BY IRA KAUFMAN
A Bucs Life continues to be an enchanted life.
As Jason Licht and Tom Brady team up for free agency, the hits keep rolling in for fellow NFC powerhouses Tampa Bay. No wonder the Bucs are now favorites to represent the conference in the Super Bowl for the second time in three seasons.
Brady’s return to One Buc Place sparked a return to the overarching philosophy that Licht has implemented over the past two years. Tampa Bay returned the anchor of its offensive line by keeping Ryan Jensen, then countered the departure of Alex Cappa by trading for Shaq Mason.
The addition of Russell Gage gives Brady a legitimate third release to target while the addition of Logan Ryan softens the blow of Jordan Whitehead’s exit to the Jets.
Soon, Rob Gronkowski should announce his return to the Bucs. For a franchise supposedly crippled by the salary cap, the Bucs did a remarkable job of reinventing themselves last week.
Of course, it all started with this missive from Brady, an announcement that rocked the walls of 15 other conference teams.
While the Bucs have been busy bolstering their roster, top NFC competitors appear to be taking a step back.
First, let’s look at the club that ended Tampa Bay’s season before winning the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Yes, the stars will shine again in Los Angeles this fall with the return of Matt Stafford, Cooper Kupp, Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey to the Rams. But free will hasn’t been kind to the defending champions.
The addition of Allen Robinson takes the sting out of losing Odell Beckham Jr., but Von Miller now roars for Buffalo, making it easier to engage additional blockers in Donald’s direction. Sean McVay’s attacking front has been weakened by the retirement of LT Andrew Whitworth and the departure of RG Austin Corbett. CB Darious Williams moved to Jacksonville and Johnny Hekker, one of the league’s top scorers of the past decade, signed with Carolina.
All in all, a very bad week for the Rams.
We know what just happened in Green Bay – Aaron Rodgers is back but his go-to receiver has taken his talents to Las Vegas. Hard to believe, but the Packers traded All-Pro Davante Adams to the Raiders. Can’t you hear the NFC defensive backs cheering in unison?
The impact on Green Bay’s passing game will be immeasurable. Adams was targeted 169 times last season. Second on the list was running back Aaron Jones, with 65 targets.
Adams has gained 1,040 more receiving yards than No. 2 Allen Lazard, so Rodgers will have to readjust his sights, especially on third down.
The Cowboys did well last year. The only team to outclass the Bucs this season, Dallas won the NFC East before being upset by San Francisco in the first round of the playoffs.
Things got worse in Jerry’s World as the Cowboys decided to trade Amari Cooper, one of the NFL’s top road runners. Edge rusher Randy Gregory moved on, and Dallas took out longtime RT La’el Collins.
Speaking of the 49ers, this offseason hasn’t been particularly kind.
Raheem Mostert, whose only problem is staying healthy, will now take his career average of 5.7 yards to Miami. Two key starters, DT DJ Jones and LG Laken Tomlinson, left as free agents, and Kyle Shanahan’s staff had big departures, led by offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel, now Dolphins head coach.
The rest of the NFC South is in quarterback turmoil as Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans were all dismissed by Deshaun Watson.
Meanwhile, the Bucs are sleeping comfortably knowing the No.12 will be under center again.
There are still holes to fill on Tampa Bay’s roster. The defensive line looks dangerously thin at this point and Leonard Fournette’s return is hardly guaranteed, but the path to the Super Bowl now crosses Dale Mabry Highway.
Enjoy the moment. It’s a Bucs life.