When free agency started, there were a number of big-name players on the market, some for the first time in their careers. Arguably, the biggest name available was New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
After 20 seasons with the Patriots, Brady decided it was time to move on for one seemingly final challenge — in swept Bruce Arians and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. According to reports, the Bucs offered the six-time Super Bowl champion a two-year contract worth upwards of $60 million. Now, for the first time in their historied career, Brady and Bill Belichick will not be part of the same organization.
As soon as the move was made official, sportsbooks took the opportunity to open odds pitting Brady against his former team. The Buccaneers opened as +118 underdogs to have more wins at the end of the 2020 season than the Patriots.
There are a number of factors that need to be taken into consideration when looking at this bet. Using Pro Football Network’s own Offensive Share Metric, some stats from last season, and analyzing the rosters of both teams, we will try to find value on either side of the bet.
How important is Tom Brady to his new team?
Obviously, the biggest criticism of the Brady signing has been the fact that the QB is 42 years old and far past his prime. However, it is hard to argue that the move didn’t make sense for Tampa Bay. Especially when considering the Buccaneers have won double-digit games only once since 2006. In that same time frame, Brady has won three Super Bowls. On top of that, the current QB situation in Tampa Bay is less than solid. Jameis Winston, in his fifth season, showed serious signs of regression. His stats were impressive, throwing for over 5000 yards and 33 touchdowns, but his 30 interceptions hurt the team and played an important factor in their 7-9 record.
Brady, on the other hand, did not light up the stat sheet but did just enough with the weapons he had to lead the Patriots to another AFC East title. Then, in a performance opposite of the Patriots of old, Brady and Belichick fell to Ryan Tannehill and the Tennessee Titans in the playoffs. Brady finished his season with a little over 4000 yards, 24 TDs, and eight interceptions. A far less productive, but much more efficient season than Winston.
However, it is difficult to simply compare stats and pick between the two. That is where OSM comes into play. The tool uses a number of factors like NFL’s Next Gen stats, air yards, completion probabilities, and differential, aggressiveness, and more to calculate the impact a player has on the success of his team. Essentially, we can use the tool to calculate how much of an effect an individual player had on his team’s success. Using our grading scale, where anything above 40 is considered elite, 30-39 very good, 20-29 good, 10-19 average, and 9 and below poor, comparing Brady and Winston is much more measurable.
Brady’s overall grade for last season was 19.69, meaning he was basically average. Of the 39 qualifying quarterbacks, Brady ranked just 29th. Father time likely had a lot to do with that, but the team also lacked notable talent. PFN’s Oliver Hodgkinson said it best in his breakdown of Brady and his 2019 season.
“He struggled in many facets of the game in 2019. His completion percentage against expectation was one of the lowest in the league. He frequently made throws behind the sticks, relying on teammates to pick up the first down. Although not struggling with arm strength as much as Drew Brees, his longest completion was some way behind the likes of former teammates Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett.”
Winston was able to put together a better season OSM-wise, with an overall grade of 29.96. This puts him in the good category, right on the edge of very good. He had one game where he classified as elite, and nine where he was very good. His interceptions hurt the overall success of the Bucs, but the talent around him was enough to counteract his mistakes. Winston had two receivers finish in the top-100 in overall OSM scores, Mike Evans 29.51 (WR75) and Chris Godwin 37.51 (WR7). Brady, on the other hand, had Julian Edelman as the only weapon with a reasonable OSM score.
Looking just at the OSM, you would lean towards Winston in a head to head competition. However, the scores also show us that Brady was able to be successful with very little talent around him. He controlled what he could control. Taking the talent of Brady and putting it on a team with two top-100 OSM receivers causes me to lean advantage to the Buccaneers. Especially considering we do not know who the Patriots will have under center to replace Brady. Even if he has lost some of his arm talent, he gains actual receiver talent around him in Tampa Bay.
Who will succeed alone, Brady or Belichick?
QB play is not the only factor that will determine a team’s success. In this specific case, we are comparing Belichick and the dynasty he has created, with the Buccaneers and their history of losing. Is Brady really enough to give Tampa Bay the upper hand over the Pats?
The first thing we need to take into consideration is both the team’s strength of schedules for next year. If considering 2020 strength of schedule by opponents’ 2019 winning percentage, New England has the tougher of the two, with its opponents combining to go 137-118-1 (.537) last year. Tampa Bay is right in the middle as its opponents were a combined 128-127-1 (.502).
The Patriots have been lucky in recent years, with the AFC East being one of the weakest divisions in the NFL. However, the tide seems to be turning with an all of a sudden surging Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins. Even when everyone expected them to lose, the Dolphins performed well last year and have brought in a number of key players to their team this offseason. The Dolphins also have a plethora of picks in the 2020 NFL Draft. Buffalo has made a splash recently, making it to the playoffs last year and trading for Stefon Diggs this past week. Even the New York Jets will pose more of a challenge with Sam Darnold becoming increasingly comfortable under center.
Tampa Bay’s division has been somewhat of a toss-up over the years. From 2002 to 2013, no team has repeated as division champs. On top of that, each team in the NFC South is in some form of turmoil at the moment. Cam Newton will no longer be under center for Carolina and will be replaced by Teddy Bridgewater, Drew Brees and the Saints are another year older, and the Atlanta Falcons are in a semi-rebuild with a lot of questions. Brady could be going from the historically bad AFC East to a now struggling NFC South.
The biggest x-factor in all of this will be who replaces Brady in New England. If the team does decide to go with Jarrett Stidham, a bet on the Buccaneers to win more games becomes more enticing. We haven’t really gotten any film on Stidham in the NFL, his one play last season was an interception. In his time with Auburn, he would go on to start 27 games over two years, throwing for 5,952 yards, 36 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. He struggled in his last season, however. Stidham could become a capable QB one day, but throwing him into the fire in 2020 would probably not lead to much success. However, Stidham’s throwing coach, who has also trained with Joe Burrow and Sam Darnold, believes that he could be a franchise QB.
“To be clear, I think he is a star, and he is going to be a big-time franchise quarterback. I have felt that way for a couple years now. I’m totally fine saying that. I don’t care that he went fourth round. I think he is legitimate. He is going to be the leader of New England for a long time, whenever that starts. Go ahead and jump on that bandwagon.”
If New England decides to bring in a free agent, that could change things. There are a few names still available that could be interesting, the most notable are Andy Dalton and Cam Newton. Dalton is the current favorite to land with the team out of the two and could become successful under the tutelage of Belichick. He is not Brady, but he has experience and has had moments where he looked like a capable QB. At the end of the day, the advantage is still with the Buccaneers.
Do the Patriots have enough weapons without Brady?
The talk of the 2019 season was the performance of the New England defense. They were arguably the best defense in the NFL and it showed in a number of key metrics. Coming into 2020, they have lost key pieces that helped that defense succeed. In just the first week of free agency, they have now lost safety Duron Harmon, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, and Danny Shelton. Even with draft capital and Belichick’s football genius, the defense will not be able to compete with the 2019 version.
Opposite of the Patriots losing players in free agency, the Buccaneers are doing the opposite. They have focused on retaining as many of their own free agents as possible. They used the franchise tag on Shaquil Barrett, the NFL sack leader. They re-signed linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul. They still have an interest in re-signing defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Plus, after Brady signed, reports surfaced that a number of players contacted the team to try to convince Tampa Bay to sign them.
Since word surfaced that Tom Brady is expected to land in Tampa, an unexpected high number of players have reached out to the Buccaneers to let them know they want to join the former Patriots’ QB there, per league sources.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 19, 2020
We cannot predict what is going to happen in the future, but if players are actively pursuing careers with Tampa, getting them as an underdog against a New England team that is bleeding talent looks like a good bet. Tampa Bay has $47.5 million of salary-cap space, according to overthecap.com which is third-most in the league. Brady will cost them about $30 million, although it could account for less on the cap, depending on the structure of his contract. If they can use some of the rest to bring in a solid running back and some help on defense, Tampa Bay will not only have more wins than New England, but they will compete for the NFC South.