One of the main stories this offseason was the Tom Brady sweepstakes after he decided he wanted to leave the nest in New England. Rumors spread like wildfire and after the dust settled, two teams had a chance. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Los Angeles Chargers.
Brady decided to go with the Bucs but all of the reports were that the Chargers made a big push. This was a little surprising because Head Coach Anthony Lynn has talked nonstop about wanting a mobile quarterback. The reason it made some sense is that the Chargers had a win-now roster, potentially a quarterback away.
There are plenty of reasons why Brady selected to go to Tampa. First off, there is no state income tax in Florida. This is something that California teams cannot compete with. As far as roster construction, both teams offered a very good defense and a dynamic duo of wide receivers. The Chargers also had Austin Ekeler who would be the perfect weapon for Brady’s diminishing skill set.
The one place where the Buccaneers had a clear advantage was their offensive line. The Chargers’ line had been abysmal and the Bucs line was pretty good in 2019 and was returning most of its players. That’s a big deal to a quarterback.
At the end of the day, I think the biggest reason was Bruce Arians. Lynn is a very respected coach but doesn’t specialize in offense, or anything tactically. Arians is an offense and quarterback guru, which is what I think appealed to Brady.
Now that you have the backstory let’s look at how things played out afterward. After staying in a holding pattern due to Brady’s indecision, the Charger’s front office got to work. With the money, they saved they were able to solidify their roster. They were able to go out and sign Bryan Bulaga, Chris Harris Jr., and Linval Joseph to very reasonable contracts. Although Bulaga and Harris have been injured, the moves made sense and wouldn’t have been possible if they signed Brady.
The biggest question in my mind is: if Brady was in the building, would the Chargers still have drafted Justin Herbert?
It’s easy to make the case that with Brady’s age that they still wanted to have a succession plan. Still, who’s to say that the Chargers wouldn’t have selected a left tackle like Jedrick Wills or Mekhi Becton. That’s what Tampa did, taking left tackle Tristan Wirfs with their first-round pick in 2020.
I still think it’s likely the team would have selected Herbert. Especially since they had the sixth overall pick. You don’t get opportunities like that often and wouldn’t likely have a 2021 top-10 pick with Brady.
What is almost certain is that if the Chargers had signed Brady, you wouldn’t have seen Herbert this early. Chargers fans would likely have had to wait for the 2021 or 2022 season. I’m also not sure you would want Brady mentoring a young guy on his heels given his track record.
Due to unfortunate circumstances with Tyrod Taylor, now Chargers fans get a glimpse of their future. Justin Herbert in just two games this season has given an entire fanbase excitement. Even with the rookie mistakes, there is energy from their fans I haven’t seen in a long time.
Herbert has lost both of his games as a starter, but it hasn’t stopped him from blowing away expectations. He took the Chiefs to overtime Week 2 and almost orchestrated a 99-yard game-winning drive in Week 3. It’s not just that he’s put up back-to-back 300 yards games but how he’s done it.
I was not a big fan of the Chargers taking Herbert in the draft. Almost everything I knocked him for in the pre-draft process he has excelled at. Last season at Oregon he didn’t have to go through progressions or make pre-snap adjustments. He also made some bad decisions under pressure and struggled with good ball placement.
In a year where there was no preseason and a very limited training camp, he has improved greatly. It has only been two games, so it’s too soon to tell if all of his flaws being fixed. So far though, he has made great throws under pressure and has not been rattled by big hits. In multiple coaches’ words, “He doesn’t flinch”.
There have also been some times where he is making great pre-snap adjustments getting the team into better plays and protection. He has even had teammates compare his changes to Philip Rivers. Even with some bad interceptions, his growth has been unbelievable at times.
There is no question that if the Chargers had attained Brady they would be more equipped to win now. You would have to think he would have beat the Panthers and the Bengals. I do wonder though if this coaching staff would be using him as effectively as Arians has. With the injuries sustained so far, I don’t think Los Angeles would be legitimate Super Bowl contenders with Brady.
This is the other thing: Herbert has been better than Brady in 2020.
Statistically, the only thing that Brady has been better than Herbert at this season is touchdown percentage. One statistic that does not show up here is QBR, a better metric than Passer Rating in my opinion. With 50 being average, Brady has a score of 44.6 compared to Herbert’s 66.0, according to ESPN.
Even with his mistakes, Herbert has a better interception percentage and fewer fumbles than Brady. I know Brady has not been great, but it was surprising to see the numbers side-by-side. I also know that some of Brady’s best qualities like experience and Football IQ are hard to quantify.
One place Herbert has been especially effective is on third down. Actually, he’s been ridiculous. So far through two games, he leads the NFL with a 140.2 Passer Rating on third downs. Overall, he’s completed 16-20 passes with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Now the two will square off on Sunday. In his first three starts, Herbert will face off against two greats in Brady and Patrick Mahomes. This week will be the toughest test for the young quarterback as he goes up against a stout Buccaneers defense.
Many fans during the offseason wondered whether the Chargers would regret not getting Brady or even Cam Newton. These questions are legitimate because the team is supremely talented. With the right quarterback, pre-injuries, this team had the chance to make a run in 2020. Now it seems like this will be a season of evaluation and living with rookie mistakes.
We know that Herbert will be starting in Week 4 against the Bucs, but after that is uncertain. I do believe that there is a chance that Herbert could win the job permanently on Sunday. Then again, Lynn has been steadfast maintaining that Taylor will return as the starter when healthy.
If the Chargers had labored to a 2-1 start under Tyrod Taylor, this season wouldn’t feel the same. Fans probably wouldn’t feel great about the Chargers’ chances for the year. We also wouldn’t have seen Herbert at all. Although this season might not end up in postseason glory, it could bring something just as valuable, hope for the future.