In times of crisis, many turn to the familiar to offer them comfort. A seismic shift in one's life can send you running back to a past flame or moving to a city you once felt whole.
The same is often true of sports teams and their fan bases. There's no doubt that the New England Patriots currently find themselves at a crisis point. Tom Brady flew south last offseason and now is preparing to play in his 10th Super Bowl, this time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Patriots gave the keys to the offense to Cam Newton on a one-year trial basis. Things didn't pan out.
So, as the Patriots search for any reasonable answer to solve their quarterback conundrum, it's no surprise that the former heir to the throne is high on the list of potential solutions. Jimmy Garoppolo, after all, once was Bill Belichick's plan to extend the dynasty after Brady's exit. But Brady outplayed his expiration date (as he continues to do) and the Patriots were forced to trade Garoppolo, eventually sending him to the 49ers for a second-round pick.
Garoppolo led the 49ers to the Super Bowl 12 months ago. But his inability to seal the deal against Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs -- who Brady will face Sunday in Super Bowl LV -- opened the door to widespread speculation that head coach Kyle Shanahan prefers a different long-term answer under center.
There, of course, is some truth to that. The 49ers openly examined the possibility of signing Brady last offseason and Shanahan's frustration with some aspects of Garoppolo's play has been notable.
While 1 Patriot Place and its inhabitants might view Garoppolo as their best option to leap back into the Super Bowl picture (at least on the fringes), the chances of Garoppolo heading back east this offseason are slim. There really only are two very unlikely scenarios that see Garoppolo suiting up in navy instead of red next fall.
The 49ers can cut Garoppolo this offseason for a cap penalty of $2.8 million. That's basically nothing in the NFL world. But the only way Garoppolo hits the free-agent market is if the 49ers find and secure a better option at quarterback.
The list of potential options is dwindling. The 49ers reportedly had initial discussions with the Detroit Lions to acquire Matthew Stafford, but San Francisco never made a formal offer and Stafford was shipped to the Los Angeles Rams. Matt Ryan reportedly will return as the starter for the Atlanta Falcons.
Derek Carr and Kirk Cousins might be available, but they aren't clear upgrades from Garoppolo. Sam Darnold could be a potential option but all signs point to new head coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur wanting to give the 2018 No. 3 overall pick a full season in their system.
That basically leaves the 49ers with two options: Either make the Houston Texans an offer they can't refuse for Deshaun Watson, or bring back Garoppolo and bolster the roster holes around him.
As of right now, the Texans reportedly aren't interested in trading Watson (why would they be?), and any deal for the 25-year-old star likely would cost the 49ers two or three first-round draft picks, a second-round pick and Nick Bosa. Watson is worth that, in my opinion, but any deal feels unlikely at this point.
The second scenario in which Garoppolo heads back to his old stomping grounds is even less likely.
If the Patriots really do target Garoppolo as their desired trigger-man, could the 49ers work out a deal that sends Garoppolo and a second-round pick (No. 44 overall) to the Patriots for New England's first-round pick (No. 15)?
It seems unlikely, as the Patriots have a number of other issues to address outside of quarterback. However, we know Belichick the general manager has a penchant to trade down in the draft and doesn't value first-round picks as much as some other GMs. If the 49ers send Belichick the quarterback he wanted to take the reins from Brady and a second-round pick -- giving the Patriots two picks in the top 50 -- they might be able to add a second first-round draft pick. Perhaps they'd have to throw in another later round pick to secure the deal, but owning the No. 12 and No. 15 picks would give the 49ers a number of options in the draft.
They could package both picks in order to try and move up to select Zach Wilson or Justin Fields. Both Wilson and Fields are incredible talents with the tools to thrive in the new age of the NFL. The 49ers also could hope that Trey Lance slides down to them at No. 12 and then they could select either a cornerback, interior offensive lineman or edge rusher at No. 15. Should Lance go before No. 12 -- something that is now in doubt after the Lions' acquisition of Jared Goff -- the 49ers could select a top corner -- Patrick Surtain, Caleb Farley or Jaycee Horn -- and then use the No. 15 pick on Alabama quarterback Mac Jones.
Jones is the type of quarterback who could thrive in Shanahan's system. He's very accurate on short and intermediate throws, tosses a good deep ball and has a high football IQ. He just recorded the best season for a Power Five quarterback in Pro Football Focus history, topping the mark set by Joe Burrow last season. The 6-foot-3 junior led the nation in completion percentage (77 percent) and adjusted completion percentage (86.3). He's accurate and efficient to all three levels of the field. ranking fifth in the country on accuracy when targeting a receiver 20 or more yards downfield (64.7 percent). Jones isn't a perfect prospect, but he will rise up draft boards and would allow the 49ers to prioritize cornerback or offensive line at No. 12 while answering the QB question three picks later.
Garoppolo's potential return to New England will continue to be discussed -- and lusted over by those under feet of snow in the Northeast -- until Shanahan and general manager John Lynch restructure Garoppolo's contract, signaling he will be their man in 2021.
Garoppolo was supposed to be the heir to Brady's throne. It's a vision that still dances in the heads of many with Patriots blood coursing through their veins. There's no doubt Belichick envisions a world in which Brady exited gracefully, turning the keys over to Garoppolo and the dynasty marched on.
Perhaps in another multiverse, that string of events played out.
But here, in the real world, Garoppolo is a 49er. He'll continue to be so unless the unlikely becomes reality.