How Tom Brady joining Bucs makes 49ers' 2020 schedule less daunting

How Tom Brady joining Bucs makes 49ers' 2020 schedule less daunting

When the 49ers' 2020 opponents were announced, a few non-divisional games stuck out. Among them was a trip to Foxboro, Mass., to face the New England Patriots and Tom Brady. 

Then, as the offseason began churning, it seemed like a realistic possibility that Brady would leave New England for perceived greener pastures. Rumors that Brady could join the 49ers who would then send Jimmy Garoppolo back to the Patriots crept into the picture. As ludicrous as those rumors sounded, the thought of Brady the 49er leading his new team to face Garoppolo the born-again Patriot at Gillette Stadium was a juicy possibility. 

However, that storyline is one for fairytales and video game simulations. While Brady did announce Tuesday that we would indeed be leaving the Patriots, the six-time Super Bowl winner reportedly will be headed South to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and not West to be a 49er. 

While Brady joining the Bucs will give the 49ers another team to contend with in the NFC, it does deprive us of the Brady vs. Jimmy G showdown at their old stomping grounds that was three years in the making.

[RELATED: Brady to Bucs reminds us of Bay Area legends in odd jerseys]

Brady and the Bucs will face a tough road to the Super Bowl. After spending 20 years bullying the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins in the AFC East, Brady now moves to one of the most competitive divisions in football. He'll have to duel with Drew Brees and Matt Ryan each twice a season, and Matt Rhule's rebuilding Carolina Panthers are sure to be feisty even without Cam Newton. 

As for the 49ers, they'll have to avoid the "losing the Super Bowl" hangover in order to get back to the biggest game in sports. Only eight teams in NFL history have returned to the Super Bowl the year after suffering a loss with the Lombardi Trophy on the line and only three were victorious. Getting back to the playoffs hasn't even been a guarantee of late, as four of the last 10 teams to lose the Super Bowl have missed the playoffs the following season. 

If the 49ers can beat the hangover and make it through an NFC West -- that got even stronger with the Arizona Cardinals adding DeAndre Hopkins -- perhaps they'll see Brady and the Bucs in the playoffs. 

That's something we all can root for. 

DeAndre Hopkins, 49ers' new rival, says he's NFL's best wide receiver

DeAndre Hopkins, 49ers' new rival, says he's NFL's best wide receiver

One of the 49ers' newest rivals is coming to the NFC West with lots of confidence.

DeAndre Hopkins hasn't even suited up for the Arizona Cardinals yet, but he told ESPN's "Jalen & Jacoby Show" that he "definitely" is the best wide receiver in the NFL. 

"I know I'm the best," Hopkins said Thursday. "Mike's my boy. I love [New Orleans Saints wide receiver] Michael [Thomas] ... but he knows if I had Drew Brees my whole career what these numbers would be. [Falcons wide receiver] Julio Jones knows if I had Matt Ryan my whole career. That's my boy. I trained with Julio, too. He knows what these numbers would be."

Hopkins caught passes from Houston Texans star Deshaun Watson over the last two-and-half seasons before Hopkins was traded to the Cardinals this offseason, and Watson is no slouch as a quarterback. The 27-year-old receiver made First Team All-Pro in each of the last three seasons since Watson was drafted, catching 257 passes for 3,288 yards and 24 touchdowns in the QB's 37 career starts.

But Hopkins was great despite playing with numerous forgettable quarterbacks in four years before Watson arrived in Houston, making the Pro Bowl in 2015 after finishing third in receiving yards (1,521) and tied for seventh in TDs (11) while Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates and Brandon Weeden each started at least one game.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Hopkins won't have to worry about that in 2020, barring injury, as he's set to team up with up-and-coming star Kyler Murray in Kliff Kingsbury's high-octane offense. That combination has the potential to be a thorn in the 49ers' side for years to come.

If you agree with where Hopkins stands among the game's best wide receivers, he'll pose a threat to the 49ers this season. Thomas and Jones each carved up the 49ers' dominat defense last season, with both catching 11 or more passes for 134 yards and at least one touchdown. Of the receivers who accrued at least 100 receiving yards in a game against the 49ers, Thomas (13) and Jones (11) had the most receptions.

[RELATED: How Washington jumping gun on Williams benefited 49ers] 

Hopkins will have two chances to replicate his peers' production, and he'll be aided by arguably a better supporting cast of receivers. Larry Fitzgerald caught 75 passes for 804 yards as a 36-year-old last season, while Christian Kirk had 709 receiving yards himself. Fitzgerald has gained more receiving yards (2,381) and scored more touchdowns (19) against the 49ers than any other team in his career, while Kirk has scored two of his six career TDs (in two seasons) against San Francisco.

The All-Pro receiver's swagger alone won't knock the 49ers off their divisional perch, but Hopkins' arrival should keep them -- and their secondary -- up at night preparing for (at least) two games against the Cardinals this season. 

How 49ers' Trent Williams trade benefited from Washington jumping gun

How 49ers' Trent Williams trade benefited from Washington jumping gun

If Trent Williams is fully healthy and plays up to his ability, the 49ers got an absolute steal in only giving up a 2020 fifth-round pick and 2021 third-round selection in last month's trade with Washington. Had he played last season, it's highly unlikely San Francisco would have been able to acquire him for such a low cost.

And, thanks to Washington jumping the gun, he didn't.

Williams joined NFL Media's Ian Rapoport on the "RapSheet and Friends" podcast set to debut Friday and revealed that he was, in fact, prepared to suit up for Washington once he reported to the team after the trade deadline last season. But before his new helmet could arrive, Washington placed him on the reserve/non-football injury list, officially ending his season.

"The competitive juices started to flow, so I was really prepared to make my return last year," Williams told Rapoport. "I know all of the things that had went on and just being in that facility, being around teammates, being around the guys you fought with and bled with for some many years. It was almost impossible for me to fight the urge not to just want to get back on the field. I was literally waiting on my new helmet to come in. I was getting ready to kind of gear up and it was going to be somewhat of a surprise to some, but I think for the people who know me best, they know how competitive I am.

"... I was under the impression my new helmet was coming in that Tuesday, and then I was put on the NFI ... right before I could even get the helmet to get back out there. It was a bummer but figured it was just how it was supposed to work out."

[RELATED: 49ers help Williams by restructuring final year of contract]

It should be noted, Washington saved $6 million by placing Williams on the NFI. Of course, that likely was the final nail in the coffin for their relationship. 

Williams doesn't sound too upset about it. You can be sure the 49ers -- who now have arguably the NFL's best offensive tackle -- aren't either.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]