Bruce Arians was hired to change the culture in Tampa Bay. The Bucs had been a bottom feeder for many years heading into 2019, but they weren’t your typical last-place team. A roster chock full of talent and proven veterans awaited Arians when he arrived at One Buc Place.
2019 didn’t go as planned. For anyone. The Bucs were expected to make a strong playoff push, but stumbled to a 3-7 start before going 4-2 over the final six games. A 7-9 record was certainly an improvement over 2018’s 5-11 finish, but it was nowhere close to what Arians and the Bucs wanted to accomplish.
Turnovers, an up-and-down defense, a struggling offensive line, an inconsistent kicking game, and a league-leading 134 penalties all helped contribute to Tampa Bay’s losing record. On the surface, it seemed like there was still a lot of work to do before the Bucs could return to the postseason.
But Arians —and general manager Jason Licht— saw something different. They saw a roster that just need a spark (much like the Bucs’ 2002 roster) and some confidence. They knew once that arrived, everything could change.
Enter Tom Brady.
“We were (already) a really good football team. We had a lot of really good, young players,” Arians said a couple of weeks ago on Arizona Sports’ Doug & Wolf Show. “The thing we missed is the confidence factor of someone who has been there and done it. When Tom decided to come here, it legitimized our locker room very, very much like Carson Palmer did when we came to Arizona.”
Bringing Brady into the fold was obviously crucial and the biggest signing of not only Tampa Bay’s offseason but in franchise history and possibly even NFL history. As Arians stated, Brady’s arrival legitimized the locker room and gave the incumbent players the confidence to win games.
Licht and Arians weren’t done there, either. Tampa Bay traded for Rob Gronkowski a few weeks later, Leonard Fournette was added later during the summer, and then Antonio Brown came on board around Week 9 of the regular season.
All three signings were big deals, but not because of their names. Tampa Bay’s roster still had depth questions and investing around $14 million in three guys that were considered “roster luxuries” certainly made a lot of folks wonder if these moves were the right ones.
As it turns, out they were more than just correct decisions. They were on dead-on brilliant ones.
Gronkowski routinely made plays throughout the year and helped level out the loss of O.J. Howard. Fournette carried the rushing attack throughout the postseason while Ronald Jones II recovered from a quad injury. Brown helped spark a crucial comeback win over the Falcons in Week 15 and caught a pivotal touchdown pass right before halftime in the Super Bowl.
All four players are part of the reason why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are Super Bowl LV champions. All four of them are here because Arians and Licht knew what they had in this team and they knew these guys would make a difference. And now, all four have helped the Bucs do the improbable: Win the Super Bowl.
Or is it as improbable as we think?
“It really wasn’t that improbable when you think about the [type of] professionals that they are,” Arians told reporters after the Super Bowl. “These guys have history in the playoffs. When you start adding Tom, then Robby, Leonard went to the championship game, and AB’s been in playoffs. They brought that confidence to all our guys. We were a very talented football team that no one wants to give us credit for, we just needed to believe. The hardest thing to build is a culture where people start believing and we started believing pretty early in the season and we knew we were going to be a tough out. All we had to do was get in the playoffs.”
Hats off to Arians, Licht, and the Bucs. They had a vision and a plan that they weren’t afraid to go after.
And now they have a Lombardi Trophy to show for it.