When Tom Brady announced in March of 2020 that he was leaving the Patriots and moving to Tampa to try to win another Super Bowl, few people really believed he could do it. The Buccaneers had assembled a decent roster, but Brady was taking over a 7-9 team that had finished in the bottom half of the NFC South for three years running. The Buccaneers taking an aging quarterback who had just killed off his own team’s playoff run with a pick-six seemed like a punt doomed for failure.
A year later, it turned out the Buccaneers knew exactly what they were doing.
The team that thrashed the reigning Super Bowl champions to win the franchise’s second NFL championship was largely made up of those risks – talented players who needed a better fit and a new system.
From hiring the retired Bruce Arians as head coach to signing the mercurial Antonio Brown, every risk turned out to be part of a calculated game plan. Come Super Bowl 55, it all paid off.
Tom Brady: Starting this list with anyone but Brady would be ridiculous. Brady wasn’t the last piece of the Super Bowl puzzle for Tampa, but he was the piece that finally made the picture come together.
Former number one overall pick Jameis Winston had quarterbacked the Buccaneers for the past five seasons, but his inconsistency had been his undoing, with a ludicrous 33-touchdown-30 interception stat line in 2019 underlining his lack of championship credentials. Brady was the exact opposite, a proven winner with an eye for team management – and taking the chance to sign him was the big break Tampa needed.
Brady had a near-perfect game in Super Bowl 55, throwing for 201 yards and three touchdowns, and his steady leadership behind the line kept the Buccaneers focused. Unlike Mahomes, his dramatic passing didn’t steal headlines, but as Michael Rosenberg wrote for SI, he made the reads when it counted and allowed the weapons at his disposal to thrive.
Perhaps just as important as his on-field performance was his mere presence in Tampa, which served as a magnet for players hungry for a tilt at winning a ring with the GOAT.
Rob Gronkowski: “Gronk” coming to Tampa was the first of those Brady recruits — and one of the NFL storylines of the year. Drawn out of retirement by the chance to play with his old Patriots teammate once again, he caught two touchdowns in the Super Bowl, and though he didn’t always thrive throughout the season, he proved to be a crucial part of the championship team.
Though Gronkowski was a free agent at the start of the year, the Patriots technically still had the rights to him, which the Buccaneers acquired in exchange for a fourth-round pick. A fourth-round pick for 14 points in a Super Bowl? Not a bad deal.
Leonard Fournette: Released by the Jaguars in August of 2020 after he became increasingly frustrated with the declining franchise, Fournette seemed to be a problematic locker room figure, but Brady wanted to give the running back a shot. Encouraged by Brady, the Buccaneers signed him as a free agent, but Fournette often struggled earlier in the season.
However, Fournette found his groove in the playoffs, rushing for 300 total yards in the postseason and scoring a touchdown in the Super Bowl.
Another Brady pick, Antonio Brown, scored the fourth Buccaneers touchdown of the night – meaning all four of the Buccaneers touchdowns in the Super Bowl came from Brady recruits.
As exciting as Tampa’s offense was, much of the credit for the Super Bowl win has to go to their defense. The Tampa Bay pass rush left Chiefs superstar Patrick Mahomes no room to breathe, and just like the Brady-designed offense, the defense’s recruitment strategy of smart free agent signings and trades paid dividends once again.
Shaquil Barrett: Barrett’s name could reasonably have been in the ring for Super Bowl MVP — and again, like most of the players on this list, he signed with Tampa in free agency. When he reached 19.5 sacks to lead the NFL in 2019, it was clear the Bucs had done some good business yet again.
Jason Pierre-Paul: After eight years in New York playing for the Giants, Pierre-Paul was traded away to the Buccaneers for a third-round pick in 2018. The Giants wanted to free up contract space, but a little less than three years later, it’s clear who got the better end of the deal. Pierre-Paul quickly slotted into his role on the Buccaneers defense, racking up 30.5 sacks in three years, despite often struggling with injuries.
Together with Barrett, Pierre-Paul helped form a menacing pass-rush, stifling quarterbacks throughout the playoffs and allowing the Buccaneers the luxury of only rushing four on passing downs.
Ndamukong Suh: Suh came to Tampa in 2019 with perhaps the best resume of these defensive players, but he only arrived because the Dolphins released him in 2018 and the Rams let him leave after their Super Bowl run in 2019. Together with Barrett and Pierre-Paul, however, Suh found his rhythm in Tampa, and the band of misfits shredded the Chiefs ramshackle offensive line throughout the entire Super Bowl.
Bruce Arians: Perhaps more than any player on the roster, Bruce Arians defines the story of the 2020 Buccaneers. He had been plotting the Buccaneers’ renaissance since he arrived in Tampa in early 2019, but many doubted Arians had what it took to actually lead the Buccaneers to success.
Arians came out of retirement to coach the Buccaneers at the age of 66, but when he won the Super Bowl this year at age 68 (making him the oldest coach to win a Super Bowl), those questions faded away.
It took a few years, but the Buccaneers did their business and quietly went from 5-11 bottom-dwellers to Super Bowl winners. With Brady seemingly no closer to retirement, Super Bowl 55 might not be the end of their success.