ZMI ALPHA:2021 NFL free agency: Takeaways from Monday’s moves

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ZMI ALPHA:2021 NFL free agency: Takeaways from Monday’s moves

This is not how Licht’s old boss Belichick handled success, even putting the Brady part of the equation aside. Belichick went out of his way to shake up his title-winning rosters, believing new blood helped to emphasize how each year was a start at the bottom of the mountain. 

In isolation, most of the Bucs’ moves make sense. Godwin was one of Brady’s favorite receivers and it made no sense to let a 24-year-old homegrown product leave for nothing. Barrett was at the top of the pass-rusher market and the team would have been thin on the edge without him. David is a franchise legend. Even if he’s 31 years old at a position that often isn’t valued in free agency, there’s no denying David is still playing at a high level. They had to pay a lot to retain Gronk after he received interest from the Las Vegas Raiders, but Gronk’s usage and production kept him in the top 10 of tight ends last season even in a diminished state. 

There is sentiment involved in some of these moves, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Rewarding players who won a title is fun! It just doesn’t necessarily lead to similar results the next season.

The Bucs only have to look at their franchise’s only other Super Bowl season for the worst-case scenario. They returned after their 2002 title with the guts of their veteran, marauding defense intact, as well as their efficient enough offense. (Sound familiar?) They went 7-9, dogged by bad luck, aging players, internal squabbles and the “disease of more.

More recent examples of title winners struggling to recapture magic include the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles, 2015 Denver Broncos, 2012 Baltimore Ravens and 2011 New York Giants. The Eagles might be the best comparison because they entered the following season with one of the NFL’s most-stacked depth charts. The Bucs will too. Only an avalanche of injuries ruined the Eagles’ title defense, and even then, they scraped their way to the Divisional Round. 

With this roster — including a loaded offensive line and young secondary — anything short of a title contention would be a massive letdown. Still, trying to recreate the same championship alchemy in back-to-back seasons is so difficult that it hasn’t happened since 2003-2004. The quarterback of those Patriots teams was not yet among the top five at his position, but he played efficient football as part of a loaded roster. Perhaps that’s one thing Licht did learn in Foxborough: With Tom Brady around, the normal rules don’t apply.

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