Bruce Arians meant what he said when he said nearly four weeks ago that he’d call Tom Brady during free agency. Arians apparently didn’t mean what he said when he said that he’d also call Philip Rivers.
Peter King explains in his Football Morning in America column that, at the start of free agency, Tampa Bay’s pre-free-agency quarterback pecking order had been refined to a trio: (1) Tom Brady; (2) Teddy Bridgewater; and (3) Jameis Winston.
That was the end result of a process that began after the Buccaneers’ lost to the Panthers in London, 37-26. Winston threw for 400 yards, but also for five interceptions.
King explains that, after the old-country loss to Carolina, scouts began “dissecting tape” of quarterbacks who may be available in 2020, from Bridgewater to Brady to Andy Dalton to Ryan Tannehill to Marcus Mariota to Rivers. The Buccaneers coaches with their fingerprints on the quarterback position (Arians, offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen, and offensive analyst Tom Moore) got involved after Winston ended his fifth and final season in Tampa with a 30-pick thud.
Eventually, they settled on the Tommy-Teddy-Jameis priority, and then last week they embarked on their ultimately successful effort to lure Brady to Tampa Bay.
Yes, that ultimately successful effort to lure Brady to Tampa Bay. The one that didn’t entail Brady speaking to Arians or G.M. Jason LIcht until Wednesday evening. The Bucs told King the same that’s-our-story-and-we’re-sticking-to-it story that they told to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times. It’s a story that, based on 20 years of covering this league closely and when required skeptically, I choose not to believe. But it’s a story that the Bucs have to tell, lest they lose at least a third-round pick, a sixth-round pick, and $285,000 in fines due to a tampering violation.
If the story is true, the Bucs allowed their second choice, Teddy Bridgewater, to agree to terms with a division rival before knowing that they had Brady. If the story is true, Winston was potentially one phone call away from keeping his starting job, if either Brady or the Bucs had hung up after that eye-roll-emoji first phone call on Wednesday evening and decided not to proceed.
That’s why the story isn’t true. Which makes their decision to tell it surprising. Their desire to take a victory lap overwhelmed the importance of keeping quiet, and they’ll now have to sweat out, at least for a little while, whether the league will bother to do anything about it.
Chances are the league won’t, but when it comes to tampering no one ever knows when the folks at 345 Park Avenue will decide to selectively enforce a rule that almost never is.