TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht said Friday that after watching him practice over the past six weeks, he believes Tom Brady’s arm is stronger at age 43 than it was last year. He also said that Brady set a new standard for the organization since signing as a free agent in March.
“One thing that strikes me is that he doesn’t look like he’s any older. Actually, his arm looks stronger than what we saw last year on tape,” said Licht, who was with Brady and the Patriots in 2002 as assistant director of player personnel and from 2009 to 2011 as director of player personnel.
“His work ethic is just unbelievable. We keep saying this word, but he just sets such a high standard that you find out if guys can keep up with it or if they’re not quite ready. And I think everyone on this team wants to reach that standard. You’ve got some young guys that are learning on the fly here, but I think it’s something that, I think we said this when we signed him: Whenever he’s done — let’s just say five years from now — that standard will remain with this team.”
The Bucs are embracing the expectations around them, Licht said. They’re not crowning themselves champions and recognize that they haven’t even played a game, but they feel far better equipped to handle playing under the microscope, something they struggled with in 2017 and 2018, going 5-11 in back-to-back years after starring on HBO’s “Hard Knocks.”
“I think as these guys that we have on our team get older, get a little bit more experienced, and you add players that have a lot of playoff and Super Bowl experience and rings, I think the confidence level just goes up,” Licht said. “When you’ve got a mature locker room — we’ve got a very diverse locker room, we have Tom Brady and [Rob Gronkowski] and [Jason Pierre-Paul] and [Lavonte David], who have been in the league quite a while.
“But we also have a lot of young players that are playing big roles for us, too — but I think it’s just the confidence level. And expectations for a younger team, sometimes you want to tamper them down for a little bit. Well, with this group, I think expectations are welcome … because everyone wants to live up to the expectations.”
Coach Bruce Arians has seen that confidence level rise, too. At the end of last season, he told his team that the difference between the Bucs and the Saints was that “in September they knew they were going to win the division. We thought we might, but we weren’t sure, and it was too late by October.”
It’s a complete 180 now, propelled not only by Brady’s arrival but also a late-season turnaround from the Bucs’ young defense.
“I think our guys showed up with that kind of confidence,” Arians said Friday. “They’ve had it since the end of last season, especially defensively, the way they finished up last season. Offensively, it’s just a matter of getting on the same page and the confidence — all the confidence in the world — because everybody believes in each other. And they put the work in, so we should have plenty of swagger when we can step out on the field.”
Landing Brady has not only bolstered confidence but also created a powerful ripple effect, allowing the Bucs to land other high-profile players like Gronkowski, LeSean McCoy and Leonard Fournette. In the past, the Bucs had to overspend in free agency to lure big names to Tampa Bay. But Licht believes that core, homegrown players such as David, Devin White, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate, Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet enabled that, too.
“I think a lot of players saw our team, saw how close we were despite the record last year in a lot of games and wanted to be part of this,” Licht said. “And if Tom Brady chooses the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they probably think to themselves, ‘Why not me?’ Yeah, [Brady] had a part in it. But I don’t think he would take full credit if you asked him himself. But you’ve gotta take advantage of it when you have the GOAT.”