ESPN’s Jeff Darlington was a guest on Adam Schefter’s podcast Monday and the topic was Tom Brady’s free agency tour. Darlington had already said that he would be “stunned” if Brady would return to New England. During the combine he alluded to the fact that the Bucs have a chance to land the first ballot Hall of Fame quarterback as you can see here;
And here (and in case the video starts at the beginning, fast-forward to the 8:15 mark);
As far as his appearance on Shefter’s podcast, Darlington once again brought up the Buccaneers as a suitor - but before actually naming them, he described them to a tee. Schefter asked the question, “What do you think will be the deciding factor for Tom Brady - tracking the situation the way you have, knowing what you know, knowing he’s going to have to make a decision - what is going to be, in your mind, the deciding factor on where he winds up?”
“I think a head coach that desires collaboration and desires the input of his quarterback will play a huge role in that. If you look across the landscape of the teams we’ve heard mentioned, you look to the coach and decide for yourself if that fits that aspect of it.
You look toward player personnel and a roster that’s fit to win, but not necessarily right on the cusp of a Super Bowl title. It doesn’t have to be ‘plug and play,’ I think that Tom is willing to go to a roster that is still very good, like the Bucs. Not a team that was a dominant powerhouse last year. When you look top to bottom at that roster, you actually see maybe a roster that’s built that’s maybe a few pieces away.
So, yes, he does mention the Bucs specifically there, but look at the coach comment - a coach that desires collaboration and desires the input of his quarterback. Who does that sound like?
Yes. Bruce Arians. And that was the name that Darlington immediately brought up, but more on that in a bit.
Arians is famous for stressing the importance of his quarterback’s comfortability. When he was in Pittsburgh, he allowed Ben Roethlisberger to put together the game plans and have input into the playbook. In Arizona, he would sit down and talk to Carson Palmer every week to find out what Palmer’s favorite plays were to put into the game plan. He’d also find out Palmer’s least favorite plays and he’d trash them. At every stop, Arians would make his quarterback as involved as he possibly could in developing the playbook and game plan because that’s when they perform at their best - when they’re comfortable.
Then we move on to the roster. No other team in the market for quarterback has the weapons Tampa Bay does. None of them have two - TWO - Pro Bowl receivers. None of them have dual receiving threats at tight end - assuming O.J. Howard remains part of their plan. The last time Brady had two big time receiving tight ends? Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and we all know how dangerous that offense was.
The defense, for all the struggles they faced early on, became a top ten defense in the second half of the season. If the front seven all return this team is, as Darlington put it, a few pieces away. An offensive tackle, possibly a running back, maybe a safety based off the status of Justin Evans - this roster would be in pretty solid shape.
Darlington would continue;
“You know who you could really look at? We talk about the Bucs and people are kind of like, ‘Yeah, but the Bucs?’ but Bruce Arians allowed Ben Roethlisberger - about ten years ago when [Arians] was his offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach - and he would let Ben Roethlisberger basically build the game plan with him, call the plays on game day, look at that. If you go back and look at that, look at when Bruce Arians came in as offensive coordinator of the Steelers.
Look at those headlines and read those stories - it’s pretty interesting. You talk about collaboration, he was the ultimate collaborator when it came to bringing Ben Roethlisberger into his circle, into his world, and saying ‘Hey, if you don’t like something, if you’re not comfortable with it, we’re gonna change that because we need this to be a two way street.’
That, to me, is what makes the Bucs especially fascinating as Tom looks at them.”
Schefter and Darlington went on to discuss how Tampa is the only suitor that has been mentioned with Brady that is located on the east coast and they mention the weather being beneficial (obviously) but especially in terms of a 42 - soon to be 43 - year old quarterback as a few more alluring perks when it comes to the Buccaneers.
Darlington still has the Titans as the favorite given the relationship with head coach Mike Vrabel, but also brings up how close Vrabel and Brady are and that they may decide it’s best to not reunite in Nashville and potentially damage their friendship given a new on-field dynamic.
There’s plenty of reasons Brady could choose the Buccaneers and the closer we get to free agency, the more they are brought up by NFL insiders and experts as a landing spot that makes a lot of sense. That said, Darlington also mentioned that all the teams vying for Brady’s services are also guessing what he’s going to do as he hasn’t tipped his hand quite yet - but Darlington is hinting more and more by the week that the Buccaneers are among the top contenders for (arguably) the greatest quarterback of all time.
You can check out the podcast by clicking here or in the player below.