NFL rumors: Why Patriots are willing to let Tom Brady test free agency

NFL rumors: Why Patriots are willing to let Tom Brady test free agency

Tom Brady will be returning for his 21st NFL season. We just don't know where No. 12 will be calling plays in 2020.

The 42-year-old is set to become a free agent in March, and while most expect him to return to the New England Patriots, it's clear he'll have a number of suitors, including the Raiders, vying for his services.

A report leaked on Super Bowl Sunday that Jon Gruden and the Raiders will pursue Brady if he failed to re-sign with the Patriots by the start of the new league season. Most assume Brady and the Patriots will come to terms quickly, but owner Robert Kraft reportedly is willing to let the six-time Super Bowl champion see what's out on the market before coming back to the Patriots with his demands, NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reported Monday, citing sources. 

The Patriots reportedly are willing to offer Brady upward of $30 million a year, but if they aren't able to improve the offensive arsenal around him, he could look to spend his final NFL seasons away from Foxboro, Mass.

If Bill Belichick and Kraft do allow Brady to reach free agency, that could open the door for Gruden, who has a good relationship with Brady, to make his pitch for TB12 to wear silver and black. While it still feels like a long shot, the Patriots allowing Brady to take meetings gives Gruden the opportunity to sell the greatest quarterback in history on becoming a Raider.

A chance is all the Raiders can ask for.

The partnership would make Brady the face of the Las Vegas Raiders, giving the Silver and Black a star to market in their inaugural season in Sin City.  The Raiders do have a dynamic running back in Josh Jacobs, a blossoming star in tight end Darren Waller and reliable slot receiver Hunter Renfrow.

But in order for the Raiders to lure Brady to Vegas, Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock would have to promise to bring in more weapons on the outside to compliment Tyrell Williams, who struggled in his first season with the Raiders. Gruden likely will use one of the Raiders' two first-round picks on a dynamic receiver such as Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb or Alabama's Jerry Jeudy. But with two picks in the top 19, the Raiders could promise to use both picks on young star receivers and patch up their defense in other ways in order to get Brady the arsenal needed to compete in the AFC West.

[RELATED: Carr unfazed by questions about Raiders future, brother says]

Brady moving from New England to Las Vegas isn't likely. They'll be countless NFL teams clamoring for Brady's service once he hits free agency, some more equipped to win immediately than the Raiders. 

But if the Patriots allow Brady to truly hit the open market, it gives Gruden a puncher's chance to bring the GOAT to Sin City.

NFL votes to expand playoffs to seven teams beginning with 2020 season

NFL votes to expand playoffs to seven teams beginning with 2020 season

If the 2020 NFL season does eventually kick-off, there will be a new wrinkle for teams to consider.

Via teleconference Tuesday, the NFL owners voted to expand the playoffs to seven teams per conference, the league announced in a statement. Only one team will get a first-round bye in each conference. The expanded playoffs will begin this season.

The format will remain the same, just with an extra game per conference on Wild Card Weekend. With the No. 2 seed hosting the No. 7 seed, No. 3 hosting the No. 6 and No. 4 hosting No. 5.

Had this rule change been in effect last season, the Los Angeles Rams (9-7) would have been the No. 7 seed in the NFC and would have faced the Green Bay Packers in the wild-card round, while the 8-8 Pittsburgh Steelers would have traveled to face the eventual Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.

While some might see this as a way to reward mediocrity, NFL Media's Ian Rapoport shows this is not the case.

While the 49ers wouldn't have needed the expanded field in 2019, it could have helped Jon Gruden's Raiders. The Silver and Black sat at 6-4 after Week 11 and looked primed to make a playoff push. But consecutive losses to the New York Jets, Chiefs, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars put them behind the eight-ball. They entered Week 17 needing a win and losses by the Titans and Steelers, among other things, to claim the No. 6 seed.

Had this new rule been in place, the Raiders only would have needed to win and have one of those teams lose to claim the No. 7 seed. The Raiders, of course, lost to Drew Lock and the Denver Broncos in Week 17, but only after Gruden elected to go for a 2-point conversion to win the game after the Titans had knocked the Raiders out of playoff contention with a win over the Houston Texans.

[RELATED: Why Raiders should add running back in NFL draft]

The sports world currently is on pause due to the coronavirus pandemic and many of the leading minds in epidemiology believe the fall will see a spike in cases, which could threaten the NFL season or at least see it pushed back.

Whenever football does return, there will an extra playoff carrot for all the rabbits to chase.

Why Raiders should add running back to help Josh Jacobs, Jalen Richard

Why Raiders should add running back to help Josh Jacobs, Jalen Richard

Josh Jacobs is a feature back in every sense. The Raiders star rusher can do most everything well and is capable of playing all three downs. He can carry a significant workload, as he did during an exemplary 2019 campaign where he finished second in AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year voting, and frankly should have won.

He had 242 carries for 1,150 yards and seven touchdowns in 13 games, proving to be a tough and elusive runner who gains significant yards after contact.

Jalen Richard’s an excellent complement as a third-down back who can pass protect well and is an excellent receiver out of the backfield.

While those two can cover every offensive scenario, the Raiders should still work to add another running back.

That was clear at the end of last year when Jacobs was shut down with a shoulder injury he played through for weeks. DeAndre Washington filled in as the primary ball carrier and fared well but was allowed to hit the open market, where he remains today.

The Raiders could and should look to upgrade that position and not just by finding a backup. They need someone with a different style, maybe a big and bruising back to accent what the Raiders do offensively.

They tried to do that last season, when they worked out every veteran running back under the sun but didn’t sign anyone until Rod Smith came aboard late.

The sixth-year journeyman re-signed with the Raiders on a low-cost contract.

The NFL draft will have quality options available later in the draft, where the Raiders have three third-round picks and one each in the fourth and fifth.

It might take a third-round pick to land Boston College’s A.J. Dillion, a 247-pound bruiser who can run downhill and pick up short yardage by moving the pile. Draft analysts say he’s good at reading blocks and following his assignment, something important in Jon Gruden’s offense.

Vanderbilt’s Ke'Shawn Vaughn is an option who might be available later. He isn’t quite as big but has the toughness required to get hard yards and could absorb some blows to keep Jacobs healthy and fresh.

This isn’t a full-on draft breakdown, so we won’t go down the list of every scheme fit available for selection. There aren’t many free agent dollars left, so it’s hard to see another runner coming in.

The Raiders can survive with the depth chart they’ve got, especially with fullback Alec Ingold able to carry the ball effectively when called upon. But the NFL is trending toward two back benefits, even when there’s an obvious alpha like Jacobs.

Gruden has historically preferred feeding multiple backs, as he did in his previous Raiders stint with Tyrone Wheatley and Napoleon Kauffman, and later with Wheatley and Charlie Garner.

[RELATED: Raiders reportedly meet virtually with Herbert]

Gruden has also ridden one back pretty hard, as he did with Cadillac Williams while with Tampa Bay.

The Raiders are more than capable of rolling with the crew they have but could use to make the backfield a little better before the 2020 season begins by filling a relatively low-ranking need.