Winning the Super Bowl is hard. Keeping a Super Bowl winning team together is harder.
But the Buccaneers have done it. They’ve re-signed not some or most of their key free agents but, with receiver Antonio Brown agreeing to terms, all of them. From receiver Chris Godwin (franchise tag) to linebacker Shaquil Barrett to defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to linebacker Lavonte David to tight end Rob Gronkowski to running back Leonard Fournette to kicker Ryan Succop to Brown, the Bucs went eight for eight. And that will help quarterback Tom Brady get No. 8, too.
A lot needs to happen for the Bucs to win the Super Bowl again. One thing that won’t have to happen is that they won’t have to figure out how to replace a bunch of guys who left the team, chasing a fortune elsewhere.
It helped that the salary cap ended up being $25 million less than what it was expected to be. Teams didn’t have the luxury of cash and cap space that would have fueled a raid on the defending champs. They kept Barrett, for example, at a base rate of only $17 million per year, $10 million per year less than the top of the market average.
As to Brown, the timing of the deal suggests three things. First, the settlement of the civil lawsuit alleging sexual assault and rape was a huge factor in the decision to bring him back. Second, the Bucs didn’t want to wait around and see whether someone else signed him during or after the draft. Third, the Bucs preferred to stick with a known entity in lieu of trying to draft another young wideout.
The bottom line surely was Brady. He wanted Brown last year, and Brady undoubtedly wanted Brown to return. The Buccaneers have been willing to defer to Brady, and for good reason. He brought them a Super Bowl championship in his first year with the team. He quite possibly will bring them another.
And then, a year from now, the question would be whether the Bucs can be the first team to ever win three in a row.