National Football League

Antonio Brown returning as Buccaneers aim to defend Super Bowl title

April 28

The defending Super Bowl champions are back in full force.

Although they never officially broke up, ala The Beatles, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are bringing the band back together.

Wednesday's reports of Antonio Brown's return to the fold cemented that sentiment, as now every major contributor from Tampa Bay's title-winning squad will be in black and red (or creamsicle!) for the 2021 season.

Most Super Bowl-winning rosters are raided for talent during the offseason. Other teams often use lures, such as lengthier contract offers, more guarantees and the like, to tempt players to jump ship.

But in the case of the Buccaneers, they didn't lose a single key man.

Much of that is thanks to a Tom Brady extension that freed up some much-needed salary-cap relief heading into free agency.

From there, the Bucs were able to put the franchise tag on speedy wideout Chris Godwin, who racked up 840 yards in 12 games this past season.

Running back Leonard Fournette also returned, as did fan (and Brady) favorite Rob Gronkowski.

On defense, the Bucs locked in veteran linebacker Lavonte David with a two-year, $25 million deal and kept the unit's pièce de résistance, pass-rushing linebacker Shaq Barrett, in-house with a four-year, $72 million payday.

Ndamukong Suh, who had 1.5 sacks in the Super Bowl, also stuck around for another year.

And those are just the big-name guys!

There's also guard Aaron Stinnie, defensive lineman Rakeem Nunez-Roches, linebacker Kevin Minter and kicker Ryan Succop all coming back for the title defense. 

That continuity was not lost on NFL Network's Nate Burleson, who was awestruck at Tampa Bay's offseason moves.

"I don't see how this is possible," Burleson said. "Am I bugging out, or what? I am befuddled, at this point. ... In the NFL, this does not happen. For them not to lose a soul ... It's blowing my mind. More than anything, it's confirmation that they might win two in a row — and three if they bring everybody back for a third time."

As for Brown himself, Skip Bayless of "Undisputed" sees the union with Brady as an ideal situation for the four-time All-Pro wide receiver.

"Tom Brady butters his bread the way nobody's ever really buttered his bread, as far as he helps keep him in line and keep him in the rotation," Bayless said. "... He averaged seven targets a game. That's pretty great when you have this many receivers, right? ... So AB knows, 'My guy is going to take care of me on and off the field.'"

As Bayless alluded to, off the field is where the red flags for Brown are raised.

There's no denying the seven-time Pro Bowl selection's talent, but he has had several off-field incidents, including a civil suit accusing him of sexually assaulting a former trainer that was settled just last week.

Those off-field troubles make Brown a cautionary tale for Nick Wright of "First Things First."

Even after Brown racked up six touchdowns in his most recent seven games played, including the playoffs, there wasn't much of a market for the 32-year-old.

"Not a single [team] said he's worth $5 million guaranteed," Wright said. "That is the lesson for young guys coming into the league."

As far as the gridiron goes, though, ESPN's Dan Orlovsky is singing Tampa Bay's offensive praises.

Not only did the Bucs bring everyone back, but there are also reinforcements elsewhere in the form of injured tight end O.J. Howard's return and running back Giovani Bernard's signing.

Plus, there's the 2021 NFL Draft coming up Thursday.

"If this organization drafts on this weekend like they have for the past couple of years, this will be a significantly better football team. ... If they stay healthy, this will be the best offense in the NFL."

That has to be sweet music to the ears of any Buccaneers fan.

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