The fingerprints are still fresh on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' second-ever Lombardi Trophy, secured Sunday night with a dominant 31-9 runaway against the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs. The triumph conveyed a record seventh Super Bowl title to QB Tom Brady, who now has more rings than any other NFL franchise.
But it's never too early to start looking ahead – and perhaps Brady's next trick will be leading Tampa Bay to the first Super Bowl repeat since his Patriots last pulled it off 16 years ago.
PROGRESS? How Bruce Arians' Super Bowl victory may convince owners to hire diverse coaches
'NO EXCUSES': Chiefs own up to ugly penalties, take high road after Super Bowl loss
But first, taking a holistic at the organization and its next set of challenges, here are five questions facing the Bucs heading into the 2021 season:
1. Can Tom Brady keep it going at age 44?
TB12's ongoing success in the fifth decade of his life is already unprecedented, Brady playing in three Super Bowls since turning 40. But, presumably, the "Tom vs. Time" battle is going to turn – as it inevitably does for all athletes. The football reaper suddenly caught up to Brett Favre when he was 41. It appears to have finally tracked down Drew Brees, 42. Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and Eli Manning didn't even make it to age 40 on an NFL field. Brady's ability to seemingly maintain his youth and level of play are unparalleled … but for how much longer? Yet worth noting: He hasn't missed a game due to injury in 12 years.
2. Who's getting Bucs' cap space?
Buccaneers RB Leonard Fournette and TE Rob Gronkowski (87) are just two of the Super Bowl champions' prominent 2021 free agents. (Photo: Raj Mehta, USA TODAY Sports)
Per Over The Cap, Tampa Bay has roughly $29 million to spend going into next season. On the one hand, that offers options and flexibility. On the other, there will be hard choices ahead, especially given the likelihood a cap-quashing franchise tag might be required to keep a free agent the caliber of WR Chris Godwin or OLB Shaq Barrett. Other key unsigned players include longtime defensive captain Lavonte David, TE Rob Gronkowski, DL Ndamukong Suh – he said more than once last week that he wants to return – WR Antonio Brown and RB Leonard Fournette.
3. Can Tampa rule NFC South?
The Bucs last won their division in 2007 … when Jon Gruden was still their head coach. They had to take the wild-card route this season, winning three road playoff games in order to "host" Super Bowl 55 at Raymond James Stadium. But as Brady and Gronkowski can attest, the pathway to Super Sunday is much smoother when you're playing at home in January. And good chance the Bucs could do that in 2021 with the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers rebuilding and the four-time defending NFC South champion New Orleans Saints expected to be embarking on life without Brees this year.
4. Will greater expectations be too much?
The Chiefs were striving to be the NFL's first repeat champions since Brady's Patriots last managed the feat in 2004. Now it's the Bucs who will try to successfully defend their title – and Brady and Gronk will be the first to tell their younger shipmates that staying on top of the NFL mountain is harder than ascending it. And it's not like this organization has an impressive track record to fall back on. Since entering the NFL in 1976, the Bucs have 10 playoff wins – four coming on Brady's watch.
5. Could 2021 be the last dance?
Don't expect the "Buccaneer Way" to become de rigueur – blink and you might miss this team. In addition to the laundry list of pending free agents, Brady is under contract for one more year. Same for OLB Jason Pierre-Paul. Head coach Bruce Arians, 68, vows to be back next season … but also wasn't committing to anything beyond that Sunday night. And it wouldn't be surprising if his staff – notably DC Todd Bowles and OC Byron Leftwich – is raided by teams needing head coaches in 2022. Sometimes, a final ride – if that's what next season becomes – can be unburdening. But other times, it means extra pressure that can become just too much to bear.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis
Source: Read Full Article