Why Raiders signing Tom Brady is gamble worth taking for Jon Gruden

Why Raiders signing Tom Brady is gamble worth taking for Jon Gruden

William Shakespeare once wrote: "The king's name is a tower of strength, which they upon the adverse party want." Such is the case of Tom Brady and his upcoming free agency.

His name alone perks up ears across the globe. If carries a weight and importance that only LeBron James, Steph Curry, Lionel Messi and like do. It automatically vaults his team or brand into rarified global air.

So, the minute whispers of the Raiders making a run at Brady started to creep across the Twitterverse last month, it was easy to see why trying to sign him would be appealing to the Raiders. After all, the 42-year-old is a six-time Super Bowl champion who universally is regarded as the greatest quarterback of all time.

The Raiders are set to open Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas come fall and head coach Jon Gruden can only be on so many billboards. Adding Brady instantly would give the Raiders a marketing boom and make the Silver and Black even more of a story than they were going to be in their first season in Sin City. 

But does signing Brady, who the Raiders reportedly will pursue should he actually enter free agency, make sense for either side on the field?

(For what it's worth, I'd say there's a less than one percent chance Brady isn't jogging out of the Gillette Stadium tunnel next season, but it's February so let's have some fun).

Last season Brady finished the season with a passer rating of 88, while completing 60.4 percent of his passes and throwing for just 6.6 yards per attempt. He ranked 22nd in passer rating and 31st in the other two categories. On the surface, that seems less than ideal. Going on 43 years old, Brady appears to finally be losing the slugfest to Father Time. At the very least, he's not the guy who was dicing up defenses in the Super Bowl just a few years ago.

Compare Brady's numbers to Derek Carr's (100.8 passer rating, 70.4 completion percentage, 7.4 yards per attempt) and it might be easy to say the Raiders should dismiss the dream of adding Brady and stick with Carr, continue to build a complete roster and address the QB position later if Carr isn't the guy. But those numbers aren't everything, especially to Gruden, who despite his best efforts, seemed underwhelmed by his quarterback's performance. 

And it's not like Brady was a dud in 2019.

He ranked in 12th in passing grade per Pro Football Focus. While that 76 grade was his lowest since 2006, he still was a deadly accurate passer, rating in the top-10 in accuracy rate on passes thrown 10 or more yards downfield and 20 or more yards downfield. Where Brady was hindered in 2019 was with a battered banged-up offensive line and a receiving corps that ranked in the 25th percentile in receiving grade and percentage of catchable passes caught.

With Rob Gronkowski retired and Antonio Brown and Josh Gordon cut, Brady was left to throw to a banged-up Julian Edelman, the underwhelming Mohamed Sanu and rookie N'Keal Harry when healthy.

In short, Brady can still rip it and dismantle defenses when given time and talented weapons to throw the ball to.

The Raiders, with running back Josh Jacobs, blossoming star tight end Darren Waller and third-down weapon Hunter Renfrow, would appear to have more weapons for Brady to attack with. But the Raiders' receivers as a whole ranked 31st in the NFL in PFF grade as they struggled to replace Brown after he went nuclear. Tyrell Williams is returning. The Raiders have two first-round draft picks (Nos. 12 and 19) and around $55 million in salary-cap space with which to improve their roster. Of course, Brady would take a chunk of that should he and the Patriots part ways.

There's also the Gruden aspect of the equation. By all accounts, Gruden and Brady have a good relationship and the six-time champion's competitive fire and leadership style would mesh well with a coach dying to get the Silver and Black back to the playoffs. Gruden undoubtedly would give Brady power and input when it comes offensive personnel decisions and game-planning. While he's obviously not Bill Belichick, Gruden is a player's coach and an astute offensive mind who Brady should love playing for.

Let's not forget the most important part of the equation: Quarterback is the most important position in sports. If you don't have an elite quarterback your chances of winning a Super Bowl or even making the playoffs are slim. Brady, even at his age, still has elite skills and is the greatest winner in NFL history. While his stats took a dip last season, that was due by in large to his receivers' inability to create separation and haul in on-target passes/ The GOAT still has elite skills and his intangibles still give him unquestioned value to a team that needs to learn what it takes to win. 

[RELATED: Raiders should follow NFL draft blueprint, raid Clemson-LSU]

What it comes down to for Brady is: Can the Raiders put together a roster that can compete with the Chiefs in the AFC West? And does he feel an overwhelming desire to prove he's undoubtedly the greatest of all time even away from Bill Belichick?

Brady wants to win above everything else. The Raiders had the 29th most valuable roster in the NFL last season, per Pro Football Focus, while the Patriots topped the list even with a bad receiving corps. A lot of that comes down to the defense, where outside of Maxx Crosby and Trayvon Mullen, the Raiders struggled to find any bright spots.

A move to the Raiders for Brady would be akin to LeBron James joining a young Los Angeles Lakers team in a much tougher division (conference in James' case) than the one he's spent his entire career in. Joining a marquee franchise in hopes that he could restore them to their former glory and pen a masterful final chapter to his NFL career.

The Raiders would have to prove they have a plan to put talent around him immediately. That might mean using both first-round picks on young, dynamic receivers (i.e. CeeDee Lamb and Henry Ruggs) and then using their excess salary cap money on defensive free agents (money depending) who can shore up a unit that got rolled over by the New York Jets, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars down the stretch.

The proposed marriage might not seem like it makes a lot of sense. Brady's career is winding down. He wants more shots at championships and the Raiders still are in Phase 1 of a rebuild.

But if Brady feels the need to prove he can win outside of the hypercritical eye of Bill Belichick and the Patriot Way, bringing the Raiders back to the top of the league during their opening Las Vegas years would cement Brady's legacy as a GOAT in the pantheon of greats.

It's not practical, but Gruden likes to do things a different way. It's well known that Gruden loves veteran quarterbacks. He won with Brad Johnson and Rich Gannon. He tried to pursue Brett Favre when his time with the Green Bay Packers was over. Adding Brady would give the Raiders not only the greatest winner in NFL history as a leader, but also an on-field surrogate who can channel the same kind of intensity and drive that leaks out of Gruden every day he shows up to work. They would seem to speak the same language.

Pursuing Brady makes sense from the Raiders' perspective. He's the greatest quarterback of all time, who instantly would bring fire and intensity to match Gruden, still has the talent to be a top-tier QB and gives the Raiders the biggest star in the NFL to open their Las Vegas tenure.

If the Raiders can sell Brady on their plan to go from an overachieving 7-9 team to one that can challenge the defending Super Bowl champions in the AFC West, commit to and execute it, then putting TB12 in Silver and Black would be well worth the large, short-term investment.

And not just for the king's name.

Raiders set to use rest of Khalil Mack trade assets in 2020 NFL Draft

Raiders set to use rest of Khalil Mack trade assets in 2020 NFL Draft

The Raiders traded Khalil Mack just before the 2018 regular season and didn’t get anything in return to help that year’s roster. That was a main reason why that season went up in smoke and put the Raiders’ decision under fire.

Jon Gruden in particular became a punching bag the trade's detractors, without evidence of the trade's return coming for a year or more. 

The Raiders head coach is about to get a fat dividend check. 

The Mack trade will start looking a bit different next month, because the bulk of assets exchanged will be used either to acquire NFL draftees or as trade chips.

As a reminder, the Raiders traded Mack, a 2020 second-round draft pick -- coughing up that selection remains an eybrow raiser, but it got the deal done -- and a conditional 2020 fifth-round draft pick that is now a seventh-round draft pick to Chicago for first-round draft picks in 2019 and 2020, with a 2020 third-round draft pick and a 2019 sixth-round draft pick.

The Raiders used the Bears’ 2019 first-round pick to acquire running back Josh Jacobs. That’s not a bad deal even as a straight swap, but there’s a lot more to account for when evaluating this deal.

Following where the 2019 sixth-round pick would require heading down a rabbit hole leading to Wonderland, so let’s just say it was traded to the Jets along with Kelechi Osemele for an asset that started a series of 2019 in-draft trades that helped acquire several members of an excellent draft class, including Trayvon Mullen and Hunter Renfrow.

Here’s what the Raiders have yet to use from the Mack trade:
2020 first-round draft pick (No. 19 overall)
2020 third-round draft pick (No. 81 overall)

Here’s what the Bears have yet to use from the Mack trade:
2020 second-round draft pick (No. 43 overall)
2020 seventh-round draft pick (No. 223 overall)

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Using those selections will give us a clearer picture of what the trade looks like, even though it’s imprudent to evaluate draft picks until they’ve played a few NFL seasons.

Raiders fans should have some level of confident coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock will do the right thing with extra assets considering how well last year’s draft went, the Jacobs pick in particular.

This year’s No. 19 overall draft pick is an important one, likely producing the other headline name in a deal that will be remembered alongside shipping Mack to Chicago and the Jacobs pick.

[RELATED: Mack makes All-Decade Team, largely for work with Raiders]

Our latest NBC Sports Bay Area mock draft has the Raiders taking Alabama safety Xavier McKinney at No. 19, while Gruden and Mayock could be looking for a cornerback or a defensive tackle at that spot. It’s also a trade chip that could get the Raiders into the second round, where they currently don’t have a selection.

The Jacobs pick made fans feel a lot better about the Mack trade, especially with 2019 fourth-round draft pick Maxx Crosby proving a formidable edge rusher with 10 sacks as a rookie. Using their assets correctly might even make the Raiders come out ahead, or darn close to it, with young players on the roster and money Mack would’ve demanded spread out among several other veteran free agents who are good but not at Mack’s elite level.

Khalil Mack, Shane Lechler among ex-Raiders on NFL's All-Decade Team

Khalil Mack, Shane Lechler among ex-Raiders on NFL's All-Decade Team

Khalil Mack was the Raiders best player over the past decade. It’s hard to argue that, even with Charles Woodson making Pro Bowls in his last 30s.

The Silver and Black drafted him No. 5 overall in 2014, and he thrived in the four seasons before being traded to the Chicago Bears. He had 41.5 sacks in that span and was one of the NFL’s elite edge run defenders.

He made the Pro Bowl three times and was a first-team All-Pro twice as a Raider, including one year where he earned the distinction at two positions. He also won the NFL’s defensive player of the year award in 2016, when the Raiders made the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

Mack was an obvious choice for the NFL’s all-decade team for the 2010s, which was released by the league on Monday morning.

Mack wasn’t the only former Raider on the list. Punter Shane Lechler was rightfully included, though he played just three years for the Silver and Black in that decade. The Raiders’ first-round pick in 2000 was a fixture in Oakland from that time through 2012, when the native Texan left to play for Houston.

Oakland icon and former Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch also made the list, largely for his exploits with the Seattle Seahawks. He was with his hometown Raiders in 2017 and 2018 after coming out of retirement and returned to Seattle last year for their playoff run.

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All-decade kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson spent a year with the Raiders in 2017.

Center Rodney Hudson is the only Raider with a strong argument for inclusion ultimately left out. He’s at least equal to Alex Mack and Maurkice Pouncey, possibly better in some eyes, and may be the NFL’s best pass-blocking center.

[RELATED: Raiders must do better with No. 12 draft pick]

While Woodson was well past his prime in the 2010s, the future Hall-of-Famer made three Pro Bowls and was a first-team All-Pro in 2011. He was featured on the NFL’s All-2000s roster but could well have been included here. Eric Weddle, Eric Berry and Earl Thomas were the safeties named to the all-2010s team, and it’s hard to justify taking any of them off the list.

Here's the complete All-2010s team:  

WR –
 Antonio Brown, Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones
TE – Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce
T – Jason Peters, Tyron Smith, Joe Staley, Joe Thomas
G – Jahri Evans, Logan Mankins, Zack Martin, Marshal Yanda
C – Alex Mack, Maurkice Pouncey
QB – Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers
RB – Frank Gore, Marshawn Lynch, LeSean McCoy, Adrian Peterson
Flex – Darren Sproles

DE –
 Calais Campbell, Cameron Jordan, Julius Peppers, J.J. Watt
DT – Geno Atkins, Fletcher Cox, Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh
LB – Chandler Jones, Luke Kuechly, Khalil Mack, Von Miller, Bobby Wagner, Patrick Willis
CB – Patrick Peterson, Darrelle Revis, Richard Sherman
S – Eric Berry, Earl Thomas, Eric Weddle
DB – Chris Harris, Tyrann Mathieu

P –
 Johnny Hekker, Shane Lechler
K – Stephen Gostkowski, Justin Tucker
PR – Tyreek Hill, Darren Sproles
KR – Devin Hester, Cordarrelle Patterson

Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll

NBC Sports Bay Area's Matt Maiocco contributed to this report.