Free agency is always one of the more intriguing parts of the NFL offseason. But in 2020, that intrigue could get ratcheted up 37 notches. An unprecedented number of quarterbacks could be set to hit the open market, including an eight-time Pro Bowler in Philip Rivers and 2019's leading passer in Jameis Winston.
But the headliner of that unprecedented crop—the player around whom the entire free-agent market could orbit in 2020—is none other than the most successful quarterback to ever play the game: the golden boy himself, Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr.
As the Raiders prepare to begin their tenure in Las Vegas and open play at Allegiant Stadium, there's been more than a little scuttlebutt that the team is seriously interested in Brady. As Mike Florio wrote for Pro Football Talk, there have been reports that the Raiders are ready to offer Brady a two-year, $60 million contract if he reaches the market.
It's an idea that has excited fans and driven sports-talk-radio conversations, not just in Sin City but all over the nation. There's just one small problem.
It's a terrible idea, both for the player and the team.
One of the driving forces for the Brady-to-Vegas rumors is the fact that Raiders head coach Jon Gruden has made it no secret he's a fan of Tom Terrific. While speaking to Bleacher Report's Dan Pompei in September 2018, Gruden went so far as to credit Brady as one of the major factors in his decision to return to coaching after a decade in the broadcast booth:
"He can't run, can't jump, he's too old. He gets his ass knocked off. But he's a Terminator. He ran me out of Oakland in the Tuck Game. Damn. He brought those bastards back in a two-minute drill to beat us in a driving snow. They didn't do anything the whole night until the game was on the line. And here I am 20 years later, and guess who's still there. That's why I'm back."
It's also no secret that Gruden doesn't hold current Raiders quarterback Derek Carr in the same high esteem.
There have long been rumblings that he isn't especially enamored with Carr, and former NFL general manager Michael Lombardi (who worked with Gruden during his first stint with the Raiders) wrote for The Athletic that the disconnect could be attitude-related:
"Gruden and Carr will play nice; they will say all the positives about one another. Still, having been around Gruden for many of those good years in Oakland, I know what he loves in quarterbacks: the toughness, the grit, the willingness to sacrifice, and most of a competitive drive to match his own. Carr makes too many mistakes with the ball, and whether it's a fair assessment of his ability or not, he never displays the fire that would remind anyone of former quarterback Rich Gannon."
It's not hard to imagine the fiery and intense Gruden having an affinity for those same qualities in his quarterback. Brady has no shortage of either. And no one in their right mind is going to dispute the assertion that Brady has had a much better career than Carr.
What is very much open for debate is whether Brady, at 43 years young when the 2020 season starts, would make the Raiders any better than they are with Carr.
It's not like Brady is coming off an MVP season. Or a Super Bowl win. His 2019 campaign was, by his standards, a relative disappointment. His completion percentage of 60.8 was his lowest since 2013. His 6.6 yards per attempt was the lowest he has posted in over 15 years. He barely cracked 4,000 passing yards and tossed his fewest touchdown passes (24) since tearing his ACL during the season opener back in 2008.
Brady also missed the Pro Bowl for the first time since that lost 2008 season. Once more: Tom Brady didn't make the popularity contest that is the Pro Bowl.
Carr didn't, either, but his yardage and touchdown numbers were similar, and his passer rating and completion percentage were significantly higher.
Many might point to Brady's lack of passing-game weapons as a major cause of that down year. But it's not like a move to Vegas would see those weapons improve markedly. The Raiders have an excellent young tight end in Darren Waller and a fine young running back in Josh Jacobs. But the situation at wide receiver is no better than in Boston. It may be worse.
Could the wide receivers be upgraded in free agency and the draft? Sure. But that also isn't the only problem facing the team. The defense is very much a work in progress. The Raiders were 25th in pass defense a season ago. They ranked 24th in sacks. Las Vegas' cadre of linebackers might be the weakest in the NFL.
The Patriots defense it ain't.
Quarterback isn't the only hole on the Raiders' roster. Or the biggest. Switching from Carr to Brady wouldn't magically put the Raiders on the same level as the Kansas City Chiefs or suddenly transform them into a Super Bowl contender.
That's why it makes no sense for Brady to realistically consider signing there.
Let's assume, just for the sake of argument, that Brady is hell-bent on moving on from the Patriots. That the long-rumored friction between Brady and head coach Bill Belichick is real. That Brady wants to show he can win without Darth Hoodie.
The Raiders aren't the best place for Brady to do that. Las Vegas isn't even the best place in the AFC West for Brady to do that. The Los Angeles Chargers have much better offensive weaponry (and a new stadium of their own).
In other divisions, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are loaded at wide receiver and have the fourth-most cap space in the NFL, per Over the Cap. The Indianapolis Colts have even more cash to throw around and talent on both sides of the ball.
Nothing will erase what Brady accomplished in New England. But going to Vegas would probably turn out a lot more like Joe Namath in Los Angeles or Johnny Unitas in San Diego than Joe Montana in Kansas City or Peyton Manning in Denver.
Frankly, it's all more likely than not much ado about nothing. There's a reason (per SportsLine) that Vegas oddsmakers have installed the Patriots as substantial favorites to be Brady's 2020 home. His best chance at a seventh title is in the place he won his first six. Both he and the Pats are smart enough to see that.
It's a fun hypothetical exercise, but the reality of Brady in Vegas isn't so fun. The team doesn't have enough to offer him to make risking his legacy worthwhile. As great as Brady was (and is), he doesn't have enough to offer the Raiders at this point in his career to make it worth blowing up a more patient rebuild for a short-sighted short-term run.
If the Raiders persist in that course of action, they're going to find that out the hard way, and the franchise's first season in Las Vegas will be a major bust.