New England Patriots wide receiver Matthew Slater insisted the standards remain the same for the storied NFL franchise, despite the loss of Tom Brady.

Brady swapped the Patriots for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers via free agency, after winning six Super Bowl titles in Foxborough.

The exit of the legendary quarterback following a glorious two-decade run in New England leaves an obvious void, but Slater backed his team to step up.

"I don't think the goals change at all. The standard doesn't change at all. The pillars that we stand upon, they don't change at all," the 34-year-old told reporters on a conference call on Monday.

"If you go into the season with a defeatist mindset, then you can't expect to be successful. We have a great opportunity. We have a lot of good football players. We have a tremendous coaching staff. ... We have to go into the season expecting more from ourselves than anyone outside the building expects from us.

"We have to go in with the same drive, the same focus, the same determination. If we don't, you shouldn't even step foot in the building, because we're already going to be beat."

On Brady's departure, Slater – a three-time Super Bowl champion – added: "When you talk about Tom and everything he's meant to this organisation, and our team, a lot of our identity over the last 20 years has been centred around him. Any time you transition away from a player like that, it's a tall task.

"You have to find a way to deal with that personally and process it. I think as a team, obviously, we're going to have to process that Tom is gone. Do it in a healthy way, and be able to move on.

"We're going to have to be able to find a new identity for ourselves. I think part of that identity is going to be built upon things we've always stood for and will continue to stand for as long as this organisation is led by the people it's led by. That's going to be selflessness, hard work, doing what's best for the football team, serving one another, not having any level of expectation that things are going to be handed to us."

NFL free agency rarely disappoints and this year was no different as a host of transactions gave fanbases plenty to get excited or frustrated about.

This year, the top names to hit the open market were of a greater calibre to those in a typical offseason, adding to the drama.

That free agency took place during the coronavirus pandemic meant it was the only major sporting show in town. Hopefully, it provided a welcome distraction to many.

Including trades that went down over the period, we have picked out 10 of our favourite moves and contracts, as well as those we were not so fond of.

TEN MOVES WE LOVED

Brady makes Bucs contenders

While Tom Brady, entering a season where he will be 43, can no longer carry a team like he used to, the six-time Super Bowl winner is still a top-10 quarterback. A massive upgrade on the turnover-prone Jameis Winston, Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers are postseason contenders with a support system that includes Bruce Arians' scheme, an impressive receiving corps and a defense trending in the right direction. 

Evergreen Sanders could be Saints’ missing piece

Drew Brees is coming back for another two shots at glory with the New Orleans Saints after leaving some money on the table to help the team's cap woes. The QB now has a second star wide receiver to pair with the brilliant Michael Thomas in the shape of the ageless Emmanuel Sanders, a piece they have been missing and previously looked to address with Dez Bryant. Sanders has still got it at 33, and with Thomas, the underrated TE Jared Cook and a healthy Alvin Kamara to throw to, Brees can help the WR reach the Super Bowl with a fourth team.

Chargers add Harris, and much more

The Los Angeles Chargers added an elite cornerback in Chris Harris for just $8.5m a year, boosting a defensive backfield that already contains Casey Hayward, Desmond King and Derwin James. There were other smart moves too, Bryan Bulaga boosting the offensive line, star tight end Hunter Henry retained on the franchise tag and pass-catching back Austin Ekeler signing a team-friendly four-year deal. The pieces are coming together, though they are lacking an established QB, perhaps one like…

Rivers gives Colts crucial upgrade

Philip Rivers contemplated retirement before opting to join an Indianapolis Colts team with one of the better rosters in the NFL, providing them with a big upgrade on Jacoby Brissett at the most important position. Rivers, now 38, will love playing behind a top-five offensive line that brought back Anthony Castonzo. There is little risk for the Colts - if it doesn't work out, Rivers is on a one-year deal and the bulk of a roster that has been built through the draft will still be there in 2021. The Texans' free-agency woes serve as a boost in the AFC South.

Broncos buy low on dominant Casey

At age 30, five-time Pro Bowler Jurrell Casey still has plenty to offer, yet the Denver Broncos were able to sign him for pennies on the dollar (a seventh-round pick) to boost a defense that also added A.J. Bouye and already features Von Miller and Bradley Chubb.

Big Play Slay just what Eagles needed

The Philadelphia Eagles swooped for Darius Slay, who was coming off a down year but remains an elite corner, without giving up premium draft capital. They then handed him an extension that keeps Slay under their control for four years, should they wish to retain him, as the team improved a glaring weakness in the secondary. In another impressive move, they locked up rising star Javon Hargrave for his peak years and he can be paired with the great Fletcher Cox.

Campbell smart business for win-now Ravens

Despite his age (33), Calais Campbell remains a disruptive force on the defensive line. A trade and extension means he will help the win-now Baltimore Ravens for the next two seasons, all at the cost of just a fifth-round draft pick.

Conklin fills pivotal Browns need

A dreadful Cleveland Browns offensive line hindered Baker Mayfield’s sophomore season and held back a stellar cast of playmakers. After former GM John Dorsey departed, his replacement Andrew Berry was wise to add star right tackle Jack Conklin, even at $15m per year. Could Trent Williams be next on the other side of the line?

Wait, Arizona got Hopkins for what!?

An improving and exciting Arizona Cardinals team added one of the NFL's great receivers is in his prime, DeAndre Hopkins, to pair with Larry Fitzgerald for their number one overall pick Kyler Murray. That they could do that without giving up a first-round draft selection and getting rid of a contract they no longer wanted (more on that later), was a free-agency moment few fans will forget.

Niners keep Armstead, land key draft pick

The San Francisco 49ers found a way to keep Arik Armstead after his career year, and, with significant resources already invested in their defensive line, allowed the Colts to pay DeForest Buckner an eye-watering $21m a year. While his exit will hurt, the number 13 pick in the draft was impressive compensation that, in a WR-heavy class, should secure some major help for QB Jimmy Garoppolo. 

Honourable mentions: Cory Littleton to the Las Vegas Raiders, Gerald McCoy to the Dallas Cowboys, Stefon Diggs to the Buffalo Bills, D.J. Reader to the Cincinnati Bengals.
 

THE MOVES WE DIDN'T LIKE

Texans spend big on Cobb

Randall Cobb was productive in racking up 828 yards for the Cowboys last season, but handing the slot man $27m over three years just before he turns 30 is a questionable move when there is a Hopkins-sized hole in your receiving corps and limited draft capital with which to fill it.

Texans (sorry!) take on Johnson contract

The Texans' return for losing Hopkins was pitiful and they even did the Cardinals a favour by taking on the last two years of David Johnson’s big contract. Johnson has battled injuries and not been dominant since 2016. Even if he does get close to that level again, as a running back he offers less value than a star wideout.

Dolphins overpay for Flowers

New York Giants draft bust Ereck Flowers had a decent year at guard for the Washington Redskins, but surely that improvement was not enough to justify a three-year, $30m pact in Miami.

Bears still believe in Graham

Jimmy Graham still believes he has speed and big play ability, but the Green Bay Packers disagreed as they cut him this month. The Chicago Bears promptly handed the 33-year-old a two-year, $16m deal with a no-trade clause. Recent evidence suggests this will not work out.

Jags make puzzling Schobert splash

At a time when they are stripping their roster bare and entering full rebuild mode, the Jacksonville Jaguars' decision to lock up a middle linebacker for five years and $53.75m was a puzzling one, whatever the merits of Joe Schobert may be.

Titans give Tannehill all the money

Ryan Tannehill was incredible for the Tennessee Titans after replacing Marcus Mariota, but his career to date suggests 2019 is likely to prove an outlier that will be extremely tough to repeat. The QB looked a prime candidate for a prove-it-again franchise tag but instead landed $118m over four years, as the Titans committed their immediate future to him and dropped out of the Brady sweepstakes. It could work out, but at this stage you must ask if it was all worth it just to tag Derrick Henry.

And they pay up for struggling Beasley

While it is only a one-year deal, there are likely better ways for the Titans, who let Casey leave, to spend $9.5m fully guaranteed (potentially rising to $12m) than on Vic Beasley, who the Atlanta Falcons were happy to let walk as he struggled to generate consistent pressure, despite recording a flattering eight sacks in 2019.

New York make Giant reach for Martinez

The Giants were right to move on from middle linebacker Alec Ogletree, but Blake Martinez’s career to date suggest he might not offer a huge improvement when it comes to the all-important area of pass coverage. Big Blue have agreed to pay $30.75m for three years to find out.

Fant unlikely to solve Jets' woes

A former college basketball star, George Fant may have been a good swing tackle option in free agency, but not a three-year, $30m starting option who the New York Jets hope can solve their offensive-line woes. He spent a good portion of last year playing as a sixth offensive lineman for the Seattle Seahawks, and did not become an established starter on a unit that has traditionally been among the league's worst.


Dishonourable mentions: Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Jamie Collins to the Detroit Lions, Melvin Gordon to the Broncos, Jordan Howard to the Dolphins.

Given he has worked with Patrick Mahomes, Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Johnny Manziel, it takes a lot to make Kliff Kingsbury's jaw drop in amazement.

Yet on a Thursday night in September 2014 he watched on in disbelief from the back of the end zone at Stephenville's Memorial Stadium as high schooler - and future New England Patriot - Jarrett Stidham delivered a dart right in front of him.

"It was the real deal - quick release, drilled it and Kingsbury's near the end zone," Greg Winder told Stats Perform.

"Kingsbury's mouth was just like, 'Oh wow'. I knew then he was special."

Winder was the offensive coordinator at Stephenville High School, where Stidham was considered one of the state's finest quarterback prospects in football-mad Texas.

"He was very receptive," Winder recalled.

"He always knew what was going on. We would meet and talk about our gameplan and he knew exactly what we were trying to do and what he needed to do.

"He was a great leader."

Fast forward to 2020 and Stidham is the centre of attention again. 

The Patriots are seeking an answer at the NFL's most important position having seen Tom Brady leave for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency.

Stidham would appear the most likely candidate to succeed a player considered the greatest of all time, even if his NFL experience is limited to four pass attempts - one of which New York Jets safety Jamal Adams returned for a pick-six in Week 3 of last season.

Fortunately, Stidham is used to the spotlight. Winder remembers college coaches from all over the country coming to watch him at Stephenville.

"It was crazy, nuts," he said.

"We'd do our workout and those coaches would be in there watching him throw. He didn't seem to be nervous at all. He's a natural."

Back when he dazzled future Arizona Cardinals head coach Kingsbury with his throw against Lubbock Cooper, Stidham had already committed to Texas Tech.

He would end up going to nearby Baylor, though, avoiding a quarterback competition with future NFL MVP Mahomes.

However, that to be proved a short-lived stop. The football programme was rocked after Baylor head coach Art Briles was dismissed once an investigation found there was a "fundamental failure" by officials to respond to sexual assault allegations.

After consulting Winder about his next move, Stidham sat out for a year and then spent two seasons as Auburn's starting quarterback before declaring for the 2019 NFL Draft, when the Patriots selected him as Brady's latest backup.

Now, with Brady gone and only Brian Hoyer and Cody Kessler as rivals, Stidham would appear to have a clear path to the starter's job.

Succeeding Brady means he will be under even more scrutiny than usual, though Stidham, who moved in with a guardian family at 18, has already had to cope with plenty of pressure.

"He's been in a lot of different situations in his life with pressure and different circumstances on and off the field, he'll respond," Winder adds.

But can he be successful under Bill Belichick, a man who has won six Super Bowl titles as a head coach, and with a team that has won the AFC East for 11 straight seasons?

"I just think he needs to be with the right organisation, the right situation," Winder claims.

"And I think he's in the right organisation and the right time."

Joe Montana believes the New England Patriots "made a mistake" after allowing legendary quarterback Tom Brady to leave for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Brady swapped the Patriots for the Buccaneers on a two-year deal in free agency following six Super Bowl titles during an illustrious career in New England.

The 42-year-old was drafted by the Patriots in 2000 and four-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Montana does not understand why New England granted Brady's exit.

"I don't know what's going on inside there, but somebody made a mistake," the 63-year-old Montana, who spent 14 seasons playing for the San Francisco 49ers before being traded to the Kansas City Chiefs, told USA Today Sports.

"I think when you look at the whole situation, you try to figure out how you want to get away from things that are there.

"I had a different story, where they had made a decision. He, obviously, they never would have gotten rid of. I still don't understand how New England let him get away. I don't understand that."

Addressing why Brady sought a new challenge, Hall of Famer Montana added: "It's not about appreciation. He wants control. I mean, he wants a lot of control. I don't know what Tampa Bay gave him, but at some point in time, you're just a player.

"You can try to get what you can and do what you want, but in the end, you're still not in the hierarchy when it comes to hiring people, firing people and all that.

"I don't know exactly what he's looking for, but my understanding was that he's just looking for more control of the offense. But I don't know. I haven't had a long conversation with him; I talked to him a little bit at the Super Bowl, but not enough time to really get in-depth."

Devin McCourty understands why expectations are low for the New England Patriots following the departure of Tom Brady, but insists they remain focused on winning without their long-time quarterback.

Brady ended his long and successful association with the Patriots earlier this month, opting to leave as a free agent and continue his storied career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

His time in New England included six Super Bowl wins working under head coach Bill Belichick, who must now find a way to succeed with a new quarterback at the helm.

The experienced Brian Hoyer has returned to the Pats to join Jarrett Stidham, selected by the team in the fourth round of last year's draft, and Cody Kessler on the roster.

Having signed a new deal to remain in New England, McCourty is calm about the situation facing the franchise as they begin a new era, revealing how the goal to keep improving has not changed.

"I think my goal is always to win as many games as possible. I don't think you ever come into the season and talk, 'Super Bowl, Super Bowl, Super Bowl'," the defensive back said on a conference call.

"It's about improving and winning games along the way as you improve. I think that will stay the same.

"Especially now, you have a lot of time to be on Twitter and stuff, so a lot of what I've seen is just people tweeting me like, 'Enjoy what you guys had, it's over, you guys won't win a game'. 

"I think that's natural, though. I think if I was a fan and I watched the team and watched a guy for a long time and he left and he was so great, I would say that team is going to be terrible too.

"That's expected, but I think it's our job as players to go out there and compete when we get the opportunity.

"I think, for us as a team, in my 10 years here, that's always going to be the thinking."

As much as the NFL world would like to talk about the ins and outs of his New England Patriots exit, Tom Brady does not want to discuss the past.

That much was made clear as Brady took part in an introductory conference call on Tuesday following his decision to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on a two-year deal.

While Brady's focus is on getting to know a talented supporting cast of receivers and learning head coach Bruce Arians' offense, he was predictably met with questions about his departure from a team with whom he won an unprecedented six Super Bowls over 20 storied seasons.

He was asked about reported claims from Patriots owner Robert Kraft that it was Brady's choice to leave and that New England could have worked out a deal had he not desired to move elsewhere.

"I'm not responsible for how other people will say certain things," Brady replied. "Mr. Kraft has been a great influence in my life. I'm so grateful for two decades.

"It's been an amazing thing for my family. When I'm done playing, I'll have a chance to really re-evaluate my entire career. At the same time, I'm excited for this opportunity that I have.

"I can only speak to how I feel. I wrote about that in my social media the other day. Getting to be a free agent and having the opportunity to join the Bucs was something that I was really excited about and that's why we're at where we're at."

Pressed on whether he was disappointed the Patriots perhaps did not make more of an effort to bring him back, Brady responded: "There's nobody who's been a bigger fan of the Patriots than me. I have nothing but total respect and love. I'm so grateful to Mr. Kraft and the organisation and coach [Bill] Belichick and all the coaches and obviously all my team-mates.

"It's been a lot of days responding to a lot of incredible text messages from team-mates, from former team-mates, just a lot of great people I've got to meet over the years. I have so many great relationships that will be maintained. It'll be different but at the same time that's the way life can be at times. What won't be different is my approach to the game. I'm going to go out every day to do the best I can to put our team in a position to win."

Brady was predictably unwilling to discuss what it would have taken to remain in New England but did concede the transition from face of the league's greatest dynasty to former Patriot has been an emotional one.

"I don't want to talk about the past because it's not relevant to what's important in my future," he added. "I had two decades of incredible experience and learning from some of the best players and the best coaches and the ownership of the team. Things in life can change, you've got to be able to adapt and evolve. With each of those changes come different opportunities to learn and grow.

"Anytime you leave somewhere it's very emotional. The transition was very emotional with a lot of guys I've talked to that I shared the field with. The relationships are what matter most to me, I'm going to be friends with my team-mates, my former team-mates and coaches for the rest of my life.

"That's not going to leave just because I'm wearing a different jersey. At the same time for me, the new jersey I'm wearing, I'm prepared to give them every bit of commitment I've had my entire career to be the best I can be to help this team be the best it could be. I'm just excited to get started."

Devin McCourty knows NFL fans and analysts are "already burying" the New England Patriots and declaring their dynasty as over following the departure of Tom Brady.

Quarterback Brady, a six-time Super Bowl winner with the Pats, joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency.

Safety McCourty thought he was going to be following Brady out of New England but ultimately agreed a new two-year deal.

Keeping the franchise's run of success going at a time they are being written off was one of the key motivations in his decision to stay.

"People are going to say that because Tom's gone, the dynasty is over," McCourty wrote in The Players' Tribune.

"They're already burying us, far as I can tell. And that's fine. Let 'em. We've never listened to the noise, and we're not about to start now.

"But the task is definitely taller this coming year than it has been in years past. There's more work to do. And it's not gonna be so easy this time around.

"That's where the new challenge comes in. I thought I had to leave New England to find what I was looking for.

"But it turns out that there is no greater challenge for me right now than leading this Patriots team into a new era and helping ensure that this next wave of players can continue our legacy.

"So much of my development as a football player and as a man has been here in New England, and it's an honour to hopefully be able to finish my career here and be a Patriot for life."

The Patriots keeping his brother Jason was the other key factor in the decision to stay, as Devin added: "I honestly thought it was time for me to leave New England.

"Going into free agency, I was thinking that at this stage in my career, I was ready for a change.

"I love New England. But after 10 years and winning three Super Bowls, something inside was telling me that I was ready for a new challenge. And I thought I might have to go elsewhere to find it.

"Then my brother's option got picked up... as much as I wanted a new challenge in my career, I also told myself from the jump that if there was an opportunity to play with my brother again, I would take it.

"I've had more fun playing alongside him these last two years than I have in my entire career. So, I got what I wanted: I get to play with my brother again. We're keeping the family together."

Devin McCourty is glad Tom Brady opted to join a team in the NFC after leaving the New England Patriots for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Quarterback Brady won six Super Bowls and nine AFC Championships as he spent 20 years with New England in an astonishing era of success.

That came to an end with his free agency move to the Bucs, an outcome McCourty still finds odd to come to terms with.

Safety McCourty, who opted to remain with the Patriots as he also hit free agency, feels Brady has earned the right to end his NFL career on his terms, but is relieved not to be facing him on a regular basis.

"I found out about Tom leaving the same way y'all did. On Twitter," McCourty wrote in an article for The Players' Tribune.

"But I kind of knew when we got closer to free agency and he didn't have a deal done that he wasn't coming back. 

"It's still a little surreal because … it’s TOM, you know? He's been here 20 years. He’s won six rings. He's the greatest to ever do it. So it definitely won't be the same now that he's gone. 

"But honestly, I’m happy for him. He's earned the right to finish his career wherever he wants and chase whatever he feels like he needs to chase." 

McCourty added along with laughing emojis: "I'm just glad he’s doing it in the NFC."

Head coach Bill Belichick will be tasked with retooling a Patriots roster that lost a host of senior players along with Brady, as McCourty cited the exits of Kyle Van Noy, Nate Ebner, Jamie Collins and Duron Harmon.

He added: "Let's be honest: We've had it pretty good during my 10 years in New England. We've had Bill. We've had Tom. We've had a pretty consistent roster without a lot of turnover. 

"That's why this off-season feels so crazy. You see guys like Kyle, Nate, Jamie, Duron and others move on, and it definitely feels different. Especially with Tom leaving. 

"It's like you're sad that these guys are gone, because you love them and those are your guys. But at the same time, you can't help but be excited for them."

March 24 was a momentous date in the world of cricket, just for all the wrong reasons.

The actions of an opening batsman during a 2018 Test series with South Africa plunged Australian cricket into crisis.

Six years earlier, one of the greatest footballers of the modern generation made Spanish football history.

It is also a date that marked the end of the career of arguably the best tight end to ever play a snap in the NFL.

We look back at the major events that happened on this day in sport.

 

1936: Red Wings outlast Maroons in NHL marathon

Want an easy way to lose weight? Play nearly three full NHL games in one day. 

That's what Detroit Red Wings goaltender Normie Smith and his team-mates did as they defeated the Montreal Maroons 1-0 in the first game of the Stanley Cup semi-finals, the longest game in NHL history.

Smith reportedly made 92 saves, losing 12 pounds of body weight in the process, before Mud Bruneteau scored the decisive goal in the sixth overtime period at the Montreal Forum, the game finally coming to a close at 2:25am.

Detroit went on to win their first Stanley Cup. Thankfully, shootouts mean such epics are no longer necessary in today's NHL.

2012: Ronaldo races to LaLiga landmark

Cristiano Ronaldo elevated himself from superstar to candidate for greatest of all time during his glittering career at Real Madrid.

Even in a spell that included four Champions League titles and two LaLiga crowns, his achievement of eight years ago against Real Sociedad ranks among his finest at Los Blancos.

Ronaldo netted twice in a 3-1 win at the Santiago Bernabeu, making him the fastest player to reach LaLiga 100 goals.

He reached his century in just 92 games, surpassing the mark set by fellow Madrid great Ferenc Puskas, who did the same in 105 games.

2018: Bancroft caught on camera

Australian cricket was plunged into a ball-tampering scandal on the third day of the third Test with South Africa. 

Footage emerged of Cameron Bancroft rubbing the ball with a yellow object, later revealed to be sandpaper.

His attempts to rough up the ball led to unprecedented sanctions being handed out by Cricket Australia. 

Captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner were banned from all forms of domestic and international cricket for 12 months for their roles in the incident.

They were also stood down from the respective leadership roles, with Warner removed from future consideration for such positions. Bancroft, meanwhile, was banned for nine months.

2019: Gronk bows out a champion

Rob Gronkowski became the gold standard at tight end in a career that will surely see him one day enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

However, the well-documented injuries he battled throughout his time in the NFL took their toll and he hung up the cleats after nine seasons in the league.

He went out a champion, however, helping the New England Patriots to their sixth Lombardi Trophy with victory over the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII a month prior to his retirement.

Gronkowski won three Super Bowl rings with New England and, despite retiring before the age of 30, he ended his career widely regarded as the pre-eminent tight end in NFL history.

The New England Patriots have released veteran kicker Stephen Gostkowski after 14 seasons.

New England parted with the NFL franchise's all-time leading scorer Gostkowski on Monday.

A three-time Super Bowl champion, the 36-year-old Gostkowski had called New England home since joining the Patriots in the 2006 Draft.

Gostkowski tallied 1,775 career points and 374 field goals for the Patriots, with an 87.4 per cent field goal accuracy.

Limited to just four games last season due to injury, Gostkowski has played in 204 regular-season games and amassed 28 playoff appearances – only Tom Brady (41), Adam Vinatieri (32) and Jerry Rice (29) have featured in more postseason matchups.

Gostkowski's exit comes after Patriots legend Brady became a free agent and left the Patriots for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft told Tampa Bay they have "got a great one" in a message thanking new Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady.

It was confirmed on Friday that Brady had signed for the Bucs having left the Patriots after 20 seasons with New England.

Kraft was the owner back in 2000 when Brady was selected with the 199th overall pick of the NFL Draft, a selection that brought two decades of success to the franchise.

Mark Katches, the executive editor for the Tampa Bay Times, explained that the Patriots had taken out a full-page advert in Sunday's newspaper titled 'Thank you Tom'.

The message, written by the Kraft family, read: "For 20 amazing years, you gave us everything you had. When you arrived as a sixth-round pick - and the best selection this franchise has ever made - no one imagined all you'd accomplish or how much you'd soon mean to an entire region.

"You now leave New England after two decades of dominance as the GOAT and forever a part of our family.

"Your passion for the game, competitiveness and constant pursuit of excellence resulted in an unprecedented six Super Bowl victories, nine conference championships and 17 division titles.

"You're now recognised as the greatest of all time for what you've accomplished on the field, but you're an even better person.

"Thank you, Tom, for your countless contributions to the New England Patriots, and we wish you and your beautiful family continued success. There will never be another Tom Brady.

"To the Buccaneers fans and Tampa Bay community - take care of him. You got a great one."

For the first time in two decades, New England Patriots fans will not be able to watch Tom Brady run onto the field as their quarterback when the new NFL season gets under way.

Brady on Tuesday announced his 20-season spell with the Patriots would be coming to an end.

He will take his talents to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with whom Brady will hope to add to the six Super Bowl titles he won in an unprecedented spell of dominance in New England.

The Patriots enter a new era with the identity of their new starting quarterback very much a mystery.

How will head coach Bill Belichick replace Brady? We look at the potential avenues to filling the void left by the greatest quarterback of all time.


Promote Jarrett Stidham

Probably the least popular option among Patriots fans. New England drafted Stidham in the fourth round last year and the Pats are reported to have high hopes for his future with the team.

Stidham, who played for Baylor and Auburn in college, possesses an NFL-level arm but looked a long way from ready in the limited action he saw as a rookie.

He threw four passes in 2019, only two were completed and one was intercepted and returned for a touchdown.

If the Patriots decide to hand the reins to Stidham, they will need to sign a veteran backup as an insurance policy in case that limited sample size from his first year proves a harbinger of sustained struggle for the 23-year-old.

Sign a free agent

The pickings on the free-agent market are growing increasingly slim.

Philip Rivers and Teddy Bridgewater agreed to deals with the Indianapolis Colts and Carolina Panthers respectively, and Marcus Mariota is off to Las Vegas to link up with Jon Gruden and the Raiders.

That leaves Brady's predecessor in Tampa, Jameis Winston, as the most viable unsigned option.

Winston's penchant for baffling interceptions makes him an awkward fit with Belichick, who may find developing Stidham a more intriguing project than trying to turn the former number one overall pick into the astute decision-maker he has never shown signs of becoming.

Draft a rookie

With the 23rd pick in the first round at the disposal, the Patriots have no shot at either of Joe Burrow or Tua Tagovailoa, each expected to be selected in the top five.

Oregon's Justin Herbert and Utah State's Jordan Love are also likely to be beyond their reach.

However, Washington's Jacob Eason, Georgia's Jake Fromm and Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts could all still be on the board by the time the Patriots make their pick.

Of that trio, it is Hurts who may be of most interest to Belichick.

A National Championship winner who transferred from Alabama to Oklahoma after losing his starting job to Tagovailoa, Hurts was a Heisman Trophy finalist last year and is a genuine dual-threat at quarterback with his abilities as a runner and a thrower.

There has arguably never been a coach better at exploiting the weaknesses and minimising the strengths of opponents than Belichick. He would be able to use Hurts' mobility to do that in a way that was never open to him with Brady.

Strike a trade

If the Patriots want an established quality starter to assume the mantle from Brady, then they may need to give up some draft capital to do so.

Andy Dalton is available, with the Cincinnati Bengals set to draft Burrow first overall. He would not set pulses racing in New England but is talented enough to keep them in the postseason mix.

Yet the Patriots could land a quarterback many consider an upgrade on veteran Brady by making a deal for Cam Newton.

Newton has been made available by the Panthers and has proven he can be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL when healthy.

The league MVP in 2015, Newton can devastate opposing defenses with his arm and his legs, and Belichick and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels are ideally qualified to help him rediscover his best after two successive injury-plagued seasons.

Signing New England Patriots icon Tom Brady changes everything for a Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise who will now look to make history.

The Bucs have not reached the NFL playoffs since 2007 and ended last season very much in the middle of the pack.

But now they are against the clock to claim glory with star quarterback Brady, who will turn 43 before the 2020 season and ended his 20-year stay with the Patriots on Tuesday.

Amid speculation about Brady's future ever since the Pats' Wild Card round playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans in January, the Bucs were not always top of the list of his cited potential destinations.

But it is they who will pair the six-time Super Bowl winner with head coach Bruce Arians, ending former number one overall pick Jameis Winston's role as the team's starting QB.

Fans of the Bucs are already dreaming big, with season ticket enquiries surging in the aftermath of the reports Brady was poised to join, while there has been talk of high-profile players offering up their services.

It is their Raymond James Stadium will play host to Super Bowl LV and no team has ever reached the biggest stage when it has been played at their own stadium. 

But with a proven winner on board, how realistic is a historic championship run for the Bucs?
 

Receiving corps will excite Brady

Brady was not blessed with star receiving talent in his final years with the Patriots.

Last year, an aging Julian Edelman carried the load as Josh Gordon departed, first-round draft pick N'Keal Harry underwhelmed and a mid-season trade for Mohamed Sanu failed to pan out. Antonio Brown was supposed to be the answer, but the saga around the former Pittsburgh Steelers star is one the team will quickly want to forget.

Role players Phillip Dorsett and Jakobi Meyers were left to fill gaps and the Pats' tight end depth chart was one of the worst in the NFL after Rob Gronkowski's retirement.

Brady has few such concerns with the Bucs, whose number one receiver Mike Evans has recorded six consecutive seasons with more than 1,000 yards receiving, those remarkable numbers coming despite some questionable quarterback play.

Chris Godwin (1,333 yards in 2019) has emerged as an extremely impressive complement to Evans, while two talented TE options in O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate provide added firepower.

Brady played behind a strong offensive line in New England but Tampa, despite some issues at the two tackle spots, had a similarly solid 2019 unit, with Ryan Jensen and Ali Marpet standouts who ensured the Bucs' OL, like that of the Pats, was graded in the top 10 by Pro Football Focus.

Arians' risk-taking, downfield scheme may not be a perfect fit for Brady, but the Bucs coach has the experience and expertise to compromise. He leans heavily on his passing attack and has a proven track record in getting the most out of his QBs.

Winston led the league in 2019 passing yards (5,109), but saw his 33 touchdowns coupled with 30 picks.

Brady, despite his slight decline in recent seasons, is still a clear upgrade on Winston. With a dramatic drop in turnovers likely to follow, the Bucs should continue to be one of the league's most productive offenses without the wild swings we have seen before.
 

Defense: A step forward could prove crucial

The Patriots' offensive inefficiencies last year were made up for by a superb defense that led the NFL in points-per-game and yards allowed.

Brady will not have quite the same support system at his new home.

When Dirk Koetter lost his job after the 2018 season, a failing defense had played a key part in his demise. 

Last season, there was some improvement from the Bucs, particularly towards the end of the year, as they finished 7-9.

But the Bucs were 29th out of 32 teams in points allowed and while that improved to 15th in yards-per-game, they were near the bottom of the pack against the pass.

There are pieces to work with, as NFL sack leader Shaquil Barrett has received the franchise tag, while Jason Pierre-Paul has re-signed. 

Young cornerbacks Jamel Dean, Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting have all displayed signs of promise and the Bucs will need them to kick on, showing more consistency.

They used the number five overall pick on linebacker Devin White last season and will be counting on a second-season improvement from him alongside impressive veteran Lavonte David.

If the offense is firing with Brady, the Bucs may only need a middle-of-the-road defense to be competitive, so they will eye a couple of valuable additions in the draft.

Due to their offensive strength, the Kansas City Chiefs went all the way in 2019 with a defense that was far from perfect but contained playmakers and a similar unit could be on the cards in Florida.
 

NFC South among challenges

The Pats have completely dominated the AFC East, winning it 16 times in the last 17 attempts, and have expertly translated those victories into deep postseason runs.

A winning culture shaped by Brady and Bill Belichick led to a dynasty that may never be replicated, with the QB's leadership now key as he enters a new locker room.

As the Cleveland Browns showed last season, establishing a star-studded roster is no guarantee of success and Brady joins a franchise with only one Super Bowl victory in their history, amid a long playoff drought.

Brady's task is made more difficult as he enters an extremely competitive NFC South.

The New Orleans Saints have won the division for three straight seasons, have one of the NFL's best all-round rosters and veteran QB Drew Brees is back for the next two years.

There is quality elsewhere too, as the Atlanta Falcons, boasting the likes of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, have a score to settle with Brady, while the Carolina Panthers start a new era with Teddy Bridgewater.

With Brady, Arians and an impressive supporting cast, the Bucs are among a group of six to eight Super Bowl candidates, but it would be a leap to place them alongside the top favourites just yet.

Having made a seismic signing, their next moves will be watched with greater scrutiny than ever before as a fascinating offseason continues.

Not many, if any, expected Tom Brady to swap the New England Patriots for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

A fairytale swansong with hometown team the San Francisco 49ers had been touted, while the Los Angeles Chargers, Indianapolis Colts, Miami Dolphins and Denver Broncos were also reportedly in the mix.

However, Tampa Bay will become veteran quarterback Brady's new home after 20 incredible seasons in Foxborough.

From six Super Bowl titles to a team without a playoff appearance since 2007, Brady will reportedly earn $30million per season on a two-year contract with Bruce Arians' Bucs.

But why did the Buccaneers turn their backs on former number one pick Jameis Winston for a 42-year-old quarterback? Well the writing was on the wall…

 

October 13, 2019 – Arians on Winston: He has a habit of trying to be Superman

Now an unrestricted free agent and with starting options running out, Winston frustrated Bucs head coach Arians throughout the 2019 campaign.

After throwing five interceptions and managing two fumbles in a 37-26 loss to the Carolina Panthers in London, Arians had some words for the 2015 number one draft pick.

"Throw the damn ball away. He had avoided one [turnover after losing the ball], you might have avoided two, but you aren't throwing it anywhere to a receiver. Throw it away," Arians told the media after the game. "He has a habit of trying to be Superman. That's been a problem in the past. 

"The fumbles haven't occurred this year until today. But, again, trying to make something out of nothing. It's just a matter of knowing when to quit on a play."

 

December 4, 2019 – Arians not ready to decide on Winston's future

Arians was noncommittal on Winston being Tampa Bay's quarterback after 2019.

Amid a difficult season, Arians was asked if he would throw his support behind Winston if quizzed by the Bucs' hierarchy and he told reporters: "I'm gonna pass on that one. I'm gonna wait until the end of December."

"There's been really, really, really good and there's been some really, really bad," Arians added. "I'm gonna pass until it's over and then we'll make a decision."

 

December 21, 2019 – Winston throws four picks

Winston threw four interceptions as the Houston Texans recorded a 23-20 road win over the Buccaneers to seal the AFC South title.

Quarterback Winston completed 25 of his 48 passing attempts for 335 yards, throwing one touchdown with his four picks.

On the day when it was reported the team had decided to retain his services for next season, Winston made the worst possible start by throwing a pick-six to Texans cornerback Bradley Roby on his first attempt and it did not get much better from there.

December 29, 2019 – Winston backs himself despite making unwanted NFL history

Winston insisted "I'm going to be the best" despite making unwanted NFL history against the Atlanta Falcons.

Winston became the first player to throw for at least 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in a season as the Buccaneers ended their campaign with a 28-22 overtime loss.

He joined the dubious 30-30 club after he was pick-sixed by Falcons linebacker Deion Jones on the first play of overtime in Tampa.

Winston – who became the eighth quarterback in league history to throw for 5,000 yards in a season – said: "I'm focused on how I can get better. I know if I eliminate those, I'm going to be the best. Bar none. You'd better check your sheet.

"If you look at the numbers, I'm balling. I've got to stop giving the ball to the other team. It's not a trick question. I know if I eliminate those [interceptions], I'm going to be the best, bar none."

Arians added: "You look at it and there's so much good and so much outright terrible. We got to weigh that and see what happens."

 

December 30, 2019 – Arians says Bucs can win without Winston

"[If] we can win with this one, we can definitely win with another one too," Arians told reporters. "We're going to have this defense."

Pressed on Winston's future heading into the offseason, Arians said: "It will be a while. I would think in a few weeks we will have a decision on which way we want to head. Will we let it out? Probably not. Because you lose your leverage on that one too. So it's 'stay tuned.'"

"Well, free agency, who's available?" Arians added. "What's behind door number two? That's the first question. Then as you evaluate for the draft, that's another question. Are they better than what you have? Then you evaluate and that's when you make your decisions."

 

February 26, 2019 – Arians names Brady as option

Speaking at the NFL scouting combine, Arians said: "As a head coach, you have to decide. Is there a better option?"

Pressed on free agency, Arians reeled off some names to reporters.

"Tom Brady. Philip [Rivers] is another guy. We'll see," he said.

"When those dominoes start falling, other guys are going to be on the market. I don't want to drag it out very long. It's one thing I want to get done soon."

 

March 16, 2020 – Bucs pass on tagging Winston

After throwing for 5,109 yards in 2019, the Buccaneers opted against using the franchise tag on Winston.

Instead, Tampa Bay used it to keep Shaquil Barrett from becoming a free agent.

 

March 17, 2020 – Brady announces Patriots exit

"I don't know what my football future holds but it is time for me to open a new stage for my life and career. I thank you from the bottom of my heart and I will always love you and what we have shared - a lifetime full of fun memories," Brady wrote in part via Twitter as he bid farewell to the Pats.

March 20, 2020 - Bucs arrival announced by Brady

Brady confirmed he would be continuing his career with Bucs. In an Instagram post, he wrote: "Excited, humble and hungry ...if there is one thing I have learned about football, it's that nobody cares what you did last year or the year before that...you earn the trust and respect of those around through your commitment every single day. 

"I'm starting a new football journey and thankful for the Buccaneers for giving me an opportunity to do what I love to do. I look forward to meeting all my new team-mates and coaches and proving to them that they can believe and trust in me...

"I have always believed that well done is better than well said, so I'm gonna not gonna say much more - I'm just gonna get to work!"

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