There’s always uncertainty heading into an NFL season, but there’s one thing about the 2021 Buccaneers that is certain: They are stocked with weapons.
This goes for both the offense and the defense. For the 1,000th time, the Buccaneers have returned all 22 starters and multiple key depth pieces in hopes of repeating as Super Bowl champs. A team that contains the likes of Tom Brady, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, Rob Gronkowski, Shaquil Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, Devin White, Lavonte David, Vita Vea, and many, many more is geared up and ready for another run.
But of all the weapons the Buccaneers possess, of all the playmakers they have on the roster, their biggest weapon of all won’t be wearing a helmet, pads, and cleats come Sundays.
And that weapon is continuity. Familiarity. It’s not just knowing the playbook. It’s also expecting your teammates to know what to do in certain situations. Having this weapon on your side is a big deal due to the surrounding environment that is the NFL.
Continuity is almost unicorn-level rare in the NFL. The NFL isn’t designed for continuity. The league embraces parity. It’s hard to keep players on the same team(s) for a few years, much less elongated periods of time. This goes for coaching staffs, as well.
But keeping the band together can go a long way in shaping/determining a franchise’s upcoming success. Even if it’s just for a couple of years.
“I believe that the continuity in football is the key to winning,” Brady said during the Buccaneers’ mandatory minicamp back in June. “The more continuity you can have over a long period of time, there are just so many situations that come up over the course of the season that you’re not able to sort through – you’ve got to rely on a lot of past history.”
This past offseason went just about as perfect as any offseason can go for the Buccaneers. Keeping the roster intact was key, but the Buccaneers also retained the entire coaching staff, minus receivers coach Antwaan Randle El, who took a job with the Detroit Lions. In fact, keeping the coaching staff intact may mean more than keeping the roster intact when it’s all said and done.
“It’s great to have the starters back. More importantly, the assistants because you don’t have to coach coaches or teach anybody,” said Todd Bowles. “Bruce [Arians] has done a great job of giving us situational football over the past couple weeks, as well as last year, and putting every coach in a situation where they have to think. So it’s not just for the players, it’s for the coaches as well. And to have the same chemistry on the coaching staff back on both sides of the ball, I think, is big.”
“It’s huge,” said Bruce Arians when asked about the continuity surrounding the Buccaneers coaching staff. “There’s no coach that’s not on the same page. The hardest thing is when you have coaches come in here and they try to coach their old way. They don’t coach your way, so you’re coaching them and then they’re coaching the players. And sometimes you have to re-teach. We don’t have any of that, and it’s a blessing.”
Not only do you have the same guys on the field running the plays, but the guys dishing out the plays are all on the same page. That’s a major advantage for the Buccaneers and it’s an advantage that few teams in the NFL possess.
Bill Belichick, Sean Payton, Mike Tomlin, and John Harbaugh are the only coaches who have been with their respective teams pre-2010. After them, just six coaches are entering their fifth year or longer with their respective teams. 18 of the remaining 22 coaches -including Arians- are entering their third year with their respective teams. Over half of the league’s head coaches wouldn’t qualify for vested-veteran status if they were NFL players.
The Saints, in particular will be an interesting watch in 2021. Sure, they still have Payton, who is a top-3 coach in the NFL, but they lost Drew Brees and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi this past offseason. The trio of Payton, Brees, and Lombardi had been together since 2007, which is practically impossible to pull off these days. It was truly remarkable. But how will things shake out with 66% of the Saints offense now out of the picture? The continuity between those three guys was a major factor in the Saints’ offensive success over the last 15 years. That side of the ball is essentially guaranteed to take a step back this year, through no fault of anyone’s.
Fortunately for the Bucs, this isn’t something they’ll have to worry about in 2021. The best part about having everyone back for another run, however, is the fact that knowing who is beside you not only helps continue a high level of play, but it breeds confidence among the players.
And we all know what a jolt of confidence can do in the NFL.
“I think just being together from last year to this year having everybody back – I feel like everybody knows how each other plays on our defense and how we operate,” Antoine Winfield Jr. told reporters last week. “It feels like that is what’s been best for us. Because we know how each other play and we can play off of each other better. I think we will be better this year.”
“Whenever you can keep guys together for a couple of years, it really helps,” Alex Cappa said last week.
The players recognize what they have. So do the coaches. And those who follow the NFL -including the NFL itself- know what the Buccaneers have, as well.
So now, it’s all about getting the job done on the field. And considering what we’ve seen and heard so far this offseason, the Bucs should have no issue in doing just that.