Tampa Bay's 2022 quarterback search is over; they've decided to welcome back the greatest to ever do it. Tom Brady announced on Sunday that he is returning for a 23rd season, his age-45 season, for the Buccaneers.
After just 40 days retired, a video circulated on social media Sunday showing Brady looking unsure when Cristiano Renaldo asked him, "You're finished, right?"
A few short hours later, Brady ended the speculation:
Brady's return has massive implications for fantasy football. It will impact his existing receivers, motivate key players to re-sign, and attract new players to Tampa Bay in Free Agency.
Impacts on Current Roster
Mike Evans is the immediate winner in Tampa Bay. His early season 2022 was shaping up to be a frustrating stretch. Evans was to be tasked with establishing chemistry with a new quarterback while opposing defenses built their game plans around taking him away. Instead, Evans will now see high-level targets from Brady, and plenty of them. Following Antonio Brown's shirtless goodbye, Evans saw seven targets in Week 18 as the Buccaneers' clear top option in the passing game. He didn't disappoint with a 6-89-2 line.
Unsurprisingly, Evans' role in the offense changed following Brown's departure. Through Week 17, Evans had an average depth of target of 14.0. In Week 18, his aDOT dropped to 8.6. In the Wild Card round, Evans' aDOT dropped again to 8.0, and he racked up 10 targets for 9-117-1. In the Divisional Round, Evans saw additional downfield work with a 12.4 aDOT, but he remained the engine of the offense with 14 targets for 8-119-1.
His final three games of 2022 demonstrate that Evans could have more target upside in 2022 than we're used to. And with Brady back, those targets should be high quality. Evans profiles as a low-end WR1 as he enters his age-29 campaign, gunning for a ninth straight 1,000-yard season.
The Buccaneers placed the franchise tag on Chris Godwin, which now looks like an extremely wise decision. Godwin tore his ACL in December and underwent reconstructive surgery in early January. His 2022 season will be affected by the injury to some extent, but he could be back to full speed by mid-season and has a strong chance for impactful production in the fantasy playoffs.
At times in 2021, Brady had eyes only for Godwin. He peppered him with 17 targets against the Falcons and 15 targets the following week against the Bills. Godwin also saw double-digit targets against the Cowboys, Dolphins, Bears, and Saints. With 1.97 YPRR in 2021, Godwin was able to pair a high-volume receiving role with strong efficiency. His efficiency could be down in the early season, but he remains a WR2 who should transform into a fully healthy WR1 by the season's end.
Brady is currently on a placeholder deal in 2022, and the Buccaneers will likely give him a new contract, per Tom Pelissero.
Brady's new contract could ultimately limit what the Buccaneers can do in free agency. However, at least two players may be willing to take less to return for another season with Brady.
Rob Gronkowski seemed open to playing in 2022 with a quarterback other than Brady for the first time in his career. But he should now be considered a favorite to return on a mutually beneficial one-year deal. Gronkowski was outstanding in 2021, averaging 1.94 yards per route run in 14 games, including the playoffs. It was his most efficient receiving season since 2017.
Gronkowski will be 33 for the 2022 season. He's not the game-changing force he once was, but he's an exceptional third option in the passing game. If Gronkowski returns, the Buccaneers' offense should be in great shape once Chris Godwin returns to full speed.
Before Brady's return, the Buccaneers looked likely to completely reset their backfield. Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones, and Giovani Bernard are all free agents, and all three were expected to find new teams in 2022. However, Tampa Bay is now a significantly more appealing destination for a veteran running back. Leonard Fournette, in particular, would make sense on a mutually beneficial one-year deal. Fournette signed a one-year $3.25 million deal in 2022, and a similar contract could be in play for this season.
Fournette took over the Buccaneers backfield in 2021 and has Brady's trust as a dump-off option in the passing game. At 27 years old, he should have enough left in the tank to help out the Buccaneers again but is old enough that his market could be relatively tame in free agency.
Fournette handled massive workloads down the stretch for the Buccaneers. If he re-signs and the Buccaneers let Ke'Shawn Vaughn operate as his primary backup, Fournette will be a volume-based RB1.
Potential Free Agent Additions
The Buccaneers are now a much more desirable destination for free agents, to the point that they should be able to sign an established veteran or two on a team-friendly deal.
In the mold of the Bernard signing last offseason, David Johnson would make sense as an additional pass-catching weapon. Or perhaps Chase Edmonds would be willing to take a one-year deal with the hope of adding a Super Bowl to his resume.
After being phased out of the backfield, Ronald Jones is likely to be elsewhere. His probable departure opens up an opportunity for a veteran back willing to provide the Buccaneers with quality depth. Sony Michel reuniting with Brady would make sense for all involved.
Check out Patrick Daugherty's preview of the free agent running back class for more.
The Buccaneers could also look to add an inexpensive wide receiver to help alleviate the loss of Antonio Brown and ease them through Godwin's injury recovery.
Will Fuller would be a splashy signing, assuming the soon-to-be 28-year-old is looking for a one-year prove-it deal. A.J. Green would be a less exciting version of that signing. Emmanuel Sanders would be less exciting still but would provide a veteran target for Brady early in the season. Sammy Watkins could also make sense, offering versatility to play in the slot if Godwin isn't ready for Week 1, with the ability to move outside when Godwin returns.
Jamison Crowder would be a strong option as a dedicated slot receiver. Although, his fit when Godwin returns to health would be murky.
Check out Denny Carter's wide receiver free agency preview for more names.
If the Buccaneers don't add an impact free agent, they could look to add a wide receiver in the first three rounds of the NFL draft, in what is a deep class. If the Buccaneers can trade up for him in Round 1, the pro-ready Chris Olave would be a great fit. If not, Treylon Burks at pick 27 would break Twitter. In Round 2, Skyy Moore's route running would pair delightfully well with Brady. David Bell would be an exciting Round 3 selection. No matter the pick, if the Buccaneers use the draft as their primary means of adding pass-catching help, the receiver they choose should see a boost in best ball drafts.
Regardless of how they add help, the Buccaneers can't afford to sign a pure depth option like Keelan Cole and call it a day... because Brady was not clicking with his ancillary receivers in 2021.
Ancillary Dart Throws
Tyler Johnson managed just 0.88 YPRR in 2021, which is benchably bad. He wasn't much better as a rookie, with just 1.04 YPRR. He's likely to get another shot as a depth option in 2022, but he looks like a weak late-round dart throw until we know for sure that he'll have a significant role this season.
Scotty Miller ran 46 routes in the Buccaneers' playoff loss to the Rams but had just 109 routes the rest of the season. His 0.54 YPRR won't inspire additional opportunities.
Cyril Grayson, with 2.94 YPRR, is the only ancillary option who showed any chemistry with Brady in 2021. He ran just 72 routes all season and is a sixth-year UDFA with just 99 career routes. Still, he looks worthy of a stash in deep formats, as a bet that the Buccaneers end up being too tight against the cap to add an impactful free agent receiver.
Brady's Fantasy Value
Brady adds another capable fantasy quarterback to the player pool and offers upside to be at his scoring peak during the fantasy playoffs--provided he manages to avoid an age-related decline. Brady finished second in quarterback fantasy scoring in 2021, but he was more of a QB2 than a QB1 in his two playoff games. Depending on how free agency plays out, Brady should be either a high-end QB2 or a low-end QB1 to begin 2022. He then offers upside to be a true QB1 down the stretch. If the Buccaneers bring in additional receiving help, the 45-year-old could cruise to a 14th 4,000+ yard season.