Tom Brady is leaving the Patriots, but reportedly still doesn’t know where he is going to play. The most likely landing spots are Tampa Bay and Los Angeles, as both the Buccaneers and Chargers have offered him contracts worth more than $30 million annually, according to the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. For the first time in a decade, we might have to care about the Bucs or Chargers. But those teams don’t have any more clarity on Brady’s mind-set than we do. “We’re waiting to see what Tom decides just like everybody else,” Bucs general manager Jason Licht told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Tuesday.
Why would Brady go to the Bucs or Chargers, two of the most anonymous franchises in the NFL? And if he doesn’t choose either, where else could he go? Let’s break down why Brady could consider signing with each of his top suitors.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers
TB to TB. For as odd as this pairing sounds, the Buccaneers are appealing from a football perspective. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin formed the most productive receiving combination in football last season, with Godwin ranking second in yards per game (95.2) and Evans ranking fourth (89.0). Those two would be the best receiver duo Brady has played with since Randy Moss left the Patriots. With tight end O.J. Howard serving as Tampa Bay’s third banana, the Bucs offer a talented pass-catching corps that the Patriots have recently lacked. Brady’s last pass as a Patriot was a pick-six, so he’s clearly prepared to take over for Jameis Winston.
Tampa Bay’s offense can also block. That would be crucial for Brady, who will turn 43 in August. Brady has been called a statue in the pocket, but at least statues are hard to bring down. These days Brady tends to fall whenever he sees a pass rusher coming. The Bucs had a top-10 pass protecting offensive line in 2019, per PFF—and have the entire left side of their offensive line signed through 2022 with Donovan Smith at left tackle, Ali Marpet at left guard, and Ryan Jensen at center. Pass protection is an underrated selling point for Brady’s next team.
In Tampa Bay, Brady would play under head coach Bruce Arians, who is the exact opposite of Bill Belichick. Arians is loud, emotional, and quotable. He has experience working with veteran quarterbacks, including when he and 36-year-old Carson Palmer led Arizona to a 13-3 record and the NFC championship game in the 2015 season. Tampa Bay’s defense turned around under coordinator Todd Bowles and was surprisingly formidable in 2019. That group will lose Ndamukong Suh and Carl Nassib in free agency, but the Bucs unit is far from a dumpster fire that will require Brady to drop 40 points every week.
Still, there are plenty of obstacles to Brady on the Bucs that would need to sort themselves out for this signing to happen. Arians’s offense is characterized by deep passing, and Brady’s deep-passing abilities are, uh, questionable. Winston ranked second in average pass length (10.5 yards) last season, while Brady ranked 28th (7.6). Evans and Godwin are effective largely because of their deep-receiving capabilities, and there is a real question about how effective Brady would be at reaching them consistently.
Tampa Bay would likely need to lean more on quick passing and the running game, but Tampa Bay’s running backs group is perhaps the worst in the league. Ronald Jones II was better last year than during his disastrous rookie campaign in 2018, but he still struggles as a pass catcher. That’s not ideal for a back who could soon line up behind Brady, who has leaned on the likes of James White, Shane Vereen, and Kevin Faulk throughout his career. The Bucs also had the NFL’s 27th-most-efficient running game in 2019 when adjusted for context by Football Outsiders. New England was league average. Running more would also require using tight ends more in the running and passing game, but Arians has avoided using tight ends heavily in his coaching career. Howard is a talented player, but struggled to get regular snaps for the Bucs often last year. The Bucs signing Brady would mean Arians would have to change fundamental parts of his football philosophy.
Of course, he may be willing to do that. The chance to swap out Winston, who tossed a whopping 30 interceptions last season, in favor of Brady, who’s proved to be one of the best decision-makers in NFL history, is probably worth such a strategic overhaul. But it doesn’t mean this is the right spot for Brady, especially without the running game infrastructure to rely on in the fourth quarter.
There are also the personal reasons to consider. Are Brady and his wife, Gisele Bündchen, willing to move their family to central Florida? Or would they prefer a different location?
The Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers are not as talented as the Bucs are on offense, but stylistically they’re a better fit. The Chargers, who moved on from Philip Rivers earlier this offseason, also chuck it deep, but not as much as the Buccaneers do. (Rivers ranked no. 14 in average pass length last year.) The Chargers have Keenan Allen and Mike Williams at receiver, Hunter Henry at tight end, and Austin Ekeler at running back, which could be the best top four receiving options Brady would have had since the 2012 Patriots. (Ekeler in particular is intriguing because he fits the mold of the pass-catching running back that Brady has excelled with over the years.) But a major concern with the Chargers has been health, as Allen, Williams, and Henry have all missed significant amounts of time in their stints with the team. Injuries have also hurt the offensive line, and that unit hasn’t been all that good even when it’s healthy, though it may get better soon.
The Chargers had the worst tackle group in the NFL in 2019 with Russell Okung missing most of the year. Of the 55 offensive tackles who played at least 700 snaps last season, Chargers right tackle Sam Tevi graded as the 52nd-best pass blocker, according to Pro Football Focus. Left tackle Trent Scott ranked dead last. On Tuesday, the Chargers added former Packers tackle Bryan Buluga, who should be an upgrade over both. Los Angeles has also made steps to bolster its interior line, but there is still room for improvements. The Chargers traded Okung to Carolina for guard Trai Turner, but their other guard spot is a revolving door. This year, that job could go to 2017 second-rounder Forrest Lamp, but he has played nine games in three seasons. The other option is incumbent guard Dan Feeney, who had the 48th-highest PFF grade of the 54 guards who played 700 snaps last season. The Chargers’ best offensive lineman is center Mike Pouncey, but he finished the 2019 season on injured reserve with a neck injury. The Chargers graded as the no. 29 pass-blocking team in the NFL last year by PFF, ahead of only the Bengals, Rams, and Dolphins. The question is whether they can be better in 2020.
If the Chargers can improve their line, they might be a great spot for Brady, even though that would mean playing the Super Bowl champion Chiefs twice a year. The Chargers’ best hope is to shift to a short passing game that would allow Brady to get the ball out of his hands so quickly that the pass rush couldn’t get to him. Short routes are definitely in Allen’s wheelhouse, but that might be an adjustment for Williams, who lives off of contested deep catches.
Both the Chargers and Buccaneers will have to make serious adjustments to their approach and personnel to build a winning team around Brady. But it’s Brady’s decision, and this is where the non-football factors could matter. On the one hand, playing for the Chargers would be bizarre. In their time in Carson, California, their stadium was inundated with fans of opposing teams. Next year, they are set to play in SoFi Stadium, which is more than twice the occupancy and literally in the shape of the Rams logo. It’s the strangest home-field situation in the league and a bizarre place for Brady’s career to end.
It also makes perfect sense. Just as LeBron James didn’t see an excellent basketball situation in 2018 but decided Los Angeles was the best place for his off-court endeavors, Tom Brady relocating to Los Angeles seems like a wise life decision. Brady announced last week he was starting a production company with the directors of Avengers: Endgame. It seems better to run a production company from Los Angeles than from Tampa Bay. And what was the headline of the Deadline article announcing it?
L.A. is also a better place to sell the TB12 lifestyle brand, which Brady wants to pitch to Hollywood’s rich and famous. If the Chargers are close to the Bucs on the field, the city is far and away the better choice.
The rest of Tom Brady’s potential suitors can be eliminated fairly easily. The following teams are committed to their quarterback:
the Bills, Jets, Ravens, Steelers, Browns, Texans, Titans, Chiefs, Cowboys, Giants, Eagles, Washington, Lions, Packers, Vikings, Falcons, Saints, Cardinals, Rams, 49ers, and Seahawks. The Raiders, Broncos, and Jaguars have quarterbacks they may move on from next year, but are unlikely to add Brady this year. The Bengals and Dolphins need quarterbacks but are expected to draft a passer in April. On Tuesday, the Panthers agreed to a deal with Teddy Bridgewater, taking them out of the mix. The Colts are expected to sign Philip Rivers on Wednesday, due to his connections with the coaching staff (though that is not set in stone). That leaves the Patriots, the Buccaneers, the Chargers, and …
The Chicago Bears
The salary cap situation would be hard to figure out, but everything else about this move makes sense. The Bears have the strongest infrastructure to support Brady. Their offense features underrated playmakers like receivers Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, and Riley Ridley plus running backs David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen. Brady, a classic pocket passer known for his decision-making, would bring everything to the Bears that Mitchell Trubisky does not. Trubisky does not see open receivers, while Brady sees everyone all the time. If the Bears can restructure some contracts, make some tough decisions like releasing Cordarrelle Patterson to clear cap space, and get Brady on board, he could be facing Aaron Rodgers twice a year for the next couple of seasons. Tom Brady became the Michael Jordan of football by winning six rings. What better place to go than Chicago?
This piece was updated on March 17 at 1:42 p.m. PT with additional information after publication.