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NFL: NFC Championship Game-Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Green Bay Packers
Tom Brady. What else can you say?
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel-USA TODAY NETWORK via Imagn Content Services LLC

Don’t learn the wrong lessons from the Buccaneers’ Super Bowl run

Much has been made about Tampa Bay “going all-in” to win the Super Bowl. But look a little closer. This team was built through the draft with Tom Brady (and Gronk) as the final piece.

Balance wins Super Bowls, not pushing all your chips to the middle. More teams end up losing their shirts than winning a title when going all-in because they misunderstand why teams win. The Green Bay Packers and their fans (and players?) can’t look at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and wonder why they didn’t take the same tact going “all-in” because that’s not really what Tampa did, at least not in a way that Green Bay could follow.

Tom Brady brought Rob Gronkowski out of retirement, likely for a year or two, and their success forestalls Brady’s retirement. So in that way, much like with the Packers and Rodgers, they knew they had this particular window.

But a look at their offseason doesn’t tell the story of a team “going all-in.” Their most significant free agent moves in the spring were the aforementioned Gronk and Brady. LeSean McCoy stunk, which is why they had to sign Leonard Fournette in the first place —that and an injury to Ronald Jones. Playoff Lenny wasn’t a luxury. He was a necessity.

Tampa built the foundation of this team before the 2020 offseason. After Lavonte David toiled in relative anonymity as a secret superstar, the Bucs spent high picks on their defense, adding Carlton Davis, Vita Vea, Devin White, Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean.

Shaq Barrett bet on himself by signing a short-term deal with the Bucs, but that was back in 2019 when Jameis Winston was the quarterback. There’s no “all-in for 2020” there. And Ndamukong Suh will show up in the transaction page for the 2020 offseason, but he was a re-sign. He too came in ‘19.

In fact, the core of this team was nearly all in place with Brady arrived. Their major draft move to improve the offense, using a top-15 pick, came at right tackle, a long-time bug-a-boo spot for Tampa where they hit on an All-Pro player. They didn’t draft him because they were going all-in; they drafted him because he is a priority position player with freak traits at a position of dire need.

When fans say “go all-in,” what they usually mean is spend recklessly and without care for future season like the Saints have for the last decade. Like the Eagles did last year or for their “Dream Team.” Or like the Vikings did when they signed Kirk Cousins and ultimately had to gut their team.

Not only is “going all-in” not a winning strategy, it’s also just not usually how these teams win Super Bowls. Kansas City won last year because Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Chris Jones are monsters. They went “all-in” to draft Mahomes. The Bucs won Sunday because of JPP, Vea, Barrett, Bowles, White and David, not 2020 offseason moves aimed at winning now ... except for Brady.

The Packers have their quarterback.

Let’s quickly examine how the Packers viewed their offseason priorities. Brian Gutekunst reportedly wanted to sign Emmanuel Sanders and Austin Hooper after attempting to trade for Robbie Anderson at the deadline in 2019. He then insisted they wouldn’t wait to get a top receiver if they saw one they liked. When none materialized, the front office said they liked their developmental pieces better than the dart throws in the draft.

Were they not going all-in or did they correctly assess a Year 2 leap with Matt LaFleur for Aaron Rodgers, the growth of Robert Tonyan, addition by subtraction of Jimmy Graham and Geronimo Allison, and the big-play ability of guys like Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Allen Lazard? It’s not that they didn’t want to get better, but rather they didn’t see anyone who could have done more for them than what they had.

Critics will say “Just give up whatever for Will Fuller,” or “sign Robbie Anderson for however much he wants,” but the Bucs didn’t do that. Teams generally don’t win Super Bowls doing that.

Still, this was the best offense in football, Rodgers won MVP, and even against every top defense except the Bucs, the Packers found ways to put up 30 or more. They could have found more value in the draft, could have drafted an OT for additional depth for example. But when they opened the season, they boasted arguably the best left tackle in the league, Billy Turner who played well at right tackle, and a proven veteran backup in Rick Wagner.

That proven veteran backup played well in spurts for the Packers over the course of the season, but struggled against Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett. You know who else did that? Everyone. Having a vet like Wagner is exactly what 31 other teams would have liked to have in that spot. The Chiefs would have traded their backup OTs for Wagner for all the BBQ in Kansas City.

Kevin King’s play contributed greatly to the loss to the Buccaneers, but between King, Josh Jackson, Chandon Sullivan and Ka’Dar Hollman opposite Jaire Alexander, clearly the Packers believed they had made sufficient investment at the position. They were wrong, but not out of apathy. They’d incorrectly judged the value of the players on their roster and likely the impact of losing Tramon Williams.

And to be clear, none of this exonerates the Packers draft, which prioritized positions that, particularly on Day 2, simply aren’t that valuable. AJ Dillon and Josiah Deguara could be good players, but you can find guys on Day 3 or in free agency to give you comparable productivity to what we’ll likely see from those guys. Prioritizing premium positions always makes more sense. Still, the Packers really did think those guys would help them this year. Unfortunately, they were wrong.

Going all-in isn’t inherently valuable. Building a balanced roster is. Tampa Bay won the Super Bowl because they put together the most balanced roster in the NFL. That takes time. It didn’t happen in one offseason. And much like the Bucs, the Packers are trying to do it through the draft. They didn’t maximize positional value at the top of their 2020 class, but we wondered if they had missed the chance to draft a field-tilter when they picked the raw Rashan Gary after signing The Smith Bros.

Gary turned into the second-best edge rusher on the Packers in 2020, surpassing Preston Smith who probably won’t be back in Green Bay in 2021. Guess who else exploded in Year 2 as a playmaker: Devin White. See also: Savage, Darnell.

Last year, the Packers finished 10th in passing defense DVOA. They regressed in 2020 thanks to a regression from Preston Smith (and arguably both Smiths), the lack of development from high picks like King and Josh Jackson, and a coordinator who ultimately was allowed to walk when his contract expired. They invested in their secondary like the Bucs did; they just didn’t get the same quality of player. Too often we evaluate process based on the outcomes. If Josh Jackson turned into Carlton Davis, are people complaining about not going all-in?

Tampa didn’t have to rob Peter to pay Paul for this Super Bowl title. They’ll have a bill come due this offseason when Barrett, David and Chris Godwin need new contracts. But they built this team much the same way the Chiefs built their Super Bowl roster: putting together balance and dropping the quarterback in as the finishing touch.

The Packers already have the quarterback. They’re working on the balance part. Still, this Green Bay roster boasted enough talent to win a Super Bowl. We saw Sunday night that had they beaten the Bucs, they very well could be celebrating a title today. That’s precisely why Mike Pettine and Shawn Mennenga cleared out their offices at 1265 Lombardi Ave.

Once again, Green Bay finds itself imbalanced, with an offense that can beat anyone but a defense still too inconsistent to do something like hold the Chiefs to 9 points in the Super Bowl. That’s what Joe Barry will brought in to address. Presumably the offseason will include additions at corner and on the edge. Building a balanced roster will help the Packers again reach a Super Bowl. And if they win it, no one will care if they didn’t “go all-in” to do it.

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