Jimmy Garoppolo was drafted to become the eventual replacement for arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history, but that ultimately wasn't in the cards. The New England Patriots had enough confidence in a 40-year-old Tom Brady to continue to get the job done, and Garoppolo was made expendable as a result.
Neither the 49ers nor Patriots -- nor the two quarterbacks for that matter -- likely regret how that all transpired. San Francisco was able to acquire Garoppolo from New England for a second-round draft pick, giving the 49ers the franchise quarterback they so desperately needed, and providing Jimmy G with the opportunity he had been waiting for. The Patriots, meanwhile, won 36 regular-season games and made two Super Bowl appearances (winning one) with Brady over the next three seasons.
But what if the Patriots had gone in the opposite direction? What if, instead of sticking with Brady, they had handed the keys over to Garoppolo? Would they have won a Super Bowl with Jimmy G under center?
"I'd probably say yes," NBC Sports' Chris Simms told NBC Sports Bay Area. "The New England Patriots, it's bigger than Tom Brady. When Tom Brady wasn't playing, they were 14-6 without him, so it's not like that team would have fell off planet Earth. In the year that Brady served his four-game suspension for Deflategate, Garoppolo was phenomenal in the first two football games. He really was. So, yes, I would say yes, and of course we see how close he got last year and all of that. But they drafted him to be the heir apparent for Tom Brady. There's no doubt about that.
"When they drafted him in the 2014 draft, in the years prior to that -- in 2011, '12, '13 -- Tom Brady was very average. They didn't draft Jimmy Garoppolo because they were like, 'Brady's still the best quarterback in football, let's draft Garoppolo just to sit on the bench for five years.' No, they drafted him because they were going, 'Damn, is this the end with Tom Brady?' And Brady really straightened out his throwing motion and a lot of issues he had in his game that people didn't notice in 2014 and kind of reinvented himself, to then they got to the point where like, 'Wait, Brady's still good here. We don't need him anymore' -- Jimmy Garoppolo, that is. And that's how he ended up in San Francisco."
As historically great as Brady's tenure with New England was, it's difficult to disagree with Simms' assessment. Yes, Brady was the most important player on those Patriots teams, but they often had tremendous rosters that were overseen by arguably the greatest head coach in league history. Garoppolo was a major reason why the 49ers made it to the Super Bowl last season, and one would assume Bill Belichick -- who handpicked Garoppolo to be Brady's replacement -- would have been able to coax greatness out of him.
Also, let's not forget the age factor. While the 43-year-old Brady has since moved on to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Garoppolo, 28, has just entered his prime. We have to assume that the Patriots would have re-signed Jimmy G to a long-term contract extension once they opted for him over Brady, and there's a good chance he would still be New England's starting quarterback today -- and perhaps for many more seasons to come.
Garoppolo came within minutes of winning his first Super Bowl as a starter last season. Had he been the focal point of one of the greatest dynasties in NFL history, he might already have crossed that off his list.