravens (8/1), San Francisco 49ers (11/1) and New Orleans Saints (16/1).

Some will say betting on a 42-year-old quarterback is a sucker’s bet. To do so is missing the point.

Brady makes the Buccaneers matter. The stands at Raymond James will be packed for the first time in years. The cannons will roar under the night sky, something long gone from Tampa Bay.

Whether Brady has a Peyton Manning-style ending for his second act or goes the way of Johnny Unitas with the San Diego Chargers is an unknown. His numbers and skills have been slowly declining, but he remains a quality quarterback.

With more motivation than he’s had in years, can he reach once more into his satchel and pull out a vintage campaign? The weapons around him in Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard suggest yes. The hourglass of history on players in their 40s distinctly says no.

Regardless of how it plays out, the intrigue and theater is fantastic. Brady will have his chance to work through the NFC, attempting to best Drew Brees in his own division.

Tampa Bay plays a schedule packed with great matchups, from the two encounters with the New Orleans Saints to home dates with Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, and Aaron Rodgers and his Green Bay Packers. The Buccaneers also visit the Las Vegas Raiders and Jon Gruden. Must-see TV.

Brady leaving the Patriots forever alters two franchises. New England will never be the same, while the Buccaneers will benefit for years thanks to buzz generated while Brady is in uniform.

The Patriots are dead. The Buccaneers are very, very alive.

Power rankings

Top 10 teams after free agency rush

1. Kansas City Chiefs
2. Baltimore Ravens
3. San Francisco 49ers
4. New Orleans Saints
5. Green Bay Packers
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
7. Philadelphia Eagles
8. Buffalo Bills
9. Seattle Seahawks
10. Pittsburgh Steelers


"“My number I’m rocking? I’m going with that 2-4, man. I’m gonna rock with 2-4 this year. I’m going Kobe mode, man. Black mamba, baby. Rest in peace to the GOAT, man, one of my favorite players. Gonna rock that 2-4 probably. I think I’m gonna look good in 24.”"

– Philadelphia Eagles corner Darius Slay on honoring Kobe with his jersey number

Respect. RIP Kobe.


Random stat

In the 1990s, Detroit Lions star Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith of the Dallas Cowboys combined to rush for 27,762 yards, despite Sanders retiring after the ’98 campaign.

Neither ever failed to produce a 1,000-season during that span. From 1990-97, at least one made First-Team All-Pro ever year.

Info learned this week

1. Watson’s price for Texans keeps going up with O’Brien’s moves

Bill O’Brien is destroying the Houston Texans’ present and future.

O’Brien’s trade of DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals is one of the worst in recent memory. A three-time All-Pro for a washed-up, expensive running back and a second-round choice is so bad it wouldn’t be approved on Madden. Seriously.

By losing Hopkins and watching nose tackle D.J. Reader leave in free agency, O’Brien made his team considerably weaker. The poor signings of receiver Randall Cobb and safety Eric Murray aren’t helping, either.

However, there’s a plotline we shouldn’t miss in all this. Deshaun Watson’s looming extension.

Watson is eligible for an extension this spring, and with Hopkins gone, along with no first-round picks for the next two years, the price will only go up. Watson needed more help around him before losing his best weapon. Now? He’s working with Cobb, the oft-injured Will Fuller and Kenny Stills.

Watson won’t get Patrick Mahomes-level money, but he’ll slot in right behind him. After O’Brien’s malpractice last week, he’s likely to enter negotiations with a frown. Now the Texans have to make it up to him with more cash, knowing they have little resources to do it any other way.

2. Bears issues were compounded over a rough 72-hour period

The Bears made three major moves last week. All of them were curious at best.

Chicago attempted to upgrade on both sides of the ball, landing tight end Jimmy Graham (two years, $16M) and edge rusher Robert Quinn (five years, $70M).

Graham, 33, hasn’t been topped 650 receiving yards since 2016, despite playing with Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers. Now he’ll be playing with Nick Foles, but more on him in a second.

Quinn, 30, had a terrific year with the Dallas Cowboys, racking up 11.5 sacks. So why the problem? He’s 30 years old and 2019 was his first season of double-digit sacks since 2014. Quinn is a good player who will amass numbers with Chicago thanks to Khalil Mack garnering the attention, but general manager Ryan Pace could have gone cheap here and still found 10 sacks.

Now, onto Foles.

Pace surrendered a fourth-round pick for Foles, who is signed for three more seasons and is coming off an injury-riddled, 0-6 season with the Jacksonville Jaguars. While Foles is a modest upgrade over Mitch Tribusky — and who isn’t? — the Bears could have moved on Cam Newton. Newton, the 2015 NFL MVP, is a far better player with only one year remaining on his deal.

Chicago made moves, but with no discernible plan. Not ideal.

3. Cardinals positioned for a quick turnaround after Hopkins heist

The Arizona Cardinals are going to be a real team in 2020.

After going 5-10-1 last season, head coach Kliff Kingsbury has to be thrilled with the offseason so far. Arizona unloaded David Johnson and either re-signed or acquired running back Kenyan Drake, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and defensive tackle Jordan Phillips.

How good is Phillips? He led the AFC with 10 sacks for defensive tackles. Yes, more than Chris Jones.

With No. 8 overall in the upcoming NFL Draft, the Cardinals can draft a franchise left tackle to protect the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year in quarterback Kyler Murray. Suddenly, the offense looks very potent while the defense — admittedly with much work needed — is anchored by cornerback Patrick Peterson, edge rusher Chandler Jones and Phillips.

The Cardinals aren’t winning the Super Bowl come February, but they’ve made significant improvements. Don’t be shocked if they’re pushing for a playoff berth.

4. Bengals, Chargers, Dolphins clearly going QB in first round

Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert. The Cincinnati Bengals, Miami Dolphins and Los Angeles Chargers. It looks like a trio of matches in some order.

With the Carolina Panthers signing Teddy Bridgewater, they won’t be using a first-round pick on a quarterback. It’s impossible to see any other team not mentioned above in the top-10 doing so either. The Las Vegas Raiders are a team to watch with the Nos. 12 and 19 selections as a move-up candidate, but nobody else is within range to make a move.

Barring a miracle, the Bengals are taking Burrow. The Dolphins will likely have the choice of Tagovailoa or Herbert, with the Chargers getting the remainder. Of course, Los Angeles could jump Miami, but then the order is simply reversed.

It’s a dangerous game trying to predict the draft, but free agency all but put the quarterback combinations on a platter for us.

5. Colts moves improve short-term, but long-term questions abound

Chris Ballard didn’t wait around this year.

After dealing with criticism by a fanbase displeased with inaction despite serious cap space last offseason, Ballard was aggressive this past week. The Indianapolis Colts landed Philip Rivers on a one-year, $25 million deal along with the trade of a fist-round choice for defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. Buckner was subsequently signed to a four-year extension.

With Buckner and linebacker Darius Leonard as the long-term building blocks, the defense is improving for now and the future. However, the signing of Rivers only delays the decision at quarterback for another year.

The Colts are without a first-round pick now, and both Rivers and Jacoby Brissett are slated for free agency in 2021. If Rivers doesn’t improve on his 2020 form, Ballard will need to be ultra-aggressive finding a quarterback next spring.

It’s a problem for tomorrow and not today in Indianapolis. But in the NFL, tomorrow comes quickly.

History lesson

The 1983 Washington Redskins are largely forgotten to history, but they were a win away from being considered one of the all-time great teams.

Fresh off a title the previous year, Washington stormed to a 14-2 record and breezed through the regular season. Throughout the campaign, the Redskins amassed 541 points (a then-league record) and a +43 turnover ratio, still an NFL record.

Washington plowed through the NFC playoffs to meet up with the Los Angeles Raiders in Super Bowl XVIII. However, the Redskins played their worst game in years, losing 38-9 at Tampa Stadium.

With a victory, Washington would have enjoyed consecutive championships amidst record-shattering years. Instead, the ’83 Redskins are a footnote.

Parting shot

Les Snead pushed all his chips into the middle. He got busted.

The Los Angeles Rams general manager has been more aggressive than anybody in the last few years.

Snead signed quarterback Jared Goff to a four-year, $134 million extension ($110M guaranteed) and watched him slide into mediocrity last season. He traded a first-round pick for receiver Brandin Cooks and then signed him to a five-year, $80 million deal. In October, he traded two first-round choices for Jalen Ramsey and will eventually make him the highest-paid corner in league history.

Additionally, Snead traded a second-round choice in 2018 for corner Marcus Peters before dealing him six months ago for a fifth-round pick. Peters went on to sign an extension with the Baltimore Ravens.

Finally, the Rams also extended running back Todd Gurley for four years and $57.5 million — $45M guaranteed — only to release on Thursday before he could play a down on it.

Snead played from a stacked deck for years with ample cap space and draft picks to burn. Now, after watching his plays backfire, he’s without a safety net.

In free agency, the Rams lost linebacker Cory Littleton and edge rusher Dante Fowler Jr. for future compensatory picks. Los Angeles added Leonard Floyd to hopefully replace Fowler, but that’s a low-end gamble.

Ultimately, the Rams were one win away from the Super Bowl barely more than a year ago. They lost, and now their window appears slammed shut without a first-round pick until 2022, and a tightening cap situation with no relief in sight.