One of the most fascinating storylines to track this offseason, as we tried to determine where Tom Brady might end up, was who would be willing to absorb the Patriots offense and make it their own?
Scheme fit matters at the quarterback position. But the only two offenses in football that had play-callers with Patriots connections — Houston and Buffalo — had their quarterback jobs spoken for.
What coaching staff, then, would be willing to take on the Patriots scheme for a 43-year-old quarterback? Because by all accounts, Brady would be wanting to take his scheme with him.
"You don't, as Tom Brady, you don't go start all over somewhere else," Hall of Famer Kurt Warner, who played for three different teams, told me earlier this offseason. "That's not what you do when you're 42, 43 years old."
Even Brady's idol growing up, Joe Montana, said schematic familiarity would be critical.
"It's a process to go through, and it takes time to get used to the team," Montana told NFL Media's Mike Silver, describing a late-career transition from quarterbacking the 49ers to the Chiefs.
"I was fortunate because (former Niners quarterbacks coach) Paul Hackett was there running the offense, and so I was pretty familiar with probably three-quarters of the offense going in. And, if they let [Brady] have his own offense, yeah, that makes it a little bit easier."
We know now that Tom Brady is headed to Tampa Bay. And we've been told that coach Bruce Arians will be a willing collaborator as he and Brady cook up the Bucs offense together. But that's exactly what it will be, it sounds like: a joint effort.
Brady, in all likelihood, can't come in, plop down a binder with 20 years of Patriots terminology and concepts and expect it to be learned. Why? Because it wouldn't be up to only Arians to learn it. It'd be up to offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich and the rest of the offensive staff. It'd be up to Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, O.J. Howard and every single one of Brady's new offensive teammates.
"Without Josh McDaniels," former Niners and Lions coach Steve Mariucci told me in January, "what is Tom going to do? Go in and install the offense with the coaching staff?"
That's, from a football operations perspective, the ugly side to acquiring Brady.
Even for Arians, who made it very clear at the combine last month that his team would pursue Brady, it's an issue. That's what he indicated in a conversation with Silver right around the same time he was openly tampering with Brady from a podium in Indianapolis.
Silver, he relayed on Twitter this week, asked Arians if he would have to learn Brady's terminology if Brady signed with Tampa.
"To paraphrase," Silver tweeted, "Arians said he would ask Brady if he wanted to master the Bucs' scheme... or if the QB wanted 20-plus players (some of whom, perhaps, were less gifted when it comes to football intelligence) to figure out the one to which he was accustomed."
"We'll probably meet in the middle," Arians told Silver.
Does that mean that Brady will be executing seven-step drops and launching the football down the field at a high rate in 2020 — typically staples of Arians' offenses? Not necessarily.
But Brady might have to pick up on his new team's verbiage and apply that to the concepts that he knows and loves rather than ask a couple dozen players to re-wire their brains. In an offseason where meeting and practice time could be limited due to COVID-19, that'd be a gargantuan ask.
So, then, on top of the hours he'll have to spend to get comfortable with his new coach, formulate a new routine, and get on the same page with new receivers, it sounds like Brady is going to have some homework to do.