It is early February in Tampa and the smell is a mix of cigars, beer and a sprinkle of surprise. Players and fans alike cling to aluminum light beer bottles with the Bucs logo along with the word “champions” as they board luxury boats on the Hillsborough River. The bottles serve as mini trophies recognizing the team’s annihilation of the Chiefs just days before and provide a little liquid courage for the festivities to come.
Tom Brady, rarely seen so buzzed, plays a game of 500 with the Lombardi Trophy tossing it from boat to boat across the high seas. It’s here that the public finally can see what Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David describes as the “regularness” of Brady. It is not a term that rolls off the tongue when describing Brady, but then, this is the quarterback who is known to introduce himself to new teammates as “Tom,” just as he did when he was a sixth-round pick and no one knew his name.
“The main thing he [Brady] said was just don’t treat him no different,” David told Heavy. “‘People will probably paint this picture of me as just this superstar quarterback who gets all this pub and all the other nonsense.’ But he was like, ‘Man, don’t treat me no different. I’m just like one of the guys in this locker room. I’m going to play around. I’m going to joke with you. I’m going to compete.’ He said, ‘I’m coming to you guys’ locker room. So, I’m just coming in to try to do my part and try to just fit in with the guys.’
“That right there, he gained all types of respect from me.”
From the outside, the past year for the Bucs is easy to dismiss as the result of some sort of short-lived superteam built by Brady as if he were playing the franchise mode in Madden, the assumption being that Brady could have brought home a Super Bowl wherever he had chosen to play once he left New England. During the spring of 2020, Brady had options as the California kid was also linked to the Chargers with other teams like the Saints lurking in the background. But he chose the Bucs, a franchise that had one Super Bowl in its entire existence.
Avoiding the New England winters in favor of the Florida beaches was too simple a reason for the greatest quarterback in NFL history to choose Tampa Bay. For one of the most competitive athletes of all time to switch teams after two decades, there had to be more than Brady wanting to play shuffleboard in the sun while selling more TB12 gear. Football is always in the equation, and this was not a future Hall-of-Famer having pity on a Buccaneers franchise that had lost its way.
No, Brady came to Tampa because of players like Lavonte David. He knew, when he picked Tampa, that there were plenty of veterans on the roster like David who would have been recognized among the best players at their positions if the team simply won more. The talent was there. The Bucs’ pre-Brady core is the indie band that finally gets noticed after opening for Bruno Mars. It is not that the music is suddenly better, just that the audience got bigger.
“Brady saved the Buccaneers” is a half-truth. Anyone that saw Chiefs star Pat Mahomes throwing the football from his knees throughout the Super Bowl, because he was under such relentless pressure from the Tampa defense, knows Brady’s supporting cast played a major role in proving his move south was a success.
Lavonte David on Potentially Signing TB12: ‘Tom Ain’t Leaving the Patriots’
When discussing the Buccaneers’ transformation, David speaks as though he just bought his first home after a decade of saving — there is excitement mixed with pride. There were days that success seemed like a mirage, but David never cheated the process, which is part of the reason the Bucs were such an appealing option for Brady.
David notched 100 or more tackles in eight of his nine NFL seasons and was named an All-Pro in 2013 while adding a Pro Bowl appearance in 2015. The linebacker is a longtime Tampa Bay staple who was selected with the No. 58 pick of the 2012 NFL Draft, then endured four straight losing seasons to begin his NFL career. He experienced just one winning season in his eight years prior to Brady donning red, black and pewter. David became one of the few Buccaneers core players who was able to survive the franchise’s lean years to become part of the championship season.
“I’m positive, I’m 100% positive he [Brady] knew he had a great football team,” David said. “That he would just come in and try to get us where we needed to go. Defensively, we were set, and offensively we had all the weapons that he needs. So, why not come and join?”
The Bucs mainstay recalled his final meeting with Bruce Arians to put a bow on the 2019 season. Coaches have a tendency to hype up the offseason like a wedding DJ teasing the next song at the reception only to play “We Are Family.” When Brady’s name was brought up, David was skeptical the quarterback would leave the Patriots, let alone have an interest in joining the Buccaneers.
During an exclusive interview with Heavy, David recalled his conversation with Arians prior to the Bucs’ pursuit of Brady. David’s cadence increases as he recalls the surprising turn of events that led to Brady being his teammate.
“At the end of the year, because I’m one of the captains on the team I did meet with B.A. [Bruce Arians], and he told me what was going on and how they was going to approach the offseason,” David explained. “They obviously brought up Jameis [Winston] and how they really loved Jameis, and me, I spoke about Jameis and how much I love Jameis. You know, I look at Jameis as a little brother to me, and I know how bad he wants to win.
“Then he [Bruce Arians] brought up other guys, then he brought up Tom Brady. He said it’s a possibility that we could go after Tom Brady. At that moment, I’m like, what, Tom ain’t leaving no Patriots. Tom got six Super Bowl rings with New England. He’s got a legacy there. Why would he want to leave? Then he said, it’s a possibility we get him. I’m like, okay, I’ll believe it when I see it.”
The Bucs Had the Perfect Combo of Cap Space & a Desirable Roster to Lure Brady to Tampa Bay
For years, the Buccaneers were quietly building a roster ready to make a deep playoff run, but that is hard to do when your quarterback averages nearly two interceptions per game. The Jameis Winston era never went the way either party wanted, but by the end, it was clear the Buccaneers needed more stability at quarterback.
Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht deserves credit not just for the roster construction but also for reserving enough cap space to sign Brady to a two-year, $50 million contract. It did not make Brady the highest-paid NFL player, but it was lucrative enough that the quarterback would not need to sell avocado recipes at halftime just to pay the bills.
There is a perception that Brady hand-picked the Buccaneers’ Super Bowl roster like a high-maintenance Chipotle customer micromanaging how much rice goes in their burrito bowl. To be clear, Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown and Leonard Fournette played key roles in the Buccaneers’ championship run, scoring all three of the team’s touchdowns in the Super Bowl. Yet, the Bucs had quietly been building a homegrown roster that has been overlooked thanks to Tampa Bay’s splashier signings after Brady joined the team.
The Buccaneers slowly added more pieces to join David as part of a core group that could attract a quarterback like Brady. For all the recognizable names the Bucs brought in, the reality is, 15 of the team’s 22 starters were drafted by Tampa in the nine years since David arrived in 2012. That includes:
- David’s linebacking partner, Devin White (2019 first-rounder)
- Defensive backs Carlton Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting and Antoine Winfield Jr. (second-rounders in 2018, 19 and 20, respectively)
- Leading receivers Mike Evans (2014 first-rounder) and Chris Godwin (2017 third-rounder)
- Four of five starting offensive linemen were also recent draftees, including right tackle Tristan Wirfs, chosen 13th overall in 2020.
David Learned About the Brady Signing Through the Television Ticker
When it came to Brady’s decision, David was just like one of us, reading the news on the bottom of the television ticker. It would not be the first time Arians’ bold words to David would prove to be true.
“As time kept getting closer and closer, things [were] just coming up across the ticker,” David recalled the 2020 free agency period. “We see speculation and things like that. I remember that day, I remember that day. I woke up in the morning about, I don’t know, probably about 9 or 10 and I see, ‘Tom Brady agrees to terms with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.’ I’m like, what the heck? He [Arians] said it, and it’s actually coming true.”
The Patriots’ 2019 season ended abruptly with a loss to the Titans in the wild card playoff game, one in which it was clear the New England roster was outmanned. Brady’s postgame press conferences are typically brief, but this time, the quarterback took his time with answers addressing each reporter’s question. It was the first sign that the rumors of his departure had substance and were more than just TMZ stories about his house being on the market.
The Buccaneers’ season concluded with an overtime loss to the Falcons cementing their 7-9 record, the team’s eighth losing season in nine years. Winston finished with a familiar stat line of two touchdowns and two interceptions, giving him 30 picks for the season — most in the league, by far (the second-place finisher had 21). Tampa’s offense finished No. 3 in total yardage and the defense was No. 5 in yards allowed per play, but both units were being crushed by Winston’s interceptions.
The Bucs needed Brady, who threw all of eight interceptions. And the end of the quarterback’s tenure with New England showed that even the G.O.A.T. could use some help from a team with a roster like Tampa.
The Bucs Kept Their Drunken Promises
Towards the end of the Buccaneers parade, Arians started handing out contracts as if he was Oprah giving out prizes to guests. The Bucs coach promised new deals to seemingly everybody on the roster.
Arians may have been aided by a few drinks over the course of the parade, and David admitted he had his doubts that the Buccaneers would be able to keep their core intact with the number of key free agents. The Tampa Bay coach appeared to be the friend that invites you to a nice dinner and promises to pay for your meal only to bolt for the restroom when the check arrives.
“At the moment, it was all fun,” David explained. “I think I said this before, you said it, he had a little bit too much to drink or whatever. He ain’t probably understand [what he was saying] right now, but I’m sure he knew that it was going to be very, very, very hard to do. But when everybody calmed down and it finally got [down] to it, they figured out a way. It’s football, man.
“The business side of it, me personally, I didn’t think that it could happen just because of all the demands that everybody on the team [would have]. Guys who was up for contract extensions or things like that. Guys played their tails off and we just came off a Super Bowl win, so they [were] going to demand a lot of money. I didn’t think it was going to happen at first, but when I saw things started happening. Guys reconstructing contracts, all the different ways they were tryin’ save money as far as just trying to get guys back. It kind of blew my mind. I’m like, wow, this is really happening.”
To borrow a phrase from NFL Network’s Kyle Brandt, the Buccaneers kept their drunken promises this offseason. Tampa Bay was truly able to bring the band back together becoming the first Super Bowl champions to return all 22 starters from the big game. The Buccaneers are poised to compete for another Super Bowl in 2021, just don’t call them The Brady Bunch this time around.