Before the Las Vegas Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers fell flat this season, before the NFL knew about the Miami Dolphins’ tampering dalliance with Tom Brady, before the quarterback’s high-profile divorce and FTX crypto nightmare, Dana White opened the door on an offseason microscope that is going to only intensify.
Tom Brady and the Las Vegas Raiders. This was the near-miss connection that the UFC president gave to the world. First in August, when Brady’s bestie Rob Gronkowski convinced White to tell the almost-was story of how the MMA promoter brokered a deal to get Brady and the All-Pro tight end to Las Vegas. Then again in December, when White appeared on ESPN’s “Manningcast” on “Monday Night Football” and repeated the tale.
In a nutshell, White claims he laid the groundwork to get Brady to the Raiders in the months before the 2020 season, only to have then head coach Jon Gruden nuke the whole thing at the last second.
As White recalled it to Gronkowski on that August UFC podcast, “It was almost a done deal. And at the last minute, Gruden blew the deal up and said that he didn’t want [Brady] and all hell broke loose, man. It was crazy. And Brady was already looking at houses. It wasn’t said yet that Gronk was going to be coming. So Las Vegas would have had Brady and Gronk the year that the Bucs won the Super Bowl — except Gruden blew the deal up.”
At the time White rolled his claim out, it was a saucy backstory that appeared to fill in a much-speculated blank spot created by Brady when he appeared on HBO’s “The Shop” in 2021. It was an appearance that became infamous when he groused about a mystery team passing on him before he ultimately signed with the Buccaneers and went on to win a Super Bowl after the 2020 season. The gist of Brady’s complaint: The team passing on him was sticking with an incumbent quarterback he clearly thought was a lesser player than himself.
As Brady put it succinctly, “One of the teams — and they weren’t interested at the very end — I was thinking: You’re sticking with that motherf****r?”
White’s tale seems to point to the team being the Raiders and the quarterback being Derek Carr. The clip gathered cobwebs until this week, when it all became relevant again in one roster move: the Raiders benching Carr for the remainder of the season and asking him to step away from the team. It was a sure sign that his era in Las Vegas is over and the franchise will be in the market for a new quarterback in 2023.
The multiple points of relevance are not hard to distinguish here. But let’s walk through them, in what will be our first strides in another offseason Tom-A-Thon. The trek could include a multitude of teams but for now, it’s worth mulling over why the Raiders make the most sense.
There are familiar Patriots faces for Brady in Las Vegas
Brady is slated to become a free agent this offseason. Despite heading for his 46th birthday in August, he said this week that retirement is the “furthest thing” from his mind. The free-agent availability and Brady seeming to leave the door wide open to continue his NFL career are key pieces to this puzzle.
Josh McDaniels, his former offensive coordinator with the New England Patriots, is running Las Vegas now and he’s going to be looking for an experienced quarterback to turn the key on a depth chart that has significant money sunken into it by team owner Mark Davis. The same Raiders franchise is currently slated to have nearly $62 million in salary-cap space this offseason if it releases or trades Carr. As it stands, that would be the third-highest amount of cap space in the NFL entering free agency. There will be plenty of money to either re-sign or franchise tag running back Josh Jacobs, add Brady and layer in some offensive and defensive pieces.
There’s the positioning of Raiders general manager Dave Ziegler, who was a rising star in the New England personnel staff and overlapped with a portion of Brady’s final flourish with the Patriots. Ziegler told Yahoo Sports in August that he believed establishing the right culture of focus and detailed preparation would be a large part of any success achieved in Las Vegas. Few players are more capable of helping instill that than Brady.
What Dana White told Rob Gronkowski was never shot down
Dana White’s tale of Brady’s embrace of the Raiders in 2020 remains unrefuted, which is strongly suggestive that the quarterback felt something was appealing about the franchise three years ago. As an aside, Gronkowski confirmed on that same podcast that White’s tale was “exactly what happened.” And all of this was before the franchise was being led by a head coach Brady knows and trusts, as well as a general manager who has experience pursuing the kind of talent that works best around the quarterback.
Gronkowski’s inclusion in that Raiders equation in 2020 becomes more relevant with the simmering speculation that the tight end is mulling a return to the NFL for the 2023 season … potentially to play with Brady again. Even turning 34 in May, it’s hard to envision a human being more suited to living in Las Vegas than Gronkowski.
Davis played dumb when it came to White’s story about Brady, saying he “didn’t know” and to “talk to Dana.” That’s not a state of the art denial.
Once again, walking that line of suggestion, Davis was likely on board with the pursuit until Gruden allegedly blew it up. And as much as Davis might have a penchant for being a frugal franchise owner (last offseason not withstanding), it’s probably not a hard sell when it comes to envisioning Brady in a Raiders uniform. (What better way to exorcise the Tuck Game?)
That’s a solidly compelling case for Brady staying in the NFL and being pursued by the Raiders. It’s also not some media creation. When you reach out across the league and ask people to shape up a Brady pursuit, what you hear is that the Raiders make more sense than anyone else now that Carr is out of the fold.
How do other teams factor as potential landing spots for Brady?
That doesn’t mean that Brady won’t have some options. Staying in Tampa is still on the table, although there’s a strong indication coming out of Brady’s camp that it would require significant changes on the offensive coaching staff.
The Miami Dolphins might have been Brady’s preference one year ago, but it seems highly unlikely with the emergence of Tua Tagovailoa (concussions aside) and the league’s tampering investigation that burned Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and stripped a first-round pick in the 2023 draft.
San Francisco? Unlikely.
The New Orleans Saints? Possible, but it would require a longest of long shots return of Sean Payton as head coach.
Of all those franchises, only one has made an early commitment to jettisoning a former Pro Bowl quarterback for something different in 2023. That’s the Raiders. It’s a franchise that might not be where the offseason Tom-A-Thon ends, but is certainly where it begins once the Buccaneers wrap their season.