Stars line up for a chance to play with Brady-led Buccaneers

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) stretches his legs as he runs during an NFL football training camp practice Friday, Aug. 28, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

TAMPA, Fla. – Signing Tom Brady was just a start for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who continue to assemble a star-studded cast around the six-time Super Bowl champion.

Leonard Fournette is the latest high-profile addition to an already potent offense bolstered by Brady luring his favorite target, Rob Gronkowski, out of retirement. Former Eagles, Bills and Chiefs running back LeSean McCoy decided he’d like to help the three-time NFL MVP be successful with his new team, too.

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The Bucs have missed the playoffs 12 consecutive seasons, the second-longest drought in the league behind the Cleveland Browns, who haven’t earned a berth since 2002.

A talented collection of playmakers, including Pro Bowl receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and highly regarded tight ends O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate, are part of what made Tampa Bay an attractive landing spot for Brady in free agency.

The addition of Gronkowski, McCoy, and Fournette since signing Brady shows what lengths general manager Jason Licht and the Glazer family that owns the team are willing to go to build a championship contender.

Now, all coach Bruce Arians has to figure out is how all the components fit.

“As a head coach you can’t ask for anything more. You have everything that you need here. ... It’s just fantastic, the commitment they’ve shown,” Arians, entering his second season in Tampa Bay, said Thursday.

“Jason’s done a great job of identifying people and getting them in the fold. Our job now is to coach them and make sure they’re ready.”

With a huge assist from Brady, a four-time Super Bowl MVP with the Patriots, Tampa Bay has gone from a franchise that usually has to overpay for big-name free agents to a destination where established players such as Gronkowski, McCoy and Fournette are willing to accept less money — as well as potentially smaller roles — to have a shot at winning it all.

Arians said the commitment to building as talented a roster as possible existed even before Brady joined the Bucs on a two-year, $50 million deal that’s fully guaranteed.

But with the quarterback turning 43 last month, and the Super Bowl scheduled to be played in Tampa in February, there’s an all-out effort to do whatever is necessary to win now.

“Tom says he’s going to play four or five years; we’ll see. He looks like he can,” Arians said. “But the sense of urgency is always there. It would have been the same whoever our quarterback was. ... But with Tom, yeah it’s a higher sense.”

Fournette agreed to a one-year deal Wednesday, two days after surprisingly being released by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Despite adding the fourth-year pro, a two-time 1,000-yard rusher who was the fourth overall pick in the 2017 draft, Arians insisted Ronald Jones is the starting running back, with McCoy and Fournette backing him.

“That’s one position I think you can never have enough good guys. That’s the one area where nicks and bruises really add up. ... I got great reviews from people who know him and have coached him, so he’ll fit right in and then we’ll see what role happens, and how fast it happens,” Arians said.

“But RoJo’s our guy. Shady’s ready for his role,’’ the coach added, “so it’s going to be building roles as we go along, but having enough quality players to finish this thing.’’

The 25-year-old Fournette helped the Jaguars reach the AFC championship game as a rookie, but gradually fell out of favor in Jacksonville. He was slowed by injuries two years ago, appearing in eight games before rebounding to have his best season as a pro in 2019 with 1,152 yards rushing, another 522 yards on 76 pass receptions, and three touchdowns.

The Jaguars parted with Fournette after efforts to trade him were unsuccessful.

Arians said didn’t have any concerns about why things didn’t work out for the running back with the Jaguars.

“People I really really trust gave him high, high marks in everything I care about,” Arians said. “I can’t say what’s going on in Jacksonville. All I can say is what’s happening in Tampa, and he’ll fit right in.”

Bucs linebacker Devin White played with Fournette at LSU. He said the Bucs acquired a hard-working, hard-running, versatile back who’ll add another dimension to the offense.

“He’s going to help us tremendously. ... He can play in any system,” White said. “We’re getting a heck of a football player.”


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