If the start of free agency is Christmas in the NFL, Tom Brady was that parent who lets the kids open an awesome present on Christmas Eve. And in awesome present here, I mean a franchise-changing, draft-plan altering one.
Brady announcing the end of his 40-day retirement Sunday night, less than 24 hours before the start of the "legal tampering" period in the NFL, which has become the de facto beginning of free agency, gives the Buccaneers new life in the NFC.
And of course, it completely removes the Buccaneers from the quarterback market. No Deshaun Watson. No picking a quarterback prospect who slips to No. 27 overall on draft night in late April.
Let's pinpoint the others ways it tweaks Tampa's draft plans, and how they can now attack the 2022 draft.
Guard takes center stage early
Possible picks: Zion Johnson (Boston College), Kenyon Green (Texas A&M), Dylan Parham (Memphis), Cole Strange (Chattanooga), Marquis Hayes (Oklahoma)
Will there be quality blockers picked in the middle of the draft? Yes. That always happens. But the Buccaneers have a giant hole at the position given Ali Marpet's retirement -- that won't change -- and Alex Cappa reportedly set to sign with the Bengals when the new league year begins Wednesday.
With the hole so glaring and so obvious, and the Buccaneers suddenly once again in the most glaringly obvious win-now mode, it feels like guard in Round 1 -- and in Round 2 at the latest -- almost has to be Tampa's course of action.
Teams will always say they draft "best player available," which is not entirely true. Big Boards are stacked with needs in mind, and the Buccaneers do not have a starting-caliber guard on the roster at time of publication.
Defensive line must be upgraded
Possible selections: EDGE Boye Mafe (Minnesota), DL Logan Hall (Houston), DL Phidarian Mathis (Alabama), EDGE Drake Jackson (USC)
Had Brady stayed retired, it would've been sensible for the Buccaneers to take more of a long-term view along their defensive line. Although they did pick Joe Tryon-Shoyinka on the edge in last year's first round, and Vita Vea is only 27, the Buccaneers have to add more top-end, youthful talent in the trenches.
And this is the draft class to do it. Whether Tampa Bay goes guard in Round 1 or Round 2, edge rusher needs to be addressed with the other selection. Jason Pierre-Paul is 33. Ndamukong Suh is 35. The two played 63% and 52% of the defensive snaps, respectively, in 2021.
Pass-catching back a target late
Possible selections: Kyren Williams (Notre Dame), Tyler Badie (Missouri), Ty Chandler (North Carolina), Max Borghi (Washington State)
But Fournette, Ronald Jones, and Gio Bernard are all free agents. And even if someone in last year's backfield returns, it would be be smart for the Buccaneers to refill the cupboard at the running back spot with ball-carriers who excel in the pass game. Does that mean a selection on a back needs to occur early? No. In fact, if anything, it should be on Day 3, preferably late. That's where the value lies, especially at such a niche position.