This article is part of our NFL Free Agency series.
Details on Tom Brady's contract emerged Friday morning, with ESPN's Adam Schefter reporting a fully guaranteed two-year, $50 million deal that also includes $9 million worth of incentives. Schefter notes that the deal has a clause preventing the Bucs from using a franchise tag after 2021 — a hint that the future Hall of Famer could continue playing beyond the current contract and well into his mid-40s.
Maybe that sounds crazy on the heels of what was arguably his worst statistical season since 2006, but a look at the underlying context of 2019 suggests Brady still has a lot to offer. The Patriots gave him a bottom-10 supporting cast on offense last year, wasting 247 carries on Sony Michel and deploying a rotating cast of pass-catching clowns after Josh Gordon and Antonio Brown didn't pan out.
Even the one "reliable" receiver, Julian Edelman, had a league-high 13 drops, contributing to a No. 25 team ranking for drop rate (5.5 percent). The Patriots also failed to help Brady when they held on to the ball, with a mark of 4.9 YAC per completion placing him 25th out of 32 qualified quarterbacks, and dead last among the 12 with an average target depth under 8.0 yards. The necessary context here is that shorter passes tend to produce more YAC... just not for the 2019 Pats.
The Patriots finished 22nd in PFF's team receiving grades and 14th for pass blocking, while ESPN paints a slightly harsher picture of the offensive line, putting New England at No. 18 for pass block win rate (58 percent). None of these metrics is the be-all, end-all, but they do support the common-sense observation of Brady getting far less help than he's accustomed to.
The 2018 Patriots, for example, were No. 11 in PFF's receiving grades and No. 6 in the pass blocking grades, also checking in at No. 4 for pass block win rate. Brady finished the year No. 9 in QBR (66.6), No. 8 in NY/A (7.12) and No. 5 in PFF grade (90.7). Granted, he was middle of the pack in terms of completion percentage (65.8), YPA (7.6) and TD rate (5.1), reflecting the reality that late-career Brady is merely decent at producing big plays but phenomenal at avoiding bad ones.
And that's where things get interesting for Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, a WR duo that thrived amidst the chaos of Jameis Winston. They'll now be working with the opposite: a QB who is best in show at avoiding sacks and turnovers, but with the trade off of fewer deep throws — which could be problematic for Evans — and fewer big plays. That's not to say Bruce Arians won't give us a more aggressive version of Brady, but we can't expect the Bucs to throw for 5,127 yards and 33 touchdowns again (especially now that their defense looks decent).
From Brady's perspective, the upgrade in supporting cast is probably even larger than you think it is. Last year, the Bucs were 10th in PFF's pass blocking grades and tied for first in the receiving grades, though they were just 17th in pass-block win rate (one spot ahead of New England). Apart from Jameis Winston, the only 2019 starters that aren't under contract are RT Demar Dotson and WR Breshad Perriman, both of whom could still be re-signed, considering the Bucs have an estimated $24.9 million in cap space even after adding Brady.
A Winston re-signing may have been the best-case scenario for Godwin and Evans owners, but the current outcome is about as good as it gets for anyone hoping to squeeze something more out of Brady. The wild card in all this is O.J. Howard, who surely will have post-hype-sleeper hype soon enough. Get ready for all the "Look what Brady did with Gronk" takes... because, you know, it's totally meaningful that Brady threw to his tight end a lot when he played with the best TE of all time 🙄.
Other NFL News from the Weekend
- The Athletic's Jeff Howe believes it's a good sign for Jarrett Stidham that the Patriots are signing Brian Hoyer (on a one-year, $1.05 million contract, with the Colts paying him another $950,000). New England was always going to add a veteran to replace Brady, and from Stidham's perspective you'd rather have it be Hoyer than Andy Dalton or Cam Newton. Of course, it won't come as any surprise if the Patriots also sign one of those guys or use an early-ish draft pick on a QB. Hoyer's agent said his client was promised a chance to compete for the starting job, but the contract suggests he's disposable.
- The Falcons are signing Todd Gurley to a one-year, $5 million contract. It seems like the best possible outcome for his dynasty owners, with Atlanta otherwise carrying dismal backfield talent yet sure to put up plenty of yards and points as long as Matt Ryan and Julio Jones stay healthy. Even if Gurley doesn't regain his explosiveness, he should be able to make a fantasy living on touchdowns and receptions. However, Rotowire's Mario Puig is correct to point out that Gurley's presence won't necessarily prevent the Falcons from using an early draft pick on a running back.
- The Broncos are signing Melvin Gordon to a two-year, $16 million contract that includes $13.5 million guaranteed. A Broncos executive said Gordon and Phillip Lindsay will work as a tag team, while I'm guessing Royce Freeman will be traded, cut or banished to special teams (probably where he belongs). For a more detailed analysis, I am once again asking you to take a look at Mario's recent article.
- The Steelers are signing Eric Ebron to a two-year, $12 million contract, which is exactly what you want to see if you're a Ravens fan who has a bad habit of drafting Vance McDonald. I maintain that Ebron's 14-touchdown season in 2018 was the greatest achievement of Andrew Luck's career. The soon-to-be 27-year-old tight end is a constant lowlight reel of drops and missed blocks, still relying on athleticism alone as he prepares for his seventh NFL season. I'll avoid both Ebron and McDonald in fantasy drafts.
- The Saints are signing Emmanuel Sanders to a two-year, $16 million contract, which presumably means free agent Ted Ginn won't be brought back. It'll be interesting to see how Sanders works with Michael Thomas, considering both have played a lot of slot snaps while making a living on short and intermediate passes the past couple years. Sanders showed off deep speed in the Super Bowl, but the Saints may view Tre'Quan Smith as the real downfield threat, even though we haven't really seen that aspect of his game so far. If nothing else, Sanders should allow the Saints to keep their offense running efficiently in the event of a Thomas injury. However, I'm not optimistic about Sanders establishing standard-league fantasy value in an offense with Thomas, Alvin Kamara and Jared Cook competing for volume.
- The Raiders are signing Nelson Agholor to a one-year contract, continuing their offseason trend of shopping for quantity over quality. This is a minor annoyance for anyone counting on Hunter Renfrow to produce, but it's preferable to the Raiders signing a superior talent like Robby Anderson. Given the WR-heavy draft coming up, I really don't trust any Oakland pass catcher besides Darren Waller right now.
Remaining Free Agents with Fantasy Potential
RB Carlos Hyde
TE Tyler Eifert