49ers Twitter was set ablaze by the rumors/theories/speculations that, perhaps, Tom Brady might un-retire and come to San Francisco for one last ride. His love of the Niners, as a child of the Bay Area, is well documented.
Most recently, in the docu-series Joe Montana: Cool Under Pressure, in which he talks glowingly about the team and shares his story of being at Candlestick for “The Catch” at age four.
This sprint through the rumor mill took off after Brady mentioned on his podcast, Let’s Go, that he is currently at peace with his decision to step away but doesn’t know how he’ll feel six months from now. He also specifically said, “Never say never,” when asked point-blank about a possible return to the league.
Simultaneously, things were kicked into hyperdrive when Scott Zolak, former Patriots quarterback and Boston radio guy, laid out his take on the situation. He believes that Brady is “focused on” joining the 49ers. “He’s been focused on it for two years, and they’ve gotta deal with Jimmy, and he knows that Lance isn’t ready, he knows that team is built to win now...”
Put this all together, and you’ve got a bona fide connect-the-dots string-on-a-corkboard hypothesis. It’s a matter of record that Brady’s first choice in free agency had been the Niners post-2019 Super Bowl run and that the team did extensive research on him. He’s always loved the team, and they do fit the mold of win now after an NFC Championship game appearance. Maybe this isn’t so crazy.
Let’s hold right there for a second, though. When you start to look at the realities of the situation, this just doesn’t quite add up. I believe there are three reasons that Tom Brady will not be suiting up for the Niners next year. However, I’ll happily accept my #OldTakesExposed backlash if we get to that point because, I mean, it’s Tom Brady, after all.
The Possible Tom Brady-Jimmy G Swap
First things first, and this has been bugging me well before the GOAT of it all came up, why would the Bucs want to trade for Jimmy G? They’ve been listed as a possible landing spot since the retirement news broke, but I’m sorry, have you seen how that offense runs? Do you remember how the Cardinals operated under Bruce Arians when he had Carson Palmer?
Those teams love long-developing pass plays that attack deep downfield. Is there anything less suited to Jimmy’s skill set?
Even recently, as Brady did begin to target more underneath passes, he still managed to lead the league in passing yards and touchdowns. Building a pass-happy offense around Jimmy Garoppolo would take an entire overhaul of the Bucs' current offense. I imagine Arians would have some choice words for Jimmy after one too many deep balls sail over Mike Evans’ head.
Plus, there’s all the cap gymnastics to figure out. The Bucs would incur a 32+ mil cap hit for trading Brady before June 1st. I don’t see that happening, and I would bet the Niners don’t want to wait until the summer to deal Jimmy. Ideally, they’ll garner a return to bolster this year’s draft class, which figures to be vital in keeping a championship window open, depending on which free agents stay or walk.
Sure, on the other hand, Brady would only cost the Niners around 10 million for next season, and he could elevate the roster singlehandedly. But flipping Jimmy for Brady only saves the team about 10 million, as opposed to 20+, if they stick with Lance. Is that enough to execute mega-deals for Nick Bosa, Deebo Samuel and re-sign some of those more valuable role-playing free agents?
Tom Brady Sounds Done
Obviously, he said, “never say never,” but some of his earlier clips after the Bucs lost tell a different story. Brady might actually be the first athlete who we are seeing go through a true midlife crisis. When first discussing the possibility of his retirement, Brady said, “We think we are going to live forever. We’re not. We think we are going to play forever. We’re not.” That sounds like a man grappling with his own mortality, which, frankly, bums me out.
He further explained that he needs to be there for his wife and kids and how much it hurts them to see the physical toll that football takes on his body. I mean, my God, he’s not 38 anymore; he’s 44 and will be 45 by the time the season starts! It must be difficult to maintain that level of focus and dedication when you’ve been playing professionally longer than some rookies have been alive.
Besides, this just feels like the right time to step away. He’s won a Super Bowl without Belichick and the Patriots while performing at an insanely high level in his final season. He actually, somewhat quietly, posted the third-highest yard's total for a season in 2021. The Bucs stayed competitive, and his final moments on a field will be putting a scare into the Rams by orchestrating a comeback from 27-3. It’s certainly not a sour note of someone who tried to hold on a little too long.
Trey Lance is the Future
If the Niners were content to stick with Jimmy Garoppolo after a Super Bowl run instead of signing Brady, how do you think they’d feel about a two-year older Brady stacked against the rookie that they dealt three first-round picks to acquire? That’s not to discount the value that Brady could immediately bring to the building, but I just don’t see this staff turning around to grab him after they’ve seemingly made all the preparations for Lance’s ascension.
Lance will still have to adjust to the NFL next season, and that could be bumpy at times, but his youth and upside are currently his two most valuable assets. Would you burn another year of rookie contract flexibility if you think he’s good enough to make a run for a division title or more? You only answer affirmatively if you believe Brady gives you a higher ceiling for that one year. Remember the downside of that, quarterbacks tend to fall off a cliff, and just because Brady hasn’t yet, doesn’t mean he won’t.
Meanwhile, Lance brings a year in the system, plus another full off-season under his belt by the time 2022 will kick-off. He’s big, fast, strong, and adds a dimension the Niners have lacked under Jimmy G and would lack under Brady.
Shanahan clearly seems ready to cook up some running plays for his mobile QB and running plays that playoff teams expect Lance to run. The Anthony Lynn hire points to a team ready to run the ball, protect its young QB, and control the game. To change course now would seem foolhardy, at best, and negligent, at worst.