Wed Mar 25 5:49pm ET
By FRED GOODALL
AP Sports Writer
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) The decision to pursue Tom Brady in free agency was a no-brainer for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
That's not to suggest a lot of thinking and planning didn't go into it.
In snaring the six-time Super Bowl winner, who signed a two-year, $50 million contract that's fully guaranteed, the Bucs also pulled the plug on trying to develop a talented and much younger Jameis Winston into a championship quarterback.
The first overall pick from the 2015 draft, the 26-year-old Winston has been wildly inconsistent over the first five seasons of his career. There were flashes of brilliance on the way to becoming Tampa Bay's all-time leading passer, but also a league-leading 111 turnovers that hindered the team's prospects for success.
Brady, who'll turn 43 in August, has been one of the best ever at protecting the ball, leading the Patriots to nine Super Bowl appearances, 13 AFC championship games and 17 division title in 20 seasons with New England.
Bucs coach Bruce Arians and general manager Jason Licht are confident Brady can still play at a high enough level to not only end Tampa Bay's 12-year playoff drought, but win another Super Bowl - or two.
''He is a Buccaneer today not for what he has done in the past, but for what we know he can accomplish here in the near future as well,'' Licht said. ''We know that Tom is going to have a transformative effect in our locker room, and he is going to demand the best out of himself, his teammates and anybody that is around him.''
Three factors that made it an easy decision to seek Brady as a replacement for Winston:
Winston led the NFL with 5,107 yards passing in 2019. He also threw for 33 touchdowns and 30 interceptions to become the first 30-30 player in league history. Opponents returned a record seven interceptions for TDs last season and scored 112 points off his league-high 35 turnovers overall.
Brady has never thrown more than 14 interceptions in a season. His 1.79 career interception percentage is the second-best of all time behind Aaron Rodgers among quarterbacks with at least 2,500 pass attempts. He's thrown just 27 picks total while throwing for nearly 13,000 yards and 85 touchdowns the past three seasons.
Winston's interception percentage was 4.8 last season, hiking his career mark to 3.5.
HE WINS ... A LOT
Brady's .774 regular season winning percentage ranks first in the Super Bowl era among quarterbacks with at least 50 starts. With 249 victories overall, including playoffs, he's won almost as many games in two decades as the Bucs have won (273) in the franchise's 44-season history.
Winston topped 4,000 yards passing in three of his five seasons in Tampa Bay, but that didn't translate to team success. He was 28-42 as a starter and produced just one winning record, 9-7 in 2016, which wasn't good enough to make the playoffs.
''When we looked at everybody that might be available at the quarterback position, obviously really never dreaming that Tom would be available, but if he was, he was going to be our No. 1 choice,'' Arians said. ''Mainly because he can do everything that we want to do in our offense, but more than that it's his leadership ability that we need in our locker room to get where we want to go.''
The surest path to the playoffs is a division championship. The Bucs have finished last in the NFC South eight of the past 11 seasons.
Brady won the AFC East 17 of the 18 seasons in which he was New England's primary starter, including the past 11 years.
Winston struggled to establish himself in a quarterback-driven division featuring Drew Brees in New Orleans, Matt Ryan in Atlanta and Cam Newton in Carolina - all of whom have been to Super Bowls. Brady is looking forward to getting better acquainted with the Saints, Falcons and Panthers.
''Winning the division is always the hard thing to do. These teams know each other so well, and I didn't play this division but once every four years, so I've got to learn the players. I've got to learn the schemes,'' Brady said.
''Great offenses aren't about one player. Great offenses are about every guy being on the same page and playing with confidence and anticipation.
''It's going to be a busy offseason for me learning a lot of new things, which is a great challenge and a great opportunity for me. I'm just going to do it the only way I know how to do it, which is just to fully engulf myself in what is done here,'' Brady added. ''It's a new program that I'm a part of and they have their way of doing things. They're committed to winning and I've got to come in and do my part. That's why I'm here.''
The Denver Broncos re-signed defensive lineman Shelby Harris to a one-year deal that includes $2.5 million in guarantees on Saturday, according to a source. Harris can make up to $3.25 million with incentives. Denver's D-line should be pretty imposing in 2020 with Bradley Chubb, Von Miller, Jurrell Casey and Harris all in the fold. The 28-year-old former seventh-round pick of the Raiders in 2014 had a career-high six sacks in 2019, including 49 tackles (28 solo), eight tackles for loss, six QB hits, nine passes defensed and one forced fumble in all 16 games. He was a nuisance on the interior against opposing signal-callers, mainly deflecting passes at the line of scrimmage.
Free-agent defensive end Michael Bennett said that he wants to play in 2020, according to a source. Bennett played for both the Patriots and Cowboys last season and had 6.5 sacks, 32 tackles (24 solo), 14 tackles for loss and 15 QB hits in 16 games (one start). He's entering his age-35 season, so Bennett doesn't have a whole lot left, but he can still be productive in a rotational role and can provide veteran leadership to a locker room. Bennett spent five years with the Seahawks from 2013 to 2017 and wouldn't mind returning to Seattle to finish up his career. He had his best seasons with the Seahawks, making three straight Pro Bowls from 2015-17.
Along with Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz, the Eagles picked up the 2021 options on quarterback Carson Wentz, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, defensive end Brandon Graham and offensive guard Isaac Seumalo on Friday. All the moves were procedural. Wentz is scheduled to make $1.38 million and $15.4 million in base salaries the next two seasons as part of the four-year, $128 million extension he signed last year. He has been injury prone so far in his career, but he completed 63.9 percent of his passes for 4,039 yards, 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions with a barren receiver corps in 2019. Jeffery had surgery for a Lisfranc foot injury and played in only 10 games last year, catching 43 passes for 490 yards and four touchdowns. He's become less dependable for fantasy owners heading into his age-30 season.
Free-agent defensive end Jadeveon Clowney isn't close to signing with a team in free agency, according to a few sources. A growing thought around the league is that Clowney could wait a while to find his new team, perhaps into training camp this summer. He hasn't gotten offers anywhere close to what he wants, which is a multi-year deal in the $20 million a season range. Instead, the consensus is that the Seahawks' offer to re-sign him was in the $13-15 million per-year range. The pass-rusher had only three sacks in 2019 and has a long injury history, which makes things more problematic with the current restrictions on physicals due to the coronavirus. Clowney can be a difference-maker when healthy, but he's a wild card because of his injury history and lack of a double-digit sack season.
The Dallas Cowboys agreed to a three-year deal with a base value of $7.5 million with former Los Angeles Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein on Friday, according to sources. Zuerlein will reunite with special teams coach John Fassel. The signing is bad news for Kai Forbath. Greg the Leg had a down year in 2019 because of a foot injury, making 24 of his 33 field-goal attempts (72.7 percent). He made just five of his 11 tries from 40-49 yards but did make all 42 of his extra points. The 32-year-old has one of the strongest legs in the league and should be able to rebound if healthy in a great environment where he'll get to kick indoors for at least half of his games. Zuerlein has made 82 percent of his field-goal tries in his eight seasons in the league.
The Philadelphia Eagles exercised tight end Zach Ertz's option for the 2021 season on Thursday, according to a source. Ertz will count for $8 million in 2020 and $8.25 million in 2021, and extension talks with him and the team will likely pick up in the coming months. The 29-year-old has proven to be one of the most valuable pass-catching tight ends in the NFL since he was drafted in the second round in 2013. Ertz caught 88 passes for 916 yards and six touchdowns in 15 games in 2019, and he's made the Pro Bowl each of the last three seasons. He's had 70-plus catches and at least 816 yards the last five seasons, culminating in 1,163 receiving yards and eight TDs in 2018. He's a high-end TE1, but the emergence of Dallas Goedert is starting to make him a little bit more risky.
The Minnesota Vikings re-signed running back Ameer Abdullah to an undisclosed deal on Friday. Abdullah, a second-round pick of the Lions in the 2015 draft, only had 23 rushing attempts for 115 yards (5.0 yards per carry) and no rushing scores in his first full season with the Vikings in 2019. He added 15 receptions on 21 targets for 88 yards and one touchdown. Behind Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison and Michael Boone on the running back depth chart, Abdullah is unlikely to move the needle in fantasy once again in 2020 unless Minnesota's running backs are hit hard by the injury bug.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians said that the team will look to bring in a "pass-catching back" in free agency and/or the draft to complement running back Ronald Jones II. Jones was brutal in his rookie season but stepped up in his sophomore campaign to run 172 times for 724 yards (4.2 yards per carry) and six touchdowns in 16 games (nine starts). He was splitting time with Peyton Barber, although he was the much better back for most of the season. He corralled 31 passes for 309 yards in the passing game, but his pass blocking still leaves a lot to be desired, and Tampa can't afford mistakes with Tom Brady under center in 2020. If Jones is sharing touches once again, especially through the air, it'll significantly lower his fantasy ceiling. Just because Brady is in town won't necessarily mean that Jones will break out. Don't overpay.
The Green Bay Packers are expected to re-sign running back/return man Tyler Ervin on an undisclosed one-year deal. Ervin was picked up off waivers midway through last season and gave the Packers a boost in the return game. The 26-year-old had 11 punt returns for 106 yards and also returned six kickoffs for 160 yards in four games in Green Bay in 2019. He did next to nothing on offense, though, carrying the ball just one time for 10 yards and catching two passes for 11 yards. He's strictly a special teams guy and is behind Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams and Dexter Williams on the running back depth chart.
The Baltimore Ravens announced on Thursday that they wouldn't be signing defensive tackle Michael Brockers after being unable to agree on the terms of a contract after his high ankle sprain from last season was flagged on a physical. Instead, he's getting a three-year, $31.5 million deal to re-sign with the Los Angeles Rams, according to a source. It's a similar deal to what Baltimore had offered. The 29-year-old returns to the only team he's called home since being the 14th overall pick in 2012. He's not much to look at in fantasy in IDP leagues, but he'll return to strengthen the interior of LA's defensive line along with Aaron Donald.
The belief is that Denver Broncos recently signed running back Melvin Gordon III will be the team's bell-cow back in 2020. We have a long way to go before the start of the regular season and Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman will still get their touches in this crowded backfield, but Gordon could be the lead man in this backfield after coming over from the Chargers in free agency. On the surface, Denver's backfield looks like one to avoid in fantasy because of all the bodies in play, and Gordon's signing surely destroys Lindsay's fantasy upside as an RB2. The question now is how much upside will Gordon have and how large of a share will he command in his first season in Denver? He had a weak 3.8 yards per carry alongside Austin Ekeler in LA in 2019, and the Broncos could change up their plans if Gordon struggles out of the gates as the bell-cow.
Free-agent LB Elijah Lee (49ers) agreed to an undisclosed deal with the Detroit Lions Friday, March 27.
Free-agent LB Reggie Ragland (Chiefs) agreed to an undisclosed deal with the Detroit Lions Friday, March 27.
Free-agent RB Tyler Ervin (Packers) is expected to sign a one-year deal with the Green Bay Packers Friday, March 27. Financial terms weren't disclosed.
Free-agent DT Michael Brockers (Rams) spurned an agreement with the Baltimore Ravens Friday, March 27, and he agreed to a three-year deal with the Los Angeles Rams. The deal is worth up to $31.5 million. Brockers' high ankle sprain from late last year was flagged in his physical with the Ravens, and the two sides couldn't agree to contract alterations.
Chicago Bears RB Tarik Cohen picked up a first down on only 18 of his 79 catches in 2019. The resulting 22.8-percent first-down rate was the lowest in the league among all players with at least 50 receptions.
Buffalo Bills WR Stefon Diggs managed 63 catches - the second-lowest mark of his career - and was charged with a drop on 6.4 percent of his 94 targets - a dramatic increase from two percent in 2018 - but he still finished with a career-high 1,130 receiving yards in 2019 with the Minnesota Vikings due in part to averaging 13.1 yards before the catch per reception. That figure was more than double his 5.6 yards before the catch per reception the previous season.
Los Angeles Chargers RB Austin Ekeler hauled in 92 of his 108 targets last season. The resulting 85.2-percent catch rate led the league among all players with at least 50 receptions.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians shut down the possibility of free-agent wide receiver Antonio Brown landing with the Bucs on Thursday. "Theres no room and probably not enough money. Its just not going to happen here. Its not a fit here," Arians said. New quarterback Tom Brady is close with Brown and reportedly wanted him to follow him to his new home in Tampa, but that won't be happening. For one, it's not even known if the NFL will have Brown back amid all of his off-field issues and ongoing investigations. It was mostly a pipe dream all along after Brady and Brown played in one game together for the Patriots in 2019. Having Mike Evans and Chris Godwin as his top two receivers is already a huge upgrade on what Brady was working with in Boston last year.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Mike Evans picked up a first down on 54 of his 67 catches in 2019, while Miami Dolphins WR DeVante Parker did so on 58 of his 72 receptions. The resulting 80.6 percent first-down rate for both players led the league among players with at least 50 receptions.