I don’t think it was coincidence that, with a gaggle of Patriots saying, “See you in 2021!” on Tuesday, Rob Gronkowski was tweeting that it was “Go time!” in Tampa Bay.

And I think Tom Brady had in mind the fact that — after 20 seasons in New England — he’s getting ready to chase a seventh ring with the Buccaneers while the Patriots are reeling from opt-outs and dealing with a full-on rebuild.

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“Indeed, Robert…,” Brady tweeted back to Gronk. Intentional or not, more than one Robert could take that to heart.

Which leads to this simple question: If the Buccaneers rip it up in 2020 and the Patriots faceplant, isn't Brady being in one place and not the other the only common denominator?

I believe it is. Reductive? A little. Maybe Dont'a Hightower, Patrick Chung, Marcus Cannon, Danny Vitale, Najee Toran and Brandon Bolden all opt out even if Brady was still here. Some of them — Cannon, for instance — almost certainly would.

But I think the decision would have been a helluva lot harder. The Patriots went 12-4 last season and — while the notion of a “dropoff” from Brady is sometimes fingered as part of the reason, that’s a nuance-free, low-information take. Without Brady, they wouldn’t have been a playoff team.

His former teammates are smart enough to know that, with Brady on their side, they had a fighting chance.


Without him? Without him and Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins and Dante Scarnecchia? Without those four and a thousand logistical hoops to jump through before the 2020 Patriots could get on the field to face a tsunami of uncertainty?

Stay home and stay safe or play on a team that’s looking really mediocre after two decades of dominance?

Kind of an easy choice.

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Meanwhile in Tampa?

Head coach Bruce Arians is hoping the “awe factor” of playing with Brady and Gronk is something the team can conquer.

“All of the guys that have been working out with him see his intensity level at even those type of workouts and they only know they’re going to intensify when we get out there for real,” Arians said of Brady on Tuesday. “It’s been great. You would’ve hoped we would’ve had spring practice so all of them could get over the awe — especially the young players — with Tom Brady walking into the locker room, and [Rob Gronkowski]. We’ll get through that I think in maybe a week — each guy will have enough [confidence] to go talk to him.

There’s no getting around the fact that the 2020 Buccaneers and Patriots are going to be measured against each other. Believe this: the Patriots coaching staff is HIGHLY motivated to make sure their team finishes with more wins than Tampa because they know failing to do so will be — rightly or wrongly — used as evidence against them that Brady was their cornerstone.

Because of all the circumstances surrounding this year, there will be plenty of opportunity to “Yeah, but …” and explain away any Bucs success or Patriots shortcomings and not chalk it up to Brady being in one place and not the other.

But it’s already being felt.