TOM BRADY IN TAMPA WILL BE FUN, BUT WILL THEY WIN?

TOM BRADY IN TAMPA WILL BE FUN, BUT WILL THEY WIN?

NEW YORK, N.Y.- After months of speculation, Tom Brady made it official on Tuesday morning that his time in New England was done and he would play elsewhere in 2020. The Buccaneers seemed to come out of the shadows and land Brady’s services. The six-time Super Bowl champion taking his talents to Tampa should provide for some high-octane offensive play. While the highlights should be abundant, Brady didn’t sign with the Bucs to only throw touchdown passes and have a good time. His goal of winning hasn’t changed, and he wouldn’t have signed up if he didn’t believe the team that went 7-9 last year were just a few pieces away from being legitimate contenders in a deep NFC. Will Brady be right?

Ryan Hickey lays out the reasoning for the fun to be had in Tampa Bay for Tom Brady and why the winning won’t come as easily

Before we look ahead at what could be in 2020, we must first look back at 2019 to try and figure out what led to the Patriots offense becoming pedestrian, especially in the second half. The final eight games of the regular season, New England averaged just over 21 points per game, compared to 31 points per game they average in the first half of the season. While it’s easy to point to the trigger man as the main reason for the two score drop off, it goes deeper than that. The Patriots offensive system, guided by offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, is predicated on reading the defense and adjusting routes based on what they see. Reading the defense doesn’t just start and stop at the quarterback position though. It extends to the running backs, tight ends and wide receivers. Everyone has to be on the same page and the timing must be exact, or else the entire play is thrown off.

The rotating cast at the skill positions, which saw first round pick N’Keal Harry miss the first nine games of the season, Mohamed Sanu traded for halfway through the year and an extra reliance on rookie Jakobi Meyers, not to mention both Antonio Brown and Josh Gordon coming in and then going out, Brady wasn’t able to trust his targets. The lack of trust stemmed from not being on the same page, which led to bad throws and a stagnant offense. Last year wasn’t a hint that Father Time is finally catching up to the ageless wonder, but instead a reassurance that Brady can no longer make chicken salad out of, well, you know.

Looking ahead now to the upcoming season, the new toys Brady has at his disposal jump right off the page. Tampa boasts arguably the best wide receiver tandem in the league, as Chris Godwin and Mike Evans both surpassed 1,100 receiving yards last season. Brady hasn’t had two players both go over 1,100 yards in the same season since 2011, when Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski combined for 2,896 yards. On top of those two on the outside, the future Hall of Famer also has two solid tight end options in Cameron Brate and OJ Howard. While there’s still work that has to be done at the running back position, this is already shaping up to be one of the best supporting casts ever assembled around the soon to be 43-year-old.

Brady also gets the pleasure of working with pass-happy head coach Bruce Arians, whose aggressive mindset allowed former Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston to create the infamous 30-touchdown, interception club. Arians worked his magic with the likes of Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck and Carson Palmer, so it will be intriguing to see what he can do with an all-time great chasing his seventh Super Bowl victory. The biggest question mark with this new marriage is how Brady, who is known more as an underneath to intermediate passer, will integrate into the vertical passing system that Arians runs.

TAMPA, FL – OCTOBER 5: Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots controls the offense during the second quarter of an NFL football game Tampa Bay Buccaneers on October 5, 2017 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

The Buccaneers upcoming 2020 schedule also adds to the fun, as there are a few very sexy matchups that are sure to put Tampa Bay in primetime more than they’ve ever been. The former Patriot (still so weird to write) will go against his former defensive coordinator in Matt Patricia, battle Drew Brees twice and gets a shot against the only other team that made an offer for his services in the Los Angeles Chargers. There are also some awesome quarterback matchups slated for the 101st NFL season, as the Michigan alum will take on Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins and Patrick Mahomes. These games will bring the most eyes and attention that have been on this franchise since their 2002 Super Bowl season.  

While the weapons, head coach and schedule present some great opportunities for fireworks this upcoming season, the main question surrounding this team is whether they will be legitimate contenders not just in the conference, but in their own division. The Falcons are gearing up offensively to match the firepower of Tampa Bay, signing Todd Gurley to add to the collection of talent they possess that includes Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Hayden Hurst and Matt Ryan. The Saints return Drew Brees and most of the weapons that helped power New Orleans to a 13-3 record. Both of those teams already pose bigger threats than most of the competition the Patriots have rolled over in the AFC East for the last 20 years. The Panthers don’t appear to be a pushover either, as the signing of Teddy Bridgewater will keep them competitive in 2020.

Feb 3, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) gestures after a fourth down in the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Rams 13-3 to win an NFL record-tying sixth championship. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Outside of just a more challenging division, the NFC poses a deeper road to the Super Bowl than the AFC. Before the breakthrough of the Chiefs this past year, the Patriots controlled the conference for two decades, going to 13 AFC Conference Championship games in that span. While Brady navigated the AFC littered with young, up-and-coming gunslingers, the NFC is filled with established, championship-winning signal callers. Standing in the way of a seventh Lombardi Trophy are the likes of Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees.

In addition to those star quarterbacks, the NFC also boasts the defending conference champion in a young and physical 49ers team, the Vikings, who pulled off an impressive playoff upset over the Saints, a talent loaded Cowboys team that is armed with a head coach who doesn’t specialize in clapping and the Eagles, who barring catastrophic injuries, will be a tough out.

While the road may be tough, there is promise that the Buccaneers can turn it around from a losing season to right in the thick of it this year. Ironically enough, it’s on the defensive end where the Brady signing could show the biggest dividends. Last year, Tampa Bay’s defense, especially their secondary, struggle mightily. But was is truly all their fault? The answer lies on the other side of the ball. In 2019, the defense was credited with allowing 449 points, which was the fourth most in the league. Part of that was due in part to Winston’s record setting seven pick-sixes thrown that directly added 49 points to their total points allowed tally. You take away those 49 points and while it’s still not pretty, it’s improvement as they move from fourth to 10th worst in total points allowed.

That’s not where the optimism for a defensive turnaround in 2020 ends. Of the 23 interceptions thrown by the former number one overall pick that weren’t returned for touchdowns, 16 occurred in the Buccaneers’ own end of the field, putting the defense in a tough spot to succeed. The overall efficiency numbers reflect the notion that the defense, led by defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, was a lot better than the scoreboard indicated. According to Football Outsiders, Tampa Bay was fifth in defensive DVOA, which is a collection of data that measures the overall efficiency of the unit. So, despite the Buccaneers struggling statistically, the simple addition of Brady and subtraction of Winston should automatically give them a boost.

The path to a 10th Super Bowl appearance seems as tough as it’s ever been for Brady. The positive is that despite is age, he’s insulated with a supporting cast that can pick up him in a way the 2019 Patriots couldn’t. Barring injuries, it’s tough to bet against the man who’s only known winning his entire career. The playoffs are very attainable, and frankly expected, especially with the addition of an extra wild card team. 2020 will be simultaneously both the same and different. It will take some getting used to seeing the Boston icon wearing the pewter and red. The quest though, remains the same and the final destination is a familiar one, as Raymond James Stadium will host the upcoming Super Bowl. The end goal of raising that Lombardi Trophy doesn’t change, but for once, the journey will be a fun one.

An EXtra Football League?

An EXtra Football League?

Football fans and WWE fans – remember the XFL? Shockingly, it debuted 19 years ago, back in February 2001.  The NFL is king of football, as we know. There have been somewhat successful alternative football leagues before. We currently have leagues like the CFL (Canadian Football League), and the AFL (Arena Football League); and other failed leagues like the USFL (United States Football League), the AAF (Alliance of American Football), and even NFL Europe. Then of course, we had the colossal failure that was the XFL. I can still recall Vince McMahon’s voice screaming, “THIS…IS…THE XFL!” Vince McMahon failed miserably in his first attempt to create an alternative football league for many reasons. 

For starters, McMahon only gave himself one year to prepare for the launch of the league. Another problem was the way people could consume the product; some games were on NBC, others were on networks most  football fans hadn’t heard of. Let’s face it – the league was way too gimmicky. It had too much of a WWE feel, from the presentation of the games to the announcers calling them. Whether it was the “He Hate Me” jerseys, the radical rule changes, or simply the lack of a quality product, the league quickly lost viewers and ultimately failed after just one season.

But all hope was not lost. We know Vince McMahon is a very driven, successful businessman. The WWE was founded in the 1950s, and is currently as popular as it has ever been. The WWE is responsible for stars like Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Jesse Ventura, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and John Cena, to name a few. Amazingly, the company has a net worth of $3.2 BILLION! He obviously knows how to operate and grow an entertainment product. This time, he’ll learn from his mistakes, right?

After watching the first week of the XFL reboot, I think it has potential to be around for a very long time. The one thing the NFL is lacking is a place to develop their talent. Sure, I guess that’s what the NCAA is for… but is that really enough? These kids are entering into the NFL not even old enough to legally drink alcohol, and going up against grown men on the biggest stage with hardly enough time to prepare, both mentally and physically. There are only 32 NFL teams, with only 53 roster spots. But there are far more than 1,696 football players and coaches. Wouldn’t it make sense for there to be a developmental league for the NFL? 

Since there are so few roster spots and coaching openings, it makes perfect sense to have a league for fringe level NFL talent. The possibilities are endless. If every NFL team had an XFL team, players and coaches can get actual game experience to work diligently to improve their skills. Theoretically, a team could install a minor league program, where potential players and coaches could learn a team’s system, and be ready to jump onto the pro team fully prepared to run the team’s schemes. Think about the depth that would create for teams, and how ultimately the quality of play could increase with all this extra preparation! Not to mention, the XFL could be used to experiment with rule changes, safety features and camera angles.

Week 1 definitely showed potential. It actually resembled real football. The production was top notch, there were compelling stories, familiar names (players, coaches, even announcers), and there was genuine excitement surrounding the games. For the sake of the NFL, we should all hope that the XFL takes off for the reasons mentioned above. The NFL needs a minor league system, and Vince McMahon seems to have created just that. Enjoy a few more weeks of grid-iron battles, football fans!

The 49ers Shouldn’t Consider Trading or Releasing Jimmy Garoppolo

The 49ers Shouldn’t Consider Trading or Releasing Jimmy Garoppolo

By all accounts, the San Francisco 49ers had a tremendous season with a window wide open to win a Super Bowl despite their bad loss in Super Bowl LIV to the Kansas City Chiefs. The team is young and talented, but now in the aftermath of their Super Bowl loss, questions seems to be focused on their quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Garoppolo is bearing most of the blame for their loss to the Chiefs after a bad 4th quarter performance, but it’s not just the blame he’s getting, Garoppolo is getting talks of being replaced by the public after just three years as the starter.

With the 49ers being where they are, many believe they can’t win a championship with Garoppolo at quarterback. That he’s to limited and relies heavily on a defense, running game and a tremendous head coach in Kyle Shanahan. Some even bringing up that Tom Brady, a 49ers fan growing up and a free agent this offseason, should be signed by the 49ers to win a Super Bowl with this San Francisco team. This chatter about Garoppolo is a far cry from where we were with him just three years ago.

Before Garoppolo became the starter after he was traded from the New England Patriots to the 49ers, San Francisco was sitting at 1-10 until Garoppolo was put in Week 11 against the Chicago Bears, helping them to a 15-14 victory. This was the beginning of a 5-game winning streak to close the season for the 49ers and Garoppolo finished the season undefeated while throwing for 1,560 passing yards, 7 touchdowns, 5 interceptions, completing 67% of his passes, and a 96.2 passer rating. Things looked good for Garoppolo. He was heralded as the new face of the league and the next big thing while being compared a lot to his former mentor, Tom Brady.

The 49ers signed Garoppolo to a massive 5-year deal worth up to $137.5 million. Unfortunately, 2018 saw Garoppolo suffer a torn ACL in Week 3, costing him his season. Despite that, Garoppolo came back to put up a real solid year in 2019 for San Francisco throwing 27 touchdown passes, completing 69% of his throws, and achieving a 102.0 passer rating. San Francisco won 13 games this year all with Garoppolo as the starter which puts his overall record in San Francisco at 19-5. While he wasn’t great in the postseason, he was still their quarterback on the road to the Super Bowl. So, what’s the rush now to get rid of him?

Due to the way his contract is structured, the 49ers can release or trade him before April 1st, but they really don’t have a reason to. Finding a quarterback is one of the hardest things to do in sports. If San Francisco somehow gets rid of Garoppolo, there is no guarantee the next guy will step in and be better. Especially compared to what Garoppolo has already done. With the talk that the 49ers should sign Brady, we just got to ask why would the 49ers let a 28-year old potential decade long quarterback who has done nothing but win so far for their organization and just helped them get to a Super Bowl, would replace him for maybe one year of Brady? Even if Brady is the best quarterback ever, the move wouldn’t make any sense.

Garoppolo had a bad 4th quarter in Super Bowl LIV, which is a shame because for 3 quarters he outperformed the eventual MVP of the game, Patrick Mahomes. However, if we are going to say the 49ers should replace him because he lost a Super Bowl, then the Los Angeles Rams should’ve looked for a new quarterback after Jared Goff had a terrible performance in their Super Bowl loss the season before. Which would’ve been insane to suggest. Garoppolo has been solid and consistent so far for the 49ers, and for franchise quarterbacks, that is enough to win you a Super Bowl.

Andy Reid’s Legacy and Where He Stands

Andy Reid’s Legacy and Where He Stands

We all know Andy Reid is one of the greats in this era, but now we have to start considering him as an all-time best. Andy Reid has been 0-6 in conference championship games leading up to this superbowl win, which might I add had to be his greatest achievement of all.

Reid has always been focused on the people around him. He deflected all talk about his legacy leading up to Super Bowl LIV by saying it was about the team. But Reid’s players did not shy away from how important it was to them to win it for Big Red.

Patrick Mahomes said after the game “ He’s one of the best coaches of all time, he already was”.

Reid was already considered one of the greats of his era before winning the Super Bowl, but his legacy was complicated by numerous playoff losses in occasionally baffling fashion. The Super Bowl win removes the butfrom Reid’s coaching legacy. Now with the trophy in hand and a ring to come, we can look at just where Reid fits among the all-time greats.

Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh, and John Madden coached for 10 seasons. Reid has 10 division titles. He already has 21 years as a head coach under his (large) belt, and Reid has made the playoffs in 15 of those 21 seasons. He has more total wins than Madden and Lombardi combined. He has won more playoff games than every coach in NFL history except Bill Belichick, Don Shula, and Tom Landry. Reid has made only two Super Bowls, but he has made seven conference championship games, or one every three seasons he has been a coach.

Reid’s turnaround in Kansas City was remarkable for its speed, totality, and flexibility. He inherited a dark situation in Kansas City when he took over in 2013. The year before, the Chiefs went 2-14 and allegations arose that the front office had wiretapped phones in the Chiefs headquarters to spy on coaches. In December 2012, Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed Kasandra Perkins, the mother of his child, then drove to Arrowhead Stadium and shot himself in the head in front of general manager Scott Pioli and head coach Romeo Crennel. With the organization at rock bottom, owner Clark Hunt let Pioli and Crennel go and hired Reid, who had just been fired after 130 wins in 14 years with the Eagles.

If Andy Reid is not one of the all-time greats, he will be in the coming years with this lethal Kansas City team especially with Patrick Mahomes at the helm. Hats off to the guy whose IMO was someone who can never win the big game, well ladies and gentlemen I introduce you to Andrew Walter Reid your superbowl 54 winning coach, I’m sure this won’t be the last time we see him in this type of game.. Well done Andy, Well done!!

Future of Tom Brady in New England is Looking Bleak

Future of Tom Brady in New England is Looking Bleak

NEW YORK, N.Y.- Gas was added onto the fire that is the future of Tom Brady and his whereabouts in 2020. For the first time in 20 years, the future Hall-of-Famer can choose his destination and it seems he will have some options. Last weekend, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported over the weekend that the Patriots are willing to pay Brady $30 million a year for possibly two seasons. After two decades of paying significantly less than market value, New England is finally ready to pay Brady his due worth. The problem is that in doing so, it might have sealed the deal that Brady will sign elsewhere.

The Michigan alum has never cared about the money. He’s willingly taken reduced salaries in order to help free up money to spend on other weapons to improve the team. There’s no way that Brady, who will be 43 years old by the time the 2020 season starts, will strictly sign with the team that offers him the most money.

The Patriots’ willingness to pay Brady that much money should seal the deal that their franchise quarterback will suit up for another team next season. The Patriots don’t just need help at the quarterback position. Their wide receivers outside of Julian Edelman were extremely inconsistent and rarely on the same page as their quarterback. Rob Gronkowski was sorely missed as Brady rarely utilized the tight ends, a position he’s relied upon the last few seasons for major production. The offensive line struggled mightily at protecting the 42-year-old last season, which doesn’t bode well for 2020. With almost every offensive position needing some sort of upgrade, paying Brady $30 million per season won’t allow for other positions to be addressed, thus a repeat of 2019 could very well be in store. At this point, the Patriots need Tom Brady more than Tom Brady needs the Patriots.

So, if not the Patriots then who? Two teams are emerging as perfect fits for Brady. Adam Schefter reported last weekend that the Las Vegas Raiders would be interested in pursuing Brady if he doesn’t re-sign with New England. The Raiders have the pieces on offense in place to make a run at the playoffs. Josh Jacobs was outstanding in his first year, Darren Waller is the perfect body type at tight end that Brady loves, and Tyrell Williams is a big bodied receiver that can make plays down the field. The Raiders offensive line last season was the best in the NFL in terms of allowing the least amount of quarterback hits, surrendering just 52.

Mar 21, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; General overall view of Oakland Raiders helmet and NFL official Wilson Duke football at the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign on the Las Vegas Blvd. on the Las Vegas strip. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The other team is the Los Angeles Chargers. The Bolts have already parted ways with franchise quarterback Philip Rivers, opening the door for Brady to slide right in. Similar to the Raiders, the Chargers have a ton of weapons already in place, including: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Melvin Ingram, Joey Bosa and Derwin James. The big question will be whether the Chargers can retain both Austin Ekeler and Hunter Henry, both of whom would be perfect compliments to Brady’s skillset.

What makes both the Chargers and Raiders situations even more tempting for Brady is that both organizations are trying to make a big splash in their new territory. The Chargers are desperate to build a fan base in Los Angeles, something that’s been a lot harder than most NFL owners thought it would be when they approved a second team to inhabit Los Angeles. Opening up their new shared stadium with the Rams, the Chargers need a prominent superstar to point to and have their fans latch onto.

Photo courtesy: Chargers.com

In the case of the Raiders, they are moving their franchise from Oakland to Las Vegas and while they haven’t had much trouble establishing some excitement around the city’s newest franchise, the Raiders need to keep their fans coming back. The best way to do that is by putting a winning team on the field. No better example of the city embracing a winner better than the city’s NHL team, who’s run to the Stanley Cup Finals hooked the entire region and has made a city built in the desert obsessed about a sport played on ice. Jon Gruden’s affinity for Brady can’t be ignored as well, as the Raiders, after losing star receiver Antonio Brown last summer, could look to bring in another superstar to kick off their new era in Sin City.

An important factor to note is that with the Raiders and Chargers opening up new stadiums, it could give Brady leverage in implementing his TB12 workout centers in whichever city he decides to play. The TB12 centers have been the main source of treatment for many Patriots players and that could continue in either Los Angeles or Las Vegas, as I’m sure both organizations would be more than willing to accommodate Brady.

There’s no telling where the six-time Super Bowl champion could land in 2020. Brady has stated that he is “open-minded” about free agency and it is unknown what his main priorities are. If his biggest goal is still to win another Lombardi Trophy, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Patriots are the least desirable option Brady currently has.  

Kyle Shanahan Can’t Defeat His BigGame Demons

Kyle Shanahan Can’t Defeat His BigGame Demons

Did the Kansas City Chiefs win the Super bowl or did Kyle Shanahan give it to them? We can go on and on about who was to blame for the San Francisco 49ers loss in Super Bowl 54 Sunday to the Kansas City Chiefs. Lots of factors played into it, and of course will give the credit to Patrick Mahomes and company. But the guy who should be at the head of the blame game table belongs to the head coach. Shanahan has now been on the wrong end of two of the biggest comebacks in Super Bowl history. He was the offensive Coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons debacle where they blew a 28-3 loss to the New England Patriots, and the Falcons have still never recovered. People said he got to conservative and didn’t do enough to win when New England grabbed momentum. Super Bowl 54 played out the same way.

Let’s start with clock management. Right before the half, the 49ers defense had gotten Mahomes and the Chiefs to punt the ball. With all three timeouts left, Shanahan decided let’s not use them. What was he saving them for? He had over a minute left on the clock to make something happen. Jimmy Garoppolo had been dominant in the two minute offense all year. So why all of a sudden change up what made you successful? They wound up throwing a deep ball to Tight End George Kittle, but was called back for a questionable offensive pass interference. After that Shanahan said he was content going into the half tied at 10. Even his GM John Lynch was showing signaling for Shanahan to call for a timeout. What does that tell you?

Not having the confidence in his offense was on display when his team had momentum and on a fourth and two, he decided to kick a field goal to go up 13-10 rather than going for it. His running attack had been thriving for the game and they had two very reliable backs in Raheem Moster and Tevin Coleman, not to mention a strong, and likely best fullback in the game in Kyle Juszcyk. Even doing trickery with Deebo Samuel would’ve been wise. The 49ers had plenty of options. So why not go for it and keep the ball in your offenses hands rather than give it back to Mahomes and keep Kansas City in the game? You had a chance to end it early, but instead you kept the Chiefs in the game.

RUN! RUN! RUN! That should’ve been the advice Shanahan should’ve been giving his offense. Instead as the running attack had done well all game, he put the ball in Garappolo’s hands. I thought he could handle it, but didn’t think Jimmy G had to even throw it. He didn’t play his best game and when the score was 20-17, Mostert got a five yard run on first down and instead of continuing to dominate on the ground and chew up more clock, and he elected to let Garoppolo throw it. Incomplete passes would only stop the clock and let Mahomes have his moment. The last two drives were a disaster for the 49ers. By the time Shanahan had confidence in his quarterback, the team lost all momentum. Two weeks ago, in the NFC Championship game, against the Green Bay Packers the run worked. So why all of a sudden are you jumping off of something that was helping?

Many other reasons unfolded, such as the 3rd and 15 completion against the stacked Niners defense, or Garoppolo missing Emanuel Sanders wide open at the end of game. Missed tackles played a role for the Niners defense too. You can also blame the refs for plenty of missed calls. But the one truth remains, and that’s Kyle Shanahan once again chocked away another Super Bowl. The 49ers will be back, but can this guy be the leader to a championship? We shall see.