The San Francisco 49ers are in the NFC Championship Game for the second time in three years. The accomplishment is an incredible one considering the parity of today’s NFL, but what the Niners might have achieved to this point with a Hall of Fame QB under center is a question worth asking.
That question becomes more relevant with each passing game that the Niners appear to win more in spite of, rather than because of, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. There are ride-or-die Garoppolo fans in Niners Nation and more power to them. No one can argue the success San Francisco has had with him under center, amassing a 31-14 regular season record over five seasons.
The Niners are also 4-1 over the two playoff runs (2019 and 2021) with Garoppolo under center, as they stand on the precipice of yet another Super Bowl appearance. But Garoppolo has thrown just 2 TDs to 5 INTs over the course of those five playoff games, and the San Francisco offense has scored just 18 points per contest through two postseason wins this year.
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This Niners team is loaded on the defensive side of the ball. Not to mention it has one of the most unique talents in all of the NFL at its disposal in wide receiver Deebo Samuel to pair alongside All-Pro tight end George Kittle. Garoppolo has been serviceable, but the notion that this roster could do even more with a better quarterback can not be argued.
Could Brady Be on the Way Out in Tampa Bay?
The Bucs dropped a heartbreaker to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, January 23 after erasing a 24-point deficit in the second half only to lose on a game-clinching field goal off the foot of Matt Gay as time expired.
The defeat ended the Bucs’ season in the Divisional Round of the NFC playoffs and based on Brady’s own words, may have ended his tenure in the NFL. Brady appeared on the weekly version of his “Let’s Go!” podcast with Jim Gray on Monday, January 24 and spoke about both retirement and mortality in ways never before heard during his 22-year NFL career.
We never know what’s going to happen in the future. We really don’t.
I mean, Kobe Bryant, a friend of ours, God rest his soul. You think you’re going to live forever, we’re not. We think we’re going to play forever, we’re not. What can we do? We can enjoy the moments that we have. As difficult as it was to lose the game, I was glad I played in it and I was glad I was a part of it.
As I’ve gotten older, I think the best part is, football is extremely important in my life and it means a lot to me. And the biggest difference now that I’m older is I have kids now, too, and I care about them a lot, as well.
They’ve been my biggest supporters, my wife is my biggest supporter. It pains her to see me get hit out there and she deserves what she needs from me as a husband. My kids deserve what they need from me as a dad.
While Brady spoke of finality, Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio raised another thought — that arguably the greatest QB in NFL history isn’t interested in retirement, he’s just interested in playing for another team.
“Here’s another possibility, one that is pure speculation but can’t be ignored,” Florio said Monday. “What if Brady is hoping to wiggle out of Tampa and go to a team that he thinks will be better suited to get him to his eighth Super Bowl win?
“We don’t know the truth about this because Brady would never admit to it,” Florio continued. “Given the current gap between the Rams and Buccaneers, however, it’s hard not to wonder whether Brady, if he continues to play, will want to roll another set of loaded dice.”
Florio Floats 49ers as Potential Brady Destination
Florio went on to suggest the 49ers as a possible landing spot for Brady. The more the notion is considered, the more sense it makes — at least for the quarterback.
The Bucs had holes on defense, particularly in the secondary, and wideout weapons Antonio Brown and Chris Godwin aren’t likely to be back next year. Brown was dismissed from the team for behavioral reasons prior to the end of the regular season, while Godwin suffered a torn ACL and qualifies as an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Furthermore, Bucs tight end Rob Gronkowski, arguably Brady’s favorite target, has shed doubt on whether he will return to play again in 2022.
At this point in their careers, Kittle is probably a better version of Gronkowski and Samuel is at least a younger, less volatile and more versatile version of Brown. The Niners have a good running back in rookie Elijah Mitchell and boasted the 8th-ranked defense during the regular season, per Pro Football Focus.
The Niners moved up in the 2021 NFL Draft to select quarterback Trey Lance third overall, but Lance doesn’t even turn 22 years old until May and couldn’t beat out Garoppolo to get on the field during his rookie campaign.
San Francisco isn’t likely to trade Lance given they might only get one or two years out of Brady in this hypothetical scenario, but they could send Garoppolo as a bridge to the next starter in Tampa Bay. He has one year left on his contract before becoming an unrestricted free agent after next season.
“[Brady’s] first choice two years ago was San Francisco,” Florio said. “[They passed.] How about a year for Brady, as Trey Lance continues to develop? Lance would get to watch and learn from the best ever for a year. And the 49ers, a final-four team despite having a quarterback who isn’t even in the top 20, could add Brady to a highly-talented roster and a brilliant coaching staff, and finally get their sixth Super Bowl win.”