Tom Brady is now in Year 2 of his Tampa Bay Buccaneers career and it has been a roaring success. The immortal signal-caller looks as young as he ever has, winning the Super Bowl last year and losing only one game in the first six weeks of the 2021 season.
It is still easy to wonder what could have been, though. Brady's free agency was only a year and a half ago. He could have signed with just about any team in the league and yet picked the one whose roster accentuated his strengths so perfectly that it led to a championship in Year 1.
This week, we learned of another alternative reality for Brady. In his new book, ESPN's Seth Wickersham delved into the QB's free agency and revealed what many suspected but no one could confirm: the San Francisco 49ers had their chance at Brady, and chose Jimmy Garoppolo instead. Per Wickersham:
[Brady] reached out to Wes Welker, who was now the 49ers’ receivers coach, and let him know that if San Francisco was interested, it would be his choice—no free-agency tour, no bidding war, full stop; he would end his career where his love of football began, in scarlet and gold, allowing his parents to drive to games for the first time since the 1990s.
But then, almost as fast as the 49ers’ interest in Brady rose, it died. The coaches liked Brady’s film—but didn’t love it. He was better than Garoppolo, they thought, but not that much better—not so much that it was worth trading away a locker-room leader, not to mention one who was nearly 15 years younger and coming off a Super Bowl appearance. A few days before free agency began, the 49ers decided to stick with their guy. This time, Garoppolo won.
Yikes. That is a franchise-altering decision that will haunt the Niners for a long time if Jimmy G never returns to the heights he reached in 2019.
You can see where they were coming from, admittedly. Brady's 2019 season was the first time he ever looked anywhere near his age. We realize now that was mostly due to the Patriots' awful roster, but at the time one could be convinced the decline had finally arrived. Garoppolo has always had his warts but made every throw he needed to in order for the Niners to win games until the final two minutes of the Super Bowl against the Chiefs. He was familiar to the coaching staff, and Brady's arrival would upend the entire hierarchy Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch had spent years establishing. It's not quite preferring the devil they did know to the devil they didn't, but it's the same sentiment.
Obviously that was a massive mistake. Garoppolo played six games in 2020 and has already missed two in 2021. We all saw what Brady did. Maybe things wouldn't have turned out the same for the Niners as it did with the Bucs with the addition of the greatest quarterback ever. Winning a Super Bowl is not easy. But San Francisco will be forced to wonder what if for a long time.