Editor's note: This story originally was published on March 26.
The No. 2 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft will go down as one of the biggest "what if?" moments for this era of football.
Chicago Bears fans no doubt are tired of hearing about how they swapped picks with the 49ers in order to draft quarterback Mitchell Trubisky instead of Deshaun Watson or 2018 MVP and Super Bowl LIV MVP Patrick Mahomes. The Bears deserve every jab and joke they receive from here until the end of time.
But ... what about the 49ers? Had they not swapped picks with the Bears -- and picked up three other picks in the process -- they could have selected their next franchise quarterback and the sliding-door effect would ripple throughout the NFL.
In NBC Sports Chicago's re-draft of the 2017 NFL Draft, they have the 49ers sticking at No. 2 and selecting Watson after Mahomes, obviously, was taken first overall by the Cleveland Browns. With sports paused and the only thing to keep us busy being podcasts, classic games and household chores, let us dive into this alternate reality where the 49ers draft Watson and see how the NFL world has changed.
With Watson at the helm in Kyle Shanahan's first year as head coach, the 49ers don't lose their first nine games. Watson's magic manifests itself early and he leads the 49ers to a 3-6 record through nine games. Facing an upward trajectory with a young stud quarterback, the 49ers don't receive a trade deadline call from Bill Belichick offering Jimmy Garoppolo or Tom Brady, rumors depending.
Instead, Belichick calls his old friend Bill O'Brien, who still needs a quarterback in Houston, and sends him Garoppolo for a first-round pick in 2018 (O'Brien still doesn't know how trades work in this universe). The Patriots then package the No. 4 overall pick and their own first-round pick to move up to No. 1 and select Baker Mayfield -- who Belichick reportedly loved -- to be the Pats' quarterback of the future.
Back in the Bay, the 49ers, led by Watson and Shanahan's genius, finish the season 5-2, including a win over the Seattle Seahawks in Week 10. They head into the offseason with a lot of hope for what could be a special 2018 season.
Still owning their second-round pick which never was traded for Garoppolo, the 49ers draft Dallas Goedert in the second round (since George Kittle was selected No. 4 overall in this alternate 2017 re-draft universe).
Watson opens the 2018 season on a tear, reeling off six straight wins to open the season, and doesn't suffer the same fate as Jimmy Garoppolo did in Week 3 against the Kansas City Chiefs. They enter Week 7 against the undefeated rival Los Angeles Rams looking to make a statement, but their defense can't slow down a healthy Todd Gurley in a 31-17 loss.
They finish the season 10-6, good enough for the second wild-card spot. With the Bears not having the 2018 Trubisky magic dust sprinkled on them, Kirk Cousins -- the 49ers QB who never was -- leads the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC North title. The 49ers' playoff run is short-lived as the Vikings bounce them out with a 28-13 win.
The 10-6 record no longer has the 49ers draft No. 2 overall in 2019, but Nick Bosa still packs his bags for the Bay, as the Raiders move up one spot from now-No. 3 to No. 2 to take the generational pass-rusher they sorely needed.
The 49ers, needing wide receiver help badly, draft Ole Miss's A.J. Brown with the No. 22 overall pick, believing their scouts have a better beat on the Ole Miss prospect than others. They still draft Deebo Samuel in the second round, and now Shanahan has all the toys he could want in Brown, Samuel, Goedert, Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman and Kendrick Bourne.
Buoyed by the MVP-caliber play of Watson and a Pro Bowl season from Goedert, the 49ers' offense rips through almost every team in its path en route to a 14-2 season and an NFC West title. They still make the trade for Emmanuel Sanders, seeing an opportunity to create the most explosive passing attack in the NFL by adding the veteran receiver.
While the defense isn't as dominant without Bosa, the combination of DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Dee Ford still do a ton of damage. The 49ers exact revenge on Cousins and the Vikings in the NFC Divisional Round and curb stomp Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game.
With Mahomes in Cleveland and not Kansas City, the Chiefs aren't what's awaiting the 49ers in Miami. Instead, it's Tom Brady and the Patriots, looking for Super Bowl No. 7 after dispatching Garoppolo and the Texans in the AFC Championship Game.
Watson and Brady duel deep into the night in South Florida, but the 42-year-old hits Julian Edelman for a 19-yard touchdown with 31 seconds left, giving the Patriots a 34-31 win.
After the game, Brady is mum on his future but knows Mayfield is waiting in the wings.
A free agent, Brady reaches out to his hometown 49ers but is quickly rebuffed after Watson finished second in MVP voting to Lamar Jackson.
With Chris Godwin no longer in Tampa due to the 2017 re-draft, Brady elects to be the poster child for the Las Vegas Raiders, who have an up-and-coming defense spearheaded by Bosa, Malik Hooker (2017 re-draft) and Trayvon Mullen. Jon Gruden promises to get Brady some weapons and promptly fleeces Bill O'Brien for DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller, leaving Garoppolo to deal with O'Brien by himself.
Entering the 2020 season, it's expected to be another duel between Watson and Brady for the Lombardi Trophy.
Watson and Shanahan are the NFL's top QB-coach duo and are primed to be kings of the NFC for years to come. The Bears still don't have a quarterback.
We now return you to reality where Brady is a Buc, Bosa, Garoppolo and Shanahan are looking forward to a Super Bowl revenge tour in San Francisco, Watson is trying to get away from O'Brien, Gruden is rolling with Derek Carr again and the Bears ... still don't have a quarterback (sorry, Nick Foles).
It was a fun exercise, though.