TAMPA, Fla — Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Todd Bowles characterized Tom Brady’s stunning decision to leave the team for two weeks during the preseason as an opportunity.
We’d put it far less charitably. In truth, it’s a reality check.
Without Brady, the Buccaneers are a five- or six-win team — maybe — based on how the offense looked during joint training camp practices with the Miami Dolphins the last two days.
Buccaneers offense limited without Tom Brady
Blaine Gabbert took all first-team reps Thursday and presumably will until Brady returns from his absence from the organization. Bowles wouldn’t shed any light on Brady’s decision to step away from the team to “deal with some personal things.”
Bowles said that Brady’s fortnight holiday had been the plan heading into training camp. While Bowles left open the possibility that Brady doesn’t return ahead of Week 1, that is not the team’s expectation.
“Obviously, there’s always going to be doubt, but I have a pretty high level of confidence” that Brady will be back in time for the opener, Bowles added.
But any shred of uncertainty must be a bit nerve-racking for a team built to win the Super Bowl — but also totally dependent on Brady in getting them there.
With Rob Gronkowski retired and Russell Gage, Mike Evans, Julio Jones, and Breshad Perriman all held out of practice Thursday, the Buccaneers had arguably the worst offensive personnel on the field Thursday of any team in the NFL.
Gabbert, with a 13-35 record as a starter and a 72.4 career passer rating, probably isn’t even in the top half of NFL backups. And on Thursday, he went up against one of the league’s most dangerous defenses while throwing to the likes of Scotty Miller, Jaelon Darden, and Cyril Grayson.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Gabbert, in team drills, completed 9 of 14 passes for 60 yards and no touchdowns.
“Gabbert’s just a whole different player,” Dolphins safety Jevon Holland said before praising his ability to identify coverages.
That identification led him to play almost exclusively in a box, with basically every pass he threw a screen or a checkdown.
“We allotted this time because [Brady] wanted to get in and get chemistry with the guys and go through two weeks of training camp, knowing he wasn’t going to play the first two games,” Bowles said. “He didn’t want to take away reps from Blaine, Kyle [Trask] as far as going into the next two games. … We trust him. We talked about it. It was scheduled way before training camp that he wouldn’t be here until after Tennessee.”
When asked how Brady being away impacts the progress of the Bucs’ offense, Bowles replied:
“I don’t think it stops it all. We have a system in place. We have guys that we want to see. As I said, this gives us a chance to see the backup quarterbacks. It gives us a chance to see the receivers trying to make the team. It kind of helps us that way, seeing them under the lights and in practice. I don’t think it hurts us at all.”
Is Tom Brady all-in on 2022?
Brady’s decision to bolt on the team for basically half of training camp might have an innocent, understandable explanation. But it also won’t do anything to quiet chatter that he’s not entirely thrilled to be back in the league.
He retired in February only to decide to return six weeks later.
That alone would be weird. But the saga got even stranger when the NFL revealed he had improper conversations with the Dolphins during and after the 2021 season about “becoming a limited partner in the Dolphins and possibly serving as a football executive, although at times they also included the possibility of his playing for the Dolphins.”
So it’s fair to question his commitment to the franchise with whom he won a Super Bowl just 18 months ago.
A week after the league released those findings, Brady practiced against the team he wanted to join — for one day. And then he took off for parts unknown. The Buccaneers’ only chance at a third straight playoff run is Brady returning — and again finding the inner drive that helped make him arguably the greatest male athlete in American history.
Bowles was asked Thursday if whatever is going on with Brady will prevent him from having the same level of commitment to the game he’s had throughout his career:
“Per our conversation, I’m not worried about it.”