By: Robert Bishop
Back again, and over the weekend, reports surfaced that quarterback Tom Brady was seriously considering retirement, with an announcement imminent. While Brady publicly countered the reports leading up to Sunday’s conference championship games, the all-time great ultimately confirmed that his career in the NFL is over.
Brady ends his career after 22 incredible seasons, including putting forth an MVP campaign in 2021 at the age of 44. Brady retires as the NFL’s all-time leader in passing yards and passing touchdowns, in addition to winning a staggering seven Super Bowls. Despite calling it quits, there is little question that Brady remains an elite NFL player. In a ridiculous occurrence, Brady was the NFL’s youngest starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl when he accomplished the feat in Super Bowl XXXVI, and with last year’s victory over the Chiefs, he became the oldest.
While there’s no disputing the legacy left behind in Tom Brady’s wake, there is plenty of uncertainty surrounding the franchise he’s leaving behind. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are built to win in the short-term, but with Brady gone, there’s a massive void at the center of the team’s Super Bowl hopes. Given Tampa Bay has gone all-in on surrounding Brady with veterans, the Buccaneers are poorly situated for a rebuild. Blaine Gabbert operated as Brady’s backup this season. As evidenced by the duration of his career, Gabbert is nowhere close to being a capable starting quarterback in the NFL.
In the long-term, the Buccaneers spent a second-round pick on Kyle Trask in 2021, showing a belief that he could develop into a starter. However, Trask is doubtful to be the team’s assumed starter heading into 2022, setting the stage for Tampa Bay to be a significant player for a signal-caller during the offseason. Veterans such as Teddy Bridgewater and Marcus Mariota are possible options, as is Jameis Winston, who spent most of his career with Tampa Bay before being supplanted by Brady. It’s also worth tracking Tampa Bay’s involvement on the trade market, as the Bucs making a play for San Francisco’s Jimmy Garoppolo cannot be ruled out.
As the wait for the Super Bowl hits its stride, and two teams vie for the championship, the rest of the NFL is in the early stages of the offseason. The Senior Bowl practice has begun, and with it has come further spotlight on many of this year’s draft prospects. Two of the year’s best and most divisive quarterback prospects will be in action during the Senior Bowl as Kenny Pickett of Pittsburgh and Malik Willis of Liberty look to establish themselves as clear-cut first-round picks.
Pickett had a breakout 2021 season, but skepticism remains surrounding his success given his inconsistency in prior seasons. Meanwhile, Willis exploded onto the scene thanks to incredible rushing ability and a knack for big-time throws, though he is raw as a prospect and will likely take a few years to develop. Pickett has a chance to be the first quarterback off the board, while Willis will probably come off the board in the late first or early second round.
Other names to follow include tight end Trey McBride, who projects as a second-round pick but could sneak into the first round with an impressive showing. The only knock against McBride is the lower level of competition he faced at Colorado State, so a dominant week of practice at the Senior Bowl could propel him up draft boards.
Safety Jalen Pitre (Baylor) is also looking to sneak into the first round with a solid Senior Bowl week. Dinged for being undersized and for struggling before a brilliant 2021 season, Pitre has the makings of a ball-hawking star in the modern NFL. Plus, despite his lack of size, Pitre is an asset against the run. With both McBride and Pitre members of the Jets-led National Team, the rebuilding Jets are getting a week of hands-on exposure to two potential difference-makers at positions in desperate need of an upgrade.