TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers landed more help for Tom Brady in the opening round of the NFL draft, moving to bolster the six-time Super Bowl champion quarterback's protection by selecting Iowa tackle Tristan Wirfs with the 13th pick.
“It's pretty crazy to think about. Tom Brady's been in the league since 2000. I was born in 1999," Wirfs said Thursday night. “He's been in the league almost as long as I've been alive. It's pretty cool to be able to protect him."
Upgrading the offensive line was the team’s top priority after signing the 42-year-old Brady in free agency, trading for four-time All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski and spending generously to retain some key components of a defense that made strides the latter part of last season.
With three of the top four rated tackle prospects — Georgia's Andrew Thomas, Alabama's Jedrick Wills and Louisville's Mekhi Becton _off the board, the Bucs swung a last-minute deal with the San Francisco 49ers to move up one spot from No. 14 to take Wirfs.
“We were getting a little frustrated, but everything worked out extremely well," coach Bruce Arians said. “We didn't have to give up too much to make that flip, and we got the guy we really, really like."
Thomas was selected No. 4 overall by the New York Giants. Cleveland took Wills at No. 10, and the New York Jets snatched Becton with the next pick.
With Wirfs still available at No. 13, the Bucs didn't wait any longer to fill a need that general manager Jason Licht said the team would have needed to address even if they hadn't signed Brady to a two-year, $50 million contract.
“It doesn't matter who's playing quarterback," the GM said. “You've got to be able to keep him upright."
Wirfs will be given an opportunity to fill an opening at right tackle created by the departure of long-time starter Demar Dotson, who was not re-signed after being a fixture in Tampa Bay’s lineup since 2012.
Jameis Winston led the NFL in passing yards and threw for 33 touchdowns in 2019, however he also tossed 30 interceptions and was sacked 47 times as the Bucs finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs for the 12th consecutive season.
Shortly after signing Brady, Arians said he didn’t believe a mostly veteran offensive line featuring left tackle Donovan Smith, center Ryan Jensen and guards Ali Marpet and Alex Cappa was in need of a significant upgrade.
The Bucs team subsequently signed former Indianapolis tackle Joe Haeg. He started 35 games over four seasons with the Colts — none in 2019 — and is being counted on to provide experienced depth.
“When you look back at the grades last year — I don’t put a lot of stock into what other people grade our guys — they were graded pretty high,” Arians, preparing for his second season with the Bucs, said at the time.
“I thought Donovan got a lot better. I think he’ll get even more intense with Tom back there at quarterback than he has been, but he did play extremely well last year,” Arians added. “Ali is solid. Ryan had a heck of a year. Cappa, I thought had a fantastic year for a young guy. ... I don’t see it as a glaring need, but you’re always looking to upgrade somewhere.”
The Bucs have the 13th pick in the second round — No. 45 overall — and could be in the market for a running back to pair with third-year pro Ronald Jones. A third receiver is a possibility in the later rounds, when Arians and Licht will also look to add depth on defense.
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