Tom Brady said Aaron Rodgers is going to make the "choices he feels are best for him" as the NFL MVP holds out from the Green Bay Packers.

Rodgers – who skipped Green Bay's organised team activities (OTA) – is officially a holdout following his absence as the Packers reported for their mandatory minicamp last week.

The three-time MVP and 37-year-old is pushing to leave the Packers – a team he has represented since 2005, winning a Super Bowl.

Reports of Rodgers' unhappiness first emerged on draft day this year, though Green Bay are unwilling to trade the veteran.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers superstar Brady, whose team topped Rodgers and the Packers in the NFC Championship Game en route to Super Bowl glory last season, weighed into the drama.

"I mean, I respect Aaron a lot," Buccaneers QB Brady told USA Today Sports.

"Aaron's going to make the choices he feels are best for him. Everyone has different dynamics in their work."

With Rodgers absent, second-year QB Jordan Love has been working with the starters at Packers minicamp.

Green Bay's first-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft did not play a single snap last season as Rodgers rolled to NFL MVP honours. 

Many speculated the Packers' surprise move to select the young quarterback is at the root of Rodgers' displeasure with the team, something the latter has denied.

Amid the uncertainty, Packers head coach Matt LaFleur told reporters there is only one approach, whether it is Rodgers or Love.

 "We'll have one plan," LaFleur said. "We've kind of pretty much laid that out. Just going to fine-tune some things over the next few weeks in terms of the logistics of our schedule and whatnot.

"We've got what we feel is a pretty good blueprint in terms of how to get our guys ready to play.

"Obviously, it is a little bit different this year in terms of the number of preseason games and then you compare it to last year, so you're kind of leaning back on the 2019 season.

"We feel confident with what we'll have in place with the guys. We'll look forward to getting them back July 27."

Rodgers amassed 48 touchdowns, five interceptions and a completion rate of 70.7 per cent for the Packers – who lost to eventual Super Bowl champions the Buccaneers.

Rodgers' quarterback rating of 121.5 puts him second on the all-time list among qualifiers, behind only his 2011 campaign (122.5).

In total, Rodgers completed 372 of 526 attempts for 4,299 yards as the Packers topped the NFC North with a 13-3 record to clinch home-field advantage and the top seed in the NFC playoffs for the first time since 2011.

Rodgers is level with Brady, Brett Favre, Johnny Unitas and Jim Brown with three MVP honours – only Peyton Manning (five) has more in NFL history.

The Packers will open their 2021 season against the New Orleans Saints on September 12.

Bryson DeChambeau told Brooks Koepka "it's nice to be living rent free in your head" as the two PGA Tour stars traded barbs on social media.

There is no love lost between DeChambeau and Koepka, particularly after footage of the latter emerged during a post-round interview at the US PGA Championship.

In a leaked viral video, four-time major champion Koepka was seen rolling his eyes at reigning U.S. Open winner DeChambeau and cursed in frustration during the interview.

'The Match' was announced on Wednesday, with DeChambeau partnering Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in an exhibition battle against PGA Championship winner Phil Mickelson and Tampa Bay Buccaneers superstar Tom Brady.

Afterwards, Koepka and DeChambeau continued their growing feud as the former tweeted: "Sorry bro @AaronRodgers12."

DeChambeau responded by tweeting: "@BKoepka It's nice to be living rent free in your head!"

Amid the exchange, six-time major winner Mickelson wrote: "I feel like I'm in the middle of something and should step aside. [Except they want the CURRENT PGA champ:]."

There has been tension since 2019 after Koepka called out DeChambeau for slow play, while the later responded by taking aim at his fellow American's physique in 2020.

"I don't think his genetics even make him look good," DeChambeau said. "Did you see The Body Issue? He didn't have any abs. I have abs."

'The Match' will take place on July 6 at Moonlight Basin in Big Sky, Montana.

Mickelson has been a regular at this event since the first instalment in 2018, where he defeated Tiger Woods in a one-on-one match up to earn a lucrative $9million payout.

In May 2020, Mickelson first partnered NFL legend Brady – who earned a seventh career Super Bowl ring by leading the Buccaneers to glory in February – where they were beaten by Woods and Peyton Manning.

Tom Brady and Phil Mickelson will reunite for 'The Match' in a blockbuster showdown with Aaron Rodgers and Bryson Dechambeau - and the playful trash talk has already begun.

Mickelson made history on Sunday by becoming the oldest major winner of all time with a two-shot victory at the US PGA Championship.

The 50-year-old has been a regular at this event since the first instalment in 2018, where he defeated Tiger Woods in a one-on-one match up to earn a lucrative $9million payout.

In May 2020, Mickelson first partnered NFL legend Brady – who earned a seventh career Super Bowl ring by leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to glory in February – where they were beaten by Woods and Peyton Manning.

And six months ago, 'Lefty' partnered NBA legend Charles Barkley to overcome Manning and Golden State Warriors superstar Stephen Curry.

Once the announcement for the latest version, which will take place on July 6 at Moonlight Basin in Big Sky, Montana, was made Brady could not help but take a light-hearted dig at the Green Bay Packers' star quarterback Rodgers.

"Two old guys against the young bucks @PhilMickelson. @b_dechambeau better get used to laying up because we know @AaronRodgers12 isn't going for it," Brady wrote on Twitter.

Mickelson also took to social media, posting: "It's game time! My partner @tombrady and I are back and ready to settle some unfinished business. See you in Montana @AaronRodgers12 @b_dechambeau."

It was revealed on the PGA Tour's official website that 'The Match' will "include donations made to Feeding America, among additional charitable beneficiaries", and the competition format will be modified alternate shot match play.

The old adage suggests life begins at 40, and in sports there have been several instances of stars celebrating glorious triumphs in the twilight of their career.

Phil Mickelson became the latest history maker on Sunday with a memorable US PGA Championship victory at the age of 50, making him the older male major winner of all time.

A two-shot victory over Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen made Mickelson a six-time major winner, and marked his first since he topped the leaderboard at The Open in 2013, aged 43.

But Mickelson is by no means the first sportsperson to prove that age is just a number. Here we remember some of the greatest achievements by those of advancing years (at least in sporting terms…).

BRADY BUCS THE TREND AT SUPER BOWL LV

When Tom Brady ended his lengthy association with the New England Patriots, some doubted whether he could emulate his unrivalled success at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Those people were wrong. Already the oldest quarterback to have won a Super Bowl ring with the Patriots two years prior, Brady's memorable triumph with the Bucs over the Kansas City Chiefs at Super Bowl LV back in February saw him become the oldest player to win a ring, aged 43.

HOPKINS PUNCHES TICKET INTO THE HISTORY BOOKS

Boxing has a long history of fighters continuing well into their later years, and often times they prove ill-advised decisions.

But Bernard Hopkins certainly does not fall into that category. The all-time great first became boxing's oldest ever world champion when he defeated Jean Pascal in May 2011 to win the WBC and IBO light-heavyweight titles aged 46.

Two years later, he broke his own record by toppling Tavoris Cloud to win the IBF strap, and then in April 2014 – at the age of 49 – defeated Beibut Shumenov to add the WBA's belt to his collection.
 
FANGIO FINDS THE FORMULA TO SUCCESS

Revered by many as the greatest Formula One driver of all time, Juan Manuel Fangio certainly has a record to stack up against the best.

The Argentinian had seven full seasons in F1 and was world champion five times with four different teams and runner-up twice, while there were 24 wins from 51 Grands Prix.

The last of his F1 title-winning seasons occurred in 1957 at the age of 46, making him the series' oldest champion of all time.

NOTHING IS ZOFF LIMITS FOR VETERAN DINO

Dino Zoff is not the oldest player to ever feature in a World Cup fixture, that honour belongs to Essam El Hadary, who was 45 when he played in Egypt's final group-stage match against Saudi Arabia in 2018.

But the Italy legend does hold the record as the oldest player to win the World Cup when he lifted the trophy aged 40 years, four months and 13 days in a 3-1 victory over West Germany in 1982 in front of a bumper crowd of 90,000 in Madrid.

ROSEWALL AND SERENA ARE ACE

Serena Williams and her sister Venus have made a mockery of Father Time in women's tennis over the past two decades, while Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have dominated the men's game in their 30s.

But still, greatness should still be recognised and the last of Serena's grand slam titles at the 2017 Australian Open (when she was eight weeks pregnant no less!) saw her become the oldest female slam winner of all time.

In the men's game, the honour does not belong the three aforementioned modern-day greats (though who would bet against one of them doing it one day?). That benchmark lies with Ken Rosewall, who was 37 years, two months and one day old when he won in Melbourne in 1972.

PHIL TOPPLES BOROS

In the context of Mickelson's triumph, it seems only fair to mention the man who previously held golf's major benchmark.

Julius Boros was 48 when he won the 1968 PGA Championship. Indeed, golf is a game where players can excel much later in their careers.

Tom Morris and Jack Nicklaus were both 46 when they won the last majors of their glittering careers at The Open and the Masters respectively.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will kick off the new NFL season against the Dallas Cowboys on September 9, while Sam Darnold is to be quickly reunited with the New York Jets.

Ahead of the full schedule release later on Wednesday, the Week 1 slate was confirmed with Tom Brady's Bucs the highlight.

After winning the Super Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs last season, seven-time champion Brady is in the Thursday night game against the Cowboys in Tampa.

The Bucs have brought back the entirety of their title-winning team and face a Dallas outfit aiming to improve on an awful 2020 after signing Dak Prescott to a long-term contract.

Elsewhere, quarterback Darnold will make his Carolina Panthers debut against the Jets team he left this offseason.

In three miserable years in New York, Darnold threw for 45 touchdowns and 39 interceptions across 38 games with a 59.8 completion percentage – the third-worst rate in the league over this period.

The former third overall pick was traded to the Panthers last month for a sixth-round pick this year and a second and fourth-rounders in 2022, with the Jets then using the second selection in 2021 to take Zach Wilson.

Among Wilson's fellow first-round QBs, Mac Jones could potentially make his bow against the man he succeeded at Alabama.

Jones, who is competing for the starting spot on the New England Patriots with Cam Newton, will hope to face Tua Tagovailoa and the Miami Dolphins in a big AFC East matchup.

Trevor Lawrence is likely to go straight into the Jacksonville Jaguars team against the Houston Texans, while Trey Lance will hope to get his chance under center for the San Francisco 49ers at the Detroit Lions and Justin Fields for the Chicago Bears at the Los Angeles Rams in the late Sunday game.

The NFL also confirmed Wilson and Lawrence would be in line for appearances in the London games in October, with the Jets facing the Atlanta Falcons and the Jaguars taking on the Dolphins on consecutive weekends.

Another of the more intriguing Week 1 games sees the Green Bay Packers travel to the New Orleans Saints.

As the Saints begin the post-Drew Brees era, the Packers will hope wantaway MVP Aaron Rodgers is still on the team and able to improve his 3-2 career record as a starter against New Orleans.

The Seattle Seahawks, who have kept hold of Russell Wilson, face the Indianapolis Colts, and Patrick Mahomes' latest title tilt sees the Kansas City Chiefs host the Cleveland Browns.

Mahomes went down with a toe injury and then a concussion in an epic Chiefs win over the Browns in the 2020 postseason, with 35-year-old backup Chad Henne making his playoff debut and having a pick and a sack but completing six of eight passes to complete the job.

In the first Monday Night Football of the season, Lamar Jackson's Baltimore Ravens will go to the Las Vegas Raiders.


Week 1 schedule in full:

Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Sep 9, 8:20pm ET
Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
New York Jets at Carolina Panthers – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
Seattle Seahawks at Indianapolis Colts – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
Los Angeles Chargers at Washington Football Team – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
San Francisco 49ers at Detroit Lions – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
Arizona Cardinals at Tennessee Titans – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
Philadelphia Eagles at Atlanta Falcons – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
Minnesota Vikings at Cincinnati Bengals – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans – Sep 12, 1:00pm ET
Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs – Sep 12, 4:25pm ET
Green Bay Packers at New Orleans Saints – Sep 12, 4:25pm ET
Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots – Sep 12, 4:25pm ET
Denver Broncos at New York Giants – Sep 12, 4:25pm ET
Chicago Bears at Los Angeles Rams – Sep 12, 8:20pm ET
Baltimore Ravens at Las Vegas Raiders – Sep 13, 8:15pm ET

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have agreed a deal to bring back wide receiver Antonio Brown on a one-year deal worth up to $6.25million.

Brown's agent confirmed to NFL Network that the deal is done, with the 32-year-old to be fully guaranteed $3.1m.

After winning the Super Bowl in their first season with Tom Brady as quarterback, the Bucs had already impressively found a way to bring back all 22 of their starters in the offseason.

That included free agents Shaquil Barrett, Rob Gronkowski and Ndamukong Suh, along with Chris Godwin, who was handed the franchise tag.

Brown – who had 45 catches for 483 yards and four touchdowns in eight regular season games last year – was the most significant remaining player yet to agree terms.

Both sides had indicated a willingness to prolong their partnership and financial negotiations have now been concluded one day before the NFL Draft, where the Bucs appear to have the luxury of going into the process without a major need on their roster. 

Mike Evans, Godwin and Brown make up three elite receiving options for Brady, with second-year pro Tyler Johnson a candidate to make a step forward in 2021 and Scotty Miller also in the rotation.

Gronkowski, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate also make up a star-studded tight end room, as Brady – who will turn 44 before the new season begins – looks to win an eighth Super Bowl with a stellar supporting cast.

Brown spent the first nine years of his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers and was a five-time All-Pro selection – four of those in the first team – and a seven-time Pro Bowler.

As he battled legal problems, brief and turbulent spells with the New England Patriots and Las Vegas Raiders followed before reuniting with Brady in Tampa provided him with the chance to resurrect his NFL career, a process which began with a first Super Bowl crown in February.

Brown had five catches for 22 yards and a TD in the Bucs' surprisingly convincing 31-9 triumph over Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.

The NFL Draft looms large on the horizon as rosters continue to take shape ahead of the 2021 season.

Some big offseason moves have already threatened to alter the landscape of the league, even boosting the championship hopes of teams who missed out on the playoffs in 2020.

Most notably, the San Francisco 49ers and Miami Dolphins will each feel they won a trade that saw the number three overall pick sent to the NFC West team in exchange for assets including multiple future first-rounders.

The Niners will get a look at one of the top quarterbacks in an exciting class as they aim to challenge again following an injury ravaged campaign, while the Dolphins can now surround starter Tua Tagovailoa with talent in year two and beyond.

But what of the teams who were already Super Bowl contenders?

When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Green Bay Packers reached the NFC Championship Game and the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills advanced in the AFC, pre-game predictions could scarcely separate the four.

It was the Bucs who ultimately prevailed, progressing past Green Bay before beating the Chiefs at Super Bowl LV, but their rivals will expect to be in the mix again.

Although chaos higher up in the draft could see plans quickly go out the window, we assess where the Bucs, Packers, Chiefs and Bills might be looking next week - with the help of Stats Perform data.
 

Green Bay Packers

All four of these teams will have interesting options in the first round as the early rush for quarterbacks leaves great depth at several other positions across the board. But the Packers, picking 29th, would be wise to think about how they might help Aaron Rodgers.

The veteran QB was understandably surprised last year when, rather than recruiting help, Green Bay drafted another passer in the first round. Jordan Love did not take a single snap all season long.

Packers wide receiver Davante Adams led the league in receiving touchdowns (18) and ranked fourth for targets (149), joint-second for catches (115) and joint-fifth for receiving yards (1,374), despite playing only 14 games. However, Rodgers clearly lacked a second WR option, with tight end Robert Tonyan's 11 TDs coming on just 59 targets.

There should be no shortage of prospects available to Green Bay, with Elijah Moore - ranked first in the FBS with 149.1 yards per game for Ole Miss - a good fit in the slot.

Yet the team have not selected a receiver in the first round since before Rodgers was drafted, while Adams, in 2014, was the last WR taken higher than the fourth round.

Defensive reinforcements may be more likely over the first two days of the draft. A linebacker like Zaven Collins - four interceptions last season for Tulsa - or a cornerback such as Caleb Farley - falling following back surgery - could be called in the first round, with a later punt on a potential WR project following.
 

Buffalo Bills

Buffalo's needs are two-fold as they aim to give QB Josh Allen the platform to contend with Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady again.

The Bills ranked fourth in the NFL in 2020 for yards per attempt but 20th for rushing average (4.19). Allen contributed 421 of their 1,723 total rushing yards and half of their 16 rushing TDs.

Neither Devin Singletary (156 carries for 687 yards and two TDs) nor Zack Moss (112 carries for 481 yards and four TDs) look capable of being a game-changer on the ground, while the best running backs in the class may well still be on the board at number 30.

Alabama's Najee Harris, who led the FBS with 26 rushing scores, is an obvious standout.

Yet Buffalo's issues against the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game came as they failed to disrupt Mahomes, who was sacked only once and threw three TDs and no interceptions.

The Bills were in the middle of the pack for sacks (38, tied 15th) and hurries (163, 17th) and could use someone on the edge, particularly with Jerry Hughes - the man who sacked Mahomes - turning 33 in August.
 

Kansas City Chiefs

If the playoffs made the shortcomings for Buffalo clear, Kansas City's flaws were even more blatant. The best QB in football was helpless in the Super Bowl.

Mitchell Schwartz and Eric Fisher, the Chiefs' starting tackles, missed the big game through injury and Mahomes was sacked three times, throwing two picks and no TDs. The pair have each since been released, too, increasing the team's need at the position.

Arrivals Joe Thuney, who allowed 0.5 sacks last season, and Kyle Long, back out of retirement, are not best suited to playing outside. Kansas City would ideally find both a right and left tackle in this draft.

They should have no shortage of options, with a number of prospects mooted as potential picks. Teven Jenkins, out of Oklahoma State, can play either side and would be a popular signing.
 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs are in a truly unenviable position in that they have no positions of major need.

Some defensive end depth would be nice, but this unit pressured Mahomes into submission. The team ranked second for both hurries (182) and knockdowns (115). Linebacker Shaquil Barrett alone had 13 Super Bowl pressures.

Or how about a receiver to deliver the late-season impact provided by Antonio Brown? He had only four starts yet scored a touchdown in the Super Bowl triumph. Of course, he could also still return.

The rest of the title-winning roster from last year is back, meaning Tampa Bay remain in 'win now' mode and can simply look to pick up the best player left on the board at pick 32.

That might mean a RB like Harris, while the Bucs would have little to lose in taking a flier on Farley, despite his fitness concerns, if he falls to them.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady said he is feeling "pretty good" following offseason knee surgery.

After leading the Buccaneers to NFL glory in February, Super Bowl LV MVP Brady underwent an operation on his knee.

Brady provided an update on his recovery, with the 43-year-old superstar hopeful of being able to resume training in June.

"Yeah, I hope so. I hope so. I feel pretty good and I push myself pretty hard," Brady said at head coach Bruce Arians' Family Foundation gala on Sunday, having signed a contract extension following the 2020 campaign.

"I feel pretty good. I don't know if I could go this week, but, we'll see how things play out. It's a long time between now and the beginning of the season, and just be smart about all these different things that we have to do and fulfill, but we all take a lot of pride in being ready to go and I'm sure we will be."

Brady – in his first season with the Buccaneers after 20 successful years with the New England Patriots – won his seventh Lombardi Trophy as Tampa Bay became the first team in NFL history to win the Super Bowl at their home stadium, ending the Kansas City Chiefs' hopes of retaining the title in a 31-9 rout.

After initially struggling to hit the ground running, Brady enjoyed a stellar maiden season with the Bucs.

He threw for 4,633 yards and 40 touchdowns with 12 interceptions, his passer rating of 102.2 his highest since his MVP season of 2017 (102.8).

Only Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes had more completions of 20 yards or more than Brady's 63 as he experienced a revival as a downfield passer in Tampa.

In the playoffs, he helped the Bucs come through a gauntlet, winning three games on the road to get to the Super Bowl.

By defeating Mahomes and the Chiefs, the Bucs became the first team to win three games against former Super Bowl MVPs in the same postseason having also seen off Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints and Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.

"It's good, it's good. It's good progress," Brady added. "It's rehab. None of that is fun, but looking forward to getting back to real training and stuff, which is hopefully here pretty soon.

"I'm cool with it. It's just part of what you deal with. Things come up. You deal with them the best way you can, with the best opportunity to improve. I'm definitely feeling a lot better than I did six or seven weeks ago."

Brady said: "We'll just take it and see how we go and see how things play out over the course of the offseason. A lot of things come up and change over the course of the offseason and we've got a lot of hardworking guys so guys will be anxious to get together and get to work.

"As soon as I'm ready to throw, that will be really important for me. That's always a big part of my preparation -- actually doing what my job is."

The 2020 season is not one fans of the New England Patriots will remember fondly.

Not only did they lose Tom Brady after 20 years, but the star quarterback went on to win a famous seventh Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Pats, meanwhile, suffered with the tight salary cap left behind after years of pushing for postseason glory with Brady.

They went 7-9, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008, a season that saw Brady suffer a serious knee injury in Week 1.

While their record was by no means the league's worst, it was their first losing season since 2000.

Head coach Bill Belichick is not used to that and, with their cap situation looking much better, he has been aggressive in attempting to put things right with a free agency spending spree.

Here, we have used Stats Perform data to look at their disappointing 2020 season and some of the moves they have made to turn their fortunes around.

Offense

Cam Newton was a late addition ahead of the season on a bargain contract, but he was unable to recapture his Carolina Panthers peak as he returned from injury with a new offense.

His 82.9 passer rating was 28th out of 35 qualifying quarterbacks and he had just eight touchdown passes through the air, with 10 interceptions.

Still, Brady had not impressed in his last season either, with New England having one of the weakest supporting casts in the NFL.

Jakobi Meyers, who was undrafted in 2019, had a good year at wide receiver (59 catches for 729 yards), though no other player topped 400 yards receiving.

Julian Edelman was only healthy for six games, while the top tight end Ryan Izzo had just 199 receiving yards.

The Pats were 30th in the NFL with just 181 passing yards per game, 49 YPG below the league average.

New England had 38 passing plays of 20+ yards – only the New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals faring worse in that category.

Newton attempted 22 passes of 21+ air yards – 30 NFL QBs threw more – highlighting the limitations of the offense.

He did, however, add 592 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground, offering a new dimension the Pats' offense.

That at least helped the Pats, with a strong offensive line, to a fourth-ranked rushing attack (147 YPG), though only two of their 20 rushing TDs were runs of 10+ yards

Newton went a solid but unspectacular 7-8, missing one game due to coronavirus, which he said had a lingering effect on his performance even after he had returned. 

On the whole, it was an offense that was tough to watch and while Newton may have underwhelmed, it was a very difficult situation in which to succeed.

Defense

The Patriots' defense was hit hard by COVID-19 opt outs, but the talent that remained combined with Belichick's coaching meant it was still a top-10 unit that was usually tough to move the ball against.

New England were seventh in points allowed (22.1) and while they were 15th in yardage (354 YPG), that ranking improved to eighth against the pass (222 YPG).

Stephon Gilmore was a Pro Bowl selection at cornerback for a unit that allowed seven TDs of 20+ yards, a figure bettered by just six teams.

The run defense struggled (26th in NFL at 131 YPG), forcing only 26 rushing plays to go for negative yardage – with only the Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs faring worse.

New England had 22 takeaways, close to the league average (21), though 24 sacks was way below the par score recorded by the rest of the NFL (35).

Chase Winovich led the team in sacks (5.5) as well as in combined QB knockdowns and hurries (44), but the Patriots did not have anyone in the top 40 in either category, making pass rush an area of need.

Offseason

Armed with a strong cap situation and a point to prove, Belichick embarked on a spending spree that went against the team's usual philosophy.

Whereas previously the second wave of free agency would have been targeted along with bargain veterans desperate to secure a ring, New England were aggressive in chasing some of the top names on the market.

Their tight end situation has been among the league's worst since the departure of Rob Gronkowski, but they doubled down at the position to land Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith.

Henry ranks sixth among tight ends with 1,265 yards since the start of the 2019 season, while only four TEs have more than the 11 TDs grabbed by the athletic Smith over that period.

Wide receiver Nelson Agholor arrived after a career year (896 yards) for the Las Vegas Raiders as the pass-catching options were significantly boosted, albeit amid some concerns over the size of the contracts handed out.

It is hoped Matt Judon (four years, $56m) can help bolster the pass rush. He is 25th in the NFL with 30.5 sacks since 2017 for the Baltimore Ravens, while linebacker Kyle Van Noy returned from the Miami Dolphins.

The biggest loss was guard and two-time Super Bowl winner Joe Thuney, who signed a huge five-year, $80m deal with the Chiefs after playing last season on the franchise tag, though a former Patriot offensive lineman - Trent Brown - was brought back in a trade with the Raiders.

Newton, meanwhile, returned on another team-friendly deal worth an initial $5m with incentives that could reach $13m, though that contract will not preclude the Patriots from making other moves at QB.

The talent on the roster has undoubtedly improved, giving the Pats some flexibility when they pick at number 15 in the draft.

A move to further strengthen at wide receiver would make sense, as would a cornerback to add to a group including Gilmore and J.C. Jackson, with the latter set to hit free agency in 2022.

But Belichick may have one more move up his sleeve at QB. With the top five options all in the mix to go in the top 10, he may have to move up the board, or perhaps a trade to bring Jimmy Garoppolo back appeals after the San Francisco 49ers jumped up the draft order themselves.

Life after Brady continues to be fascinating for the Pats.

While many NFL fans relished their 2020 downfall, followers of New England will settle for a solitary 7-9 season if that proves to be the worst of their struggles and a turnaround begins in 2021. 

With the return of Major League Baseball on Thursday already sparking excitement among fans across the world, could Tom Brady be suiting up on Opening Day next year?

Of course not! But the NFL superstar enjoyed pretending it was a possibility on April Fools' Day.

Brady was actually drafted by MLB's Montreal Expos in 1995 but did not sign with the team as he instead pursued a career in football.

That worked out quite well for the great quarterback, who last season claimed his seventh Super Bowl ring.

The Expos did not fare quite so well, with the Montreal franchise folding in 2004 and relocating to DC to become the Washington Nationals.

But Brady's hijinks on Thursday suggested he was ready for a sensational return - as player, coach and owner.

"With opening day today, excited to announce we're bringing the Expos back to the MLB in 2022," the Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB posted on Twitter.

"Excited to be the first player/coach/owner in MLB history."

That move would certainly not wash with the Bucs, who extended Brady's contract this offseason as they go for a second straight championship.

The 43-year-old will instead have to leave America's pastime to neighbours the Tampa Bay Rays, as they start their 2021 season against the Miami Marlins on Opening Day.

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said he would have "loved" for superstar Tom Brady to retire with the NFL franchise.

Brady left the Patriots for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020 after a trophy-laden two-decade spell in New England, where he won six Super Bowl titles.

The 43-year-old quarterback enjoyed immediate success with the Buccaneers, guiding Tampa Bay to victory in Super Bowl LV.

"Well look, I would've loved for him to have retired as a Patriot," Kraft said on Wednesday. "Everybody knew that. But in life, things just happen in a way that you have to balance a lot of things.

"After 20 years, I thought he was entitled to make a decision that was what he thought was best for him, and where he was at. And we gave him the ability to do that."

Brady signed a contract extension with the Bucs through 2022 after helping take down the Kansas City Chiefs.

He threw for 4,633 yards and 40 touchdowns with 12 interceptions, his passer rating of 102.2 his highest since his MVP season of 2017 (102.8) in his first season with the Bucs.

Only Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes had more completions of 20 yards or more than Brady's 63 as he experienced a revival as a downfield passer in Tampa.

It came as the Patriots struggled to fill Brady's void – Bill Belichick's team missing the postseason for the first time since 2008 with Cam Newton under center.

Kraft said: "Well, after 20 years … with any player, I'll make this commitment to any player in the future: Anyone who spends 20 years with us and helps us win six Super Bowls, we're not gonna keep — look, we could've, contract-wise, kept him in our camp. But it's just not the right thing.

"Naturally, we want to win. But who knows what would've happened if he stayed here? Look what happened at the end of his last season here."

"It's like marriages sometimes," Kraft added. "No one knows on the outside everything going on, and you try to balance a lot. You know …  It is what it is."

The Patriots have splashed the cash this offseason in an attempt to bounce back after a disappointing 2020 campaign.

Matthew Judon, Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Nelson Agholor and Jalen Mills are among the free-agent signings, but Kraft insisted New England's activity has nothing to do with Brady's success in Tampa.

"I mean, look, I love Tom Brady, and he's great. But he's moved on. What happened here last year was not something to our liking. And we had to make the corrections," Kraft said after the Patriots finished with a 7-9 record.

Rob Gronkowski will head back to Tampa Bay in 2021 as NFL champions the Buccaneers continue to reassemble their Super Bowl-winning team.

Five-time Pro Bowler Gronkowski returned to the NFL last season, a year on from his retirement with the New England Patriots.

The tight end was traded to the Bucs, joining fellow Pats great Tom Brady for a title challenge.

As so often in their time together in New England, the season ended in spectacular fashion for Gronkowski and Brady as they won the Super Bowl in their new home stadium in Tampa.

Gronkowski had been playing on a one-year, $10million contract, though, making him a free agent this offseason.

Monday saw negotiations start between teams and potential signings, and Gronkowski told The Ringer: "You just never know what may happen."

The four-time champion added he wanted "just to see what's out there".

But the 31-year-old did not take long to make his decision as ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Drew Rosenhaus, the player's agent, confirmed his return to the Bucs.

Gronkowski will play under the same terms again, signing for another season for $10m.

The former Patriot started all 16 regular-season games in 2020, although he was targeted only 77 times. He had 45 catches for 623 yards and seven touchdowns.

Gronkowski saved his best display for Super Bowl LV, however, with six receptions for 67 yards and two TDs in the dominant 31-9 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Of his 14 postseason scores – all of which have come from Brady passes, a playoff record – five have now come in Super Bowls.

The Bucs will hope to return to the big game next year after bringing back Gronkowski, along with fellow free agent Shaq Barrett, another key performer in the defeat of the Chiefs.

Brady last week extended his contract through 2022, meanwhile, as Tampa put the franchise tag on Chris Godwin.

Tom Brady led the tributes to Drew Brees after the New Orleans Saints quarterback announced his retirement from the NFL.

Brady and Brees have spent the past two decades at the summit of American football, but the latter has now called time on his career.

Seven-time Super Bowl champion Brady sits second in the list of all-time passing yards (79,204), trailing only Brees (80,358).

Brady, who this week extended his contract with champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, will almost certainly pass that mark in 2021, but Brees' extraordinary achievements over a 20-year career will not be forgotten.

Although his time in the NFL ended with defeat to Brady's Bucs in the 2020 playoffs, the Saints icon's great rival was keen to hail his outstanding achievements.

"Congrats my friend on an incredible career," Brady wrote on Twitter.

"Thank you for the inspiration and dedication on and off the field! Look forward to seeing what's next @drewbrees."

Congratulations followed from around the NFL, including from NFC South rivals Tampa Bay, who accompanied a picture of Brees and Brady with the message: "Congratulations on an incredible career, @drewbrees."

The Atlanta Falcons, another NFC South opponent, were glad to see the back of a great, posting: "We thank you, @drewbrees. But we won't miss you."

Tributes from within the Saints organisation were as heartfelt as anticipated, with Brees having complemented his on-field success – a single Super Bowl ring – with off-field contributions, playing a huge role in the relief effort following Hurricane Katrina.

New Orleans head coach Sean Payton said: "When I was hired by the Saints as head coach in 2006, the very first goal was to establish a functional and winning culture.

"In doing so, it was vital to know what we were looking for in a player; talent, work ethic, make-up, intelligence and leadership are all qualities we found in Drew Brees.

"We also found a player with a burning desire to win. Within a year, he helped lead our team to the club's first NFC Championship appearance.

"Throughout his career, his consistency and dedication to excellence were unparalleled.

"In a very short period of time, he would help lead a region to recovery and a team to a Super Bowl Championship.

"He was a magnificent leader both on and off the field. His attention to detail and competitive spirit were infectious.

"For all of us that have had the chance to coach him, it has been our privilege, we are better for it.

"I am forever grateful for what he has done for our team, our community and for me personally."

Owner Gayle Benson said Brees was "much more valuable than all the records, awards and accolades". Saints president Dennis Lauscha described him as "remarkable in all facets of his career".

"He has developed a lasting legacy not only as a player, but more importantly as a person," said general manager Mickey Loomis.

Tom Brady is staying with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the next two seasons, and in the front office of the Super Bowl champions they "couldn't be happier".

It emerged on Friday that 43-year-old Brady has agreed to stay with the Buccaneers through the 2022 season, after a stellar first year with the team.

The former New England Patriots quarterback landed a seventh Super Bowl ring when the Bucs became the first team in NFL history to lift the Lombardi Trophy at their home stadium, courtesy of a crushing 31-9 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Brady had 12 months remaining on the deal he signed in March 2020 and has officially signed a four-year extension to that, although three years of the deal are voidable ones included to help spread the cost of the contract.

Bucs general manager Jason Licht said: "When we acquired Tom a year ago, we were extremely excited about the leadership, poise and winning track record that he would bring to our locker room.

"Since that time, he has proven himself to be the ultimate competitor and delivered in every way we had imagined, helping us capture the Lombardi Trophy.

"Year after year, Tom proves that he remains one of the elite quarterbacks in this game and we couldn't be happier to keep him in Tampa Bay as we continue to pursue our goals together."

Brady threw for 4,633 yards and 40 touchdowns with 12 interceptions last season. Only Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers, with 48 TD passes, threw for more than Brady, who will be 45 when the 2022 season begins.

Tom Brady has signed a contract extension with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that will keep him with the team through 2022.

Brady agreed a two-year deal with the Buccaneers last offseason after making the stunning decision to end his two-decade spell with the New England Patriots, which saw him win six Super Bowl titles.

Even more staggering was Brady's success in his first year in Tampa, where he won his seventh Lombardi Trophy as the Bucs became the first team in NFL history to win the Super Bowl at their home stadium, ending the Kansas City Chiefs' hopes of retaining the title in a 31-9 rout.

And he will stay with the Bucs for at least the next two seasons.

Brady has officially signed a four-year extension; however, three years of the deal are voidable ones included to help spread the cost of the contract.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, it is a move that saves the Buccaneers $19million in salary cap space in an offseason where the cap has shrunk from $198.2m to $182.5m because of the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Brady will be 45 when the 2022 season, effectively the final year of this deal, begins. He has previously stated his desire to play until 45, though has also said he is open to continuing further into his forties.

After intially struggling to hit the ground running, Brady enjoyed a stellar maiden season with the Bucs.

He threw for 4,633 yards and 40 touchdowns with 12 interceptions, his passer rating of 102.2 his highest since his MVP season of 2017 (102.8).

Only Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes had more completions of 20 yards or more than Brady's 63 as he experienced a revival as a downfield passer in Tampa.

In the playoffs, he helped the Bucs come through a gauntlet, winning three games on the road to get to the Super Bowl. By defeating Mahomes and the Chiefs, the Bucs became the first team to win three games against former Super Bowl MVPs in the same postseason having also seen off Drew Brees and the Saints and Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.

Brady won his fifth Super Bowl MVP at Raymond James Stadium and will hope the extra financial flexibility his extension has given the Bucs can help him add to that tally over the next two seasons.

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