Bruce Arians

Brady Fallout: Bucs, Belichick, Colts, Hoyer

The Buccaneers‘ signing of the most accomplished free agent in NFL history triggered a ripple effect in several cities. That started in Charlotte. Although neither Bruce Arians nor Jason Licht spoke to Tom Brady until Wednesday of last week, the Bucs believed they had a “shell of a deal” with Brady by Tuesday, Peter King of NBC Sports reports. This was hours before the future Hall of Fame quarterback announced he would no longer return to the Patriots. The Bucs’ discussions with Brady’s agent, Don Yee, Tuesday prompted them to bow out of the Teddy Bridgewater pursuit, King adds. Bridgewater’s Panthers offer prompted the Bucs to give him an answer, and they chose to stay in the Brady pursuit without a full commitment. The Bucs had been linked to Bridgewater for weeks.

At February’s end, the Bucs’ quarterback hierarchy went Brady-Bridgewater-Jameis Winston, King notes. Tampa Bay had also been linked to Philip Rivers in February, but it became clear the Colts were his top option.

Here is the latest fallout from the Bucs’ Brady signing:

  • Brady’s camp expressed interest in the Colts, but King notes the interest was not mutual. The prospect of a Rivers-Colts partnership surfaced shortly after the Chargers revealed they would not re-sign him, and while the notion of Rivers-over-Brady sounds interesting based on the veterans’ accolades, Stephen Holder of The Athletic tweets the Colts’ preference of going with a one-year quarterback arrangement probably did not align with Brady’s hopes of a multiyear commitment. Rivers signed a one-year, $25MM deal; Brady became a Buccaneer for two years and $50MM fully guaranteed. Brady also expressed interest in the 49ers, and the Titans were a long-rumored suitor. These franchises joined the Colts and Raiders in leaving the Brady race early.
  • Early this offseason, Brady’s camp put out feelers to other teams, and ESPN.com’s Seth Wickersham notes many executives around the league viewed the quarterback as being driven by ill will toward Bill Belichick that they could not tell if he wanted out of New England or merely wanted Robert Kraft to step in and broker a new Pats deal. Belichick refused to give Brady the extension he sought last summer, and Wickersham adds that a Brady-Belichick conversation in late 2017 about the quarterback’s future with the Patriots ended with a “blowup.” This meeting appears to have happened just before Wickersham’s “tension in New England”-centered report that indicated Kraft’s intervention helped drive the Jimmy Garoppolo-to-San Francisco deal. The Patriots gave Brady an incentive package in 2018, leading to his extension-in-name-only 2019 contract.
  • As for the Patriots‘ plans, they may actually be planning a Brian HoyerJarrett Stidham quarterback battle. Hoyer could have earned more money elsewhere but wanted to return to New England because he was told he will have a chance to vie for the starting job, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com adds (video link). The Patriots, as of now, do not have Andy Dalton on their radar and are viewed as being high on Stidham, who has attempted four NFL passes.

Bucs Unlikely To Consider Antonio Brown

Tom Brady and Antonio Brown played one game together, but the future Hall of Fame quarterback and a wideout who was on course for Canton have been linked to a reunion on multiple occasions this offseason. Don’t count on it coming to pass, however.

The Buccaneers are unlikely to consider a deal for Brown, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports (video link). Brady is set to sign with the Bucs, who already have Mike Evans and Chris Godwin in the fold. Although Bruce Arians worked with Brown in 2010-11 — when he was the Steelers’ OC — it does not sound like he on board with bringing in the mercurial superstar, Rapoport adds.

Set to turn 32 this summer, Brown has not played since the Patriots released him after his Week 2 cameo last season. Brady was not believed to support that decision, and the Pats struggled to assemble a reliable receiver depth chart for last season’s remainder.

Brown spent 2019 as a content-creating maven, going from the Steelers to the Raiders to the Pats. But multiple legal issues cropped up, including a short stay in jail, and the NFL is still investigating him because of the off-field trouble.

Although the Bucs figure to do plenty to attempt to make their prized free agent acquisition comfortable, Brown may be a bridge too far. The former sixth-round pick became a four-time first-team All-Pro and appears a lock for the 2010s’ All-Decade team, but he has become a notoriously unreliable asset. Brown filed a grievance against Brady’s former employer; that matter has yet to be resolved.

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Bruce Arians Talks Buccaneers’ Offseason Priorities

While impending free agent quarterback Jameis Winston may be stealing headlines, Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians is more focused on retaining his team’s top defenders.

“Oh, yeah. To me, it’s the whole defense,” Arians told ESPN’s Jenna Laine. “You can’t get ’em all, but … those young guys grew. We can’t let that go. I don’t care who’s my quarterback. We’ve gotta have a defense.”

Outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett is the most notable defender hitting free agency, and he should be in line for a lucrative payday after compiling an NFL-high 19.5 sacks last season. Many of Barrett’s defensive teammates are also set to hit the open market, including players Jason Pierre-PaulCarl NassibNdamukong SuhBeau Allen and Rakeem Nunez-Roches.

On the offensive side of the ball, it doesn’t sound like Arians is all that concerned about who’s under center. The head coach did admit that it’s tough to have any clarity on the quarterbacks position considering the uncertainty of free agency.

“You don’t know who’s available,” Arians said. “You just sit there and wait to see, is there someone available. If not, is this a better option. That’s the problem. You get about two days to decide in the legal tampering period.”

One of the team’s options will naturally be Winston, who spent the first five seasons of his career in Tampa Bay. Winston set career-highs in passing yards (5,109) and touchdowns (33) in 2019, but he also set a career-high (and led the NFL) with 30 interceptions.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC South Injury Notes: Cappa, Little, Lindstrom, Logan

The Buccaneers will be without starting right guard Alex Cappa this week, according to Jenna Laine of ESPN. Cappa sustained an elbow injury in Tampa Bay’s game against the Jaguars this past Sunday. Head coach Bruce Arians removed Cappa from the game in hopes that the precaution could allow Cappa to play this week, but unfortunately the injury is just too severe.

Veteran offensive lineman Earl Watford is behind Cappa on the depth chart and is expected to start in his place against the Colts. A six-year veteran, Watford has played all across the line, but is primarily an interior lineman. An injury earlier in the year forced Watford to start in place of Cappa for two games, so this will not be entirely unfamiliar territory for Tampa’s o-line.

Here’s some more injury notes from the NFC South:

  • Panthers tackle Greg Little was ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Falcons with an ankle injury, per Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic. While Little was selected with the 37th pick in this year’s draft by Carolina to immediately jump into their rotation along the line, injuries have limited him to only four appearances on the season. Little can play either tackle spot, but was listed as the team’s top left tackle on the depth chart. Fellow rookie Dennis Daley will likely return to the starting lineup in his place.
  • Rookie offensive guard Chris Lindstrom will return to the field for the first time since Week 1 for the Falcons. According to D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Atlanta is activating Lindstrom from the injured reserve to start this week against the Panthers. The Falcons focused on solidifying their offensive line through the draft last offseason, selecting Lindstrom with the 14th overall pick and tackle Kaleb McGary later in the first round. Lindstrom, however, has been out since injuring his foot in the season opener and the offensive line has struggled mightily, allowing 38 sacks on the season.
  • Buccaneers running back T.J. Logan broke his thumb during practice and will be out for the remainder of the season, according to Rick Stroud of The Tampa Bay Times. Logan has played a couple dozen offensive snaps on the season, accruing 23 yards from scrimmage. His primary role though, is as the team’s punt and kickoff returner. This season, Logan averaged 9.5 yards per return on 13 punt returns and 20.8 yards per return on 13 kick returns. Jenna Laine of ESPN reports that Justin Watson and Sean Murphy-Bunting will share punt return duties while Dare Ogunbowale handles kick returns in Logan’s absence.

South Notes: Fuller, Quinn, Leftwich

The Texans are hopeful that wide receiver Will Fuller will be able to retake the field next week in Baltimore against the Ravens, according to Aaron Wilson of The Houston Chronicle. Fuller has missed the team’s previous two games after suffering a hamstring injury against the Colts.

Fuller is one of the best deep threats in football, especially when he takes the field opposite of all-pro DeAndre Hopkins. Prior to his injury, Fuller was on pace to eclipse 70 receptions and 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his career. Those marks may be unattainable now, but at 6-3, the Texans are in the thick of the AFC playoff picture coming out of their bye. Fuller would surely aid them in their pursuit of a Super Bowl title.

Here’s more from the NFC and AFC South:

  • Falcons head coach Dan Quinn has been firmly on the hot-seat for many weeks. However, after a dominating victory over the Saints on Sunday, Quinn has bought himself at least a temporary reprieve, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. Just a few seasons away from a Super Bowl appearance, this year has fallen far short of expectations, especially on defense. However, New Orleans potent offense looked overwhelmed for much of the game.
  • After a 30-27 victory in a shootout against the Cardinals, the Buccaneers offense continues to produce in spit of Jameis Winston‘s propensity for turnovers. Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich deserves a large amount of credit as the playcaller, however, he almost never got the responsibilities in the first place. In the offseason, head coach Bruce Arians had to convince ownership that someone other than him should call plays, according to Rick Stroud of The Tampa Bay Times.

Extra Points: Coaches, Falk, Bibbs, Tevi

The 2019 NFL season is about halfway over (sorry for reminding you), and it won’t be long before everyone’s attention turns to the coaching carousel. It should be a busy cycle, with at least a handful of jobs opening up. The Redskins have already fired their head coach and several other teams, most obviously the Falcons, could do the same at any moment. But with several first-year head coaches disappointing, there’s also the chance we see some more ‘one and dones’ across the league. Steve Wilks, of course, was fired by the Cardinals after just one season this past cycle. With that in mind, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports took a look at all eight new head coaches, and which might be on the chopping block.

Despite the Bengals being 0-8 and the only winless team in the league, La Canfora doesn’t think Cincy owner Mike Brown would pull the plug on Zac Taylor given his penchant for loyalty. Brown gave Marvin Lewis nearly two decades, so that isn’t too surprising. Interestingly, La Canfora seems to float the possibility of a second Bruce Arians retirement after just one year in Tampa Bay. If the Buccaneers don’t show improvement and are forced to tear it all down, JLC wonders whether Arians would “want to endure a rebuild in 2020.” He adds that “this situation is being watched closely around the league.” La Canfora also seems to think there’s a real possibility the Jets and Browns move on from Adam Gase and Freddie Kitchens respectively, which isn’t all that shocking.

Here’s more from around the league:

  • Just when you thought the Jets couldn’t get more dysfunctional, quarterback Luke Falk is filing an injury grievance against the team, sources told Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News. New York cut Falk prior to Week 6 after he started two games for the team. Falk, who had a disastrous couple of outings under center, has a hip injury that requires surgery, sources told Mehta. Apparently Falk feels that the Jets released him outright instead of placing him on injured reserve to avoid paying him. Of course, the franchise is already dealing with an ongoing injury grievance filed by offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele.
  • Free agent running back Kapri Bibbs has been suspended for one game, according to Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com. It’s unclear exactly what he was suspended for, but obviously it’s pretty minor for it to only be one game. After spending the first three years of his career with the Broncos, Bibbs has bounced around a bit. He finished last season with the Packers, and was cut by Green Bay back in June. He worked out for the Redskins last month, who he was with earlier last season. The pass-catching back received some decent run in a few random weeks with Washington in 2018, totaling 33 touches in ten games.
  • The Chargers are going to be without starting right tackle Sam Tevi for a bit, as he underwent surgery on his knee to scope his meniscus, according to Eric D. Williams of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said the injury isn’t season-ending, and that he’ll be back sooner rather than later. Trent Scott, a second-year UDFA, has been filling in. Scott has been dreadful in his place so Los Angeles could really use Tevi back, even though he has never been too solid either.

Buccaneers Reach 53-Man Max

The Bucs are in the books with their 53-man roster. To get there, they’ve (naturally) dropped a boatload of players.

Among those released is running back Andre Ellington, who was out of football in 2018 but was thought to have a good shot at the roster thanks to his history with Bruce Arians in Arizona. UDFA tailback Bruce Anderson is also out, despite his pass-catching prowess.

Kicker Cairo Santos has also been shown the door after re-signing with the team in March. With that, Matt Gay has won the job.

The rest of the breakdown is below.

WAIVED:

· S John Battle

· DL Terry Beckner

· T Cole Boozer

· S Kentrell Brice

· WR Emanuel Hall

· S Isaiah Johnson

· TE Jordan Leggett

· OLB Noah Spence

· C Nate Trewyn

· CB Mazzi Wilkins

WAIVED/INJURED:

· DL Jeremiah Ledbetter

WAIVED/NON-FOOTBALL INJURY:

· QB Nick Fitzgerald

RELEASED:

· K Cairo Santos

Bucs Signed Jason Licht To Five-Year Extension

Buccaneers GM Jason Licht isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. According to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times, the executive inked a five-year contract extension with the franchise this offseason.

The deal, which wasn’t reported until now, was signed in January just days after the team made Bruce Arians its head coach. Arians and Licht have been good friends for quite some time and Arians likely wouldn’t have joined Tampa Bay if not for their relationship. Arians’ deal is also for five seasons, so the Bucs have tethered the pair’s future together.

Tampa Bay hasn’t been great since Licht took over back in 2014. The team is 27-53 in the five seasons since he took the GM gig with poor defense and inconsistent quarterback play plaguing the team.

Arians is expected to help with the quarterback issues. He’s helped get the best out of a number of quarterbacks, including Andrew Luck and Carson Palmer. The defense is another story, as the Bucs finished dead last in defensive DVOA last year and didn’t make any major moves this offseason to improve their putrid pass rush.

NFC Notes: Leftwich, Nkemdiche, Seahawks

Not long after the Buccaneers hired Bruce Arians as their head coach in January, we learned that Arians’ new OC, Byron Leftwich, would be calling the team’s offensive plays and that Arians considered Leftwich a rising star in the coaching ranks. And as Jenna Laine of ESPN.com reports, Arians’ confidence in Leftwich is such that Arians himself is not even in Jameis Winston‘s quarterbacks meeting rooms — despite Arians’ reputation as a quarterback whisperer — and Leftwich is running those meetings. This is a critical campaign for Winston, who is playing under his fifth-year option, and therefore something of a crossroads for the franchise itself. Leftwich has a lot on his plate for a young coach, but Arians clearly believes he is up to the task.

Now for more from the NFC:

  • Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic believes that the Cardinals will cut Robert Nkemdiche before he plays another snap for the club. The former first-round pick was recently arrested for driving on a suspended license, and police found a credit card case that had a white powdery residue consistent with cocaine inside. Somers says that police decided not to test the case and elected to simply destroy it instead, but it’s still not a good look for Nkemdiche. The fact that the defensive lineman is still recovering from a knee injury and is due a $400K roster bonus if he is still on the club on the fifth day of training camp could complicate matters, but Somers still expects Nkemdiche to be gone sooner rather than later.
  • Seahawks OT Jamarco Jones, a fifth-round draft choice in 2018, did not see any regular season action during his rookie campaign, as he suffered an ankle injury in the preseason opener that put him on the shelf for the whole year. Still, he flashed potential last training camp, and Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times expects him to make the club as a backup tackle. And, with George Fant and Germain Ifedi eligible for free agency in 2020, Jones could position himself nicely for a starting role next year.
  • Condotta also expects the Seahawks to continue exploring pass rush options and secondary help.
  • We heard earlier today that the Lions are exploring a deal with free agent DT Domata Peko.

Poll: Which Team Made Best HC Hire?

With the NFL now in the two-week waiting period until its final meaningful game, 30 of the 32 teams are going through offseason motions. And some of those teams are still deciding on coordinators.

Unless another Patriots assistant reneges on an agreement post-Super Bowl, or Zac Taylor makes an 11th-hour decision to remain in Los Angeles rather than taking over in Cincinnati, the eight NFL teams in need of head coaches made their choices.

So, which franchise best positioned itself for long-term success?

The trend being offensive innovation to keep up with some of the ahead-of-the-curve offenses, six of the eight teams hired offensively oriented coaches.

By a substantial margin, the Cardinals won the outside-the-box trophy. After washing out as an NFL quarterback in the mid-2000s, Kliff Kingsbury spent more than a decade as a college coach. The 39-year-old groomed some sought-after NFL talent in Patrick Mahomes, Case Keenum and Davis Webb, while also bringing Baker Mayfield to Texas Tech for a short stay. But he finished his stay in Lubbock, Texas, with a sub-.500 record. The Cards added Vance Joseph and Tom Clements to be his top assistants. Because of their unconventional hire, the Cardinals will be one of the most interesting teams in 2019.

Bruce Arians‘ CBS stay lasting one year will bring one of the more interesting coaches in modern NFL history back to the sideline. Tampa Bay’s new coach is the oldest ever hired, at 66 years old. Arians will be tethered to Jameis Winston, and it does not sound like he has issues with that. Arians hired several former Cardinals assistants to help him attempt to snap the NFC’s longest active playoff drought. Arians led the Cardinals to their best season, record-wise (13-3 in 2015), since the franchise has been in Arizona but is also barely a year removed from retiring.

The Packers and Browns opted for OCs, the former seeing a major difference in Matt LaFleur‘s vision than those of the other coaches that interviewed. Cleveland made the biggest continuity move of this year’s HC-seeking octet,promoting Freddie Kitchens over candidates with more experience.

LaFleur’s Titans offense regressed from Mike Mularkey‘s final unit, with Tennessee ranking 27th in points scored last season. But the 39-year-old coach, who will be working with ex-Jaguars assistant Nathaniel Hackett in overseeing the back end of Aaron Rodgers‘ prime, trained under Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan. Kitchens rose from position coach to head coach in less than three months, but Mayfield’s performance in the second half of the season was obviously different from his play under Hue Jackson and Todd Haley.

Taylor and Adam Gase round out the offensively geared hires, the former being perhaps the highest-variance candidate among the non-Kingsbury wing.

Although Taylor was the Dolphins’ interim OC in 2015 and McVay’s quarterbacks coach this season, he spent 2016 running a Cincinnati Bearcats offense that ranked 123rd (out of 128 Division I-FBS teams) with 19.3 points per game for a 4-8 team and was the Rams’ assistant wideouts coach as recently as 2017. Gase led the Dolphins to the playoffs in 2016, but Ryan Tannehill‘s issues staying healthy and living up to his draft slot limited the former Broncos and Bears OC. The Jets saw enough to add the formerly in-demand assistant, who may be ready to bring longtime coworker Dowell Loggains with him to the Big Apple.

Denver and Miami went with defense, with the Broncos having no competition for 2018’s assistant coach of the year and, arguably, this decade’s top DC.

The Dolphins cancelled their Vic Fangio summit, and he will be in charge of elevating a Broncos team that finished with back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since the early 1970s. John Elway‘s plan to reinstall Gary Kubiak as OC also hit a snag, with the longtime friends’ disagreement on staffing leading to the Broncos hiring 49ers QBs coach Rich Scangarello. The Dolphins will become the fifth franchise to hire a Bill Belichick-era Patriots defensive coordinator (or de facto DC, in Brian Flores‘ case), following the Browns (Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini), Jets (Mangini), Chiefs (Crennel) and Lions (Matt Patricia). Flores helped the Patriots to yet another top-10 ranking in points allowed — their 15th in the past 18 seasons — and another Super Bowl berth.

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