49ers

Kyle Shanahan picking Jimmy Garoppolo over Tom Brady was Bill Belichick's aim

Kyle Shanahan picking Jimmy Garoppolo over Tom Brady was Bill Belichick's aim

Editor’s note: Sports Uncovered, the newest podcast from NBC Sports, will shine a fresh light on some of the most notable moments and figures in sports. The sixth episode tells the story of "The Bill Belichick You Don't Know," profiling a different side of the New England Patriots' iconic coach.

Few in NFL history can claim to have done something Bill Belichick hasn't. Let alone, do something Belichick wanted to but couldn't.

Kyle Shanahan finds himself in that category after a 2020 NFL offseason that closed the books on the longest-running dynasty in sports. With Tom Brady wanting to come to the Bay Area and finish his career in San Francisco, Shanahan weighed the pros and cons of bringing in a 42-year-old Brady and shipping out Jimmy Garoppolo. In the end, Shanahan chose Garoppolo over Brady, believing he gives the 49ers the best chance to win a title.

A plan Belichick wanted to execute in New England a few years ago.

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For 20 years Belichick and Tom Brady ruled the NFL with an iron first. Both self-made, strong-willed men, Brady and Belichick put their differences aside in the name of winning, believing they were stronger together than apart. But, as is often the case, bitterness festered as the years went by. Belichick's harsh personality wore on Brady. Each wanted more credit for the success of their dynastic run. Each believed they had more to do with the six Super Bowl titles than their partner.

Belichick, known for being cold and calculated when building a roster, started to sense the end was near for Brady early in the last decade. He drafted Garoppolo with the 62nd overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Brady's successor was in place.

Brady threw a wrench into Belichick's plan and started swinging back at Father Time. The Patriots won their fourth Super Bowl during Garoppolo's rookie season, with Brady carving up the Seattle Seahawks' vaunted defense en route to a win (with some help from Pete Carroll). With Brady's competitive engine pushed to full throttle, Garoppolo was stapled to the bench as Brady continued his assault on Joe Montana's status as the GOAT.

Even with the Patriots back to winning Super Bowls, Belichick knew Brady's clock was ticking. He didn't want to be left holding the bag when the legendary quarterback went off the cliff.

With Brady suspended for the first four games of the 2017 season due to the Deflategate scandal, Garoppolo got his chance to lead the Patriots. He won his first two starts, throwing for 502 yards and four touchdowns. He suffered a shoulder injury in Week 2 and was unable to start the final two games of Brady's suspension.

Still, Belichick reportedly was ready to hand the keys over to Garoppolo. Brady, who had maintained he could play well into his 40s, wasn't close to hanging it up. Brady made it clear he had plans to be the team's franchise quarterback well into the future, something that owner Robert Kraft was more than happy to accept. It didn't sit well with Belichick, who had been grooming Garoppolo to take over, and the young quarterback was set to be a free agent after the 2017 season. Paying two quarterbacks starter money wasn't in the cards for the Patriots.

With conflict reportedly festering between Brady, Belichick and Kraft, Kraft ordered Belichick to trade Garoppolo, according to a report from ESPN's Seth Wickersham. The demand left Belichick dejected and furious that Kraft had intervened in football operations, per Wickersham's explosive report.

When Belichick called 49ers general manager John Lynch and the 49ers, he reportedly first offered Brady to the 49ers instead of Garoppolo, according to Bleacher Report's Matt Miller. Lynch previously has said he asked Belichick about Brady and got a laugh out of Belichick, We'll probably never know how everything went down.

Either way, it ended with Belichick shipping Garoppolo, the quarterback he wanted to start the next phase of his reign with, to San Francisco for pennies on the dollar. Make no mistake, Belichick was ready to move on from Brady for some time before the Garoppolo trade.

Belichick saw the writing on the wall, and knew Brady's play would drop off. The iconic coach doesn't feel nostalgia for the times of old, nor did he feel indebted to Brady. Football is a business. Bottom line. Belichick makes cold, calculated decisions better than most.

He wanted to choose Garoppolo over Brady. He wanted to win with Garoppolo and believed he could. He was denied the opportunity.

[RELATED: Brady became 49ers villain by being reminder of greatness lost, opportunities missed]

Two seasons after Garoppolo was shipped across the country, Brady packed up his bags and left the cold of 1 Patriot Place for the sunshine of Tampa Bay. He discarded the Patriot Way to enjoy his remaining years of football on one of the NFL's least iconic franchises.

It wasn't his first choice. Brady reportedly wanted to come home to the Bay, and bring a title to the franchise he cheered growing up. Once again the choice was between him and his former protege. Shanahan and Lynch discussed it, played out the scenarios and ended up walking the road Belichick wished he could travel.

They chose Garoppolo, fresh off a Super Bowl berth, over Brady, who has lifted the Lombardi Trophy six times.

It's not easy to say no to an icon. It's hard to turn your back on a GOAT. It's even more difficult to do so for a 28-year-old quarterback with only 26 career starts. It's a move Belichick, who rules with no personal attachment, was ready to make, believing he had gotten all he could from Brady and that it was in his and the Patriots' interest to put Garoppolo under center.

For Shanahan, his decision was based not on the idea that Brady was done, but in that Garoppolo has yet to reach his peak. The two share a bond, one found between offensive-minded head coaches and their quarterback. One Brady and the defensive-minded Belichick never fostered. Shanahan believes in Garoppolo and knows he can get better with another full year in the system under his belt.

Shanahan did what Belichick wanted to but couldn't. He chose Garoppolo over Brady.

Now, comes the hard part: Winning a title and proving that was the right decision.

How George Kittle's 49ers contract hurts another NFC contender's future

How George Kittle's 49ers contract hurts another NFC contender's future

Much like 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, Carson Wentz's top receiving threat on the Philadelphia Eagles happens to be a tight end. But while the former two got great news Thursday with the announcement of George Kittle's and Travis Kelce's respective contract extensions, the latter's future outlook became even darker than it was before.

At this point, it's very difficult to see how Wentz will have Zach Ertz to throw to beyond this coming season. And even if he does, that likely means the Eagles won't be competitive to begin with.

Kittle and Kelce unquestionably are the two premier tight ends in the league -- in that order -- and they're now paid accordingly with the two highest annual salaries ever at the position. There's a shortlist of players in discussion for the next-best tight end in the NFL, and Ertz is on it.

Like Kittle and Kelce prior to signing their extensions, Ertz is under contract beyond the upcoming season. And like Kittle and Kelce rightfully were, he reportedly is seeking a raise commensurate with his production.

However, that's unlikely to come from Philadelphia. The Eagles already were going to be in salary-cap hell next season, and that was before Kittle and Kelce obliterated the previous tight end market.

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The Eagles currently are projected to have over $262 million in cap liabilities for next season. Last month, the NFL and the NFL Players Association agreed that the 2021 salary cap wouldn't drop any lower than $175 million due to the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic. But regardless of whether the 2021 cap decreases or remains flat at $198 million, Philadelphia is going to have to cut costs to a significant degree.

Though Ertz carries a $12.4 million cap hit in 2021 in the final season of his current contract, he already seemed to be one of the most likely candidates to be cut by the Eagles, as doing so would create an additional $4.7 million in cap space. Not to mention, they already have a younger, cheaper and arguably better tight end in Dallas Goedert who makes Ertz somewhat redundant.

Assuming the Eagles actually do sign Ertz to an extension, though, that would in all likelihood increase their 2021 cap liabilities and remove their ability to create immediate cap space by cutting him. They're already going to have to part ways with some of the best players on their roster, and signing Ertz to the kind of deal he is looking for would further deplete their depth.

[RELATED: Kittle's record 49ers contract still a huge steal]

Now, the Eagles definitely could lower their 2021 cap liabilities with some creative maneuvering. Look no further than the Chiefs, who managed to sign Mahomes, Kelce and star defensive tackle Chris Jones to humongous contract extensions this offseason despite having exactly $171 in total cap space on March 30. That said, Kansas City was nowhere close to the kind of 2021 cap trouble that Philadelphia already finds itself in, and no matter how creative the Eagles get, it's not going to change the reality of the situation.

That reality would appear to be quite dark whether or not they keep Ertz around.

Tom Brady told Joe Montana Patriots didn't value input enough to stay

Tom Brady told Joe Montana Patriots didn't value input enough to stay

Perhaps nobody can relate to Tom Brady better than Joe Montana.

That might be as weird for Brady to read as it was seeing Montana play for Kansas City, considering Brady, a San Mateo native, grew up idolizing the Hall of Fame quarterback and rooting for the 49ers. But Brady has supplanted Dan Marino as sports radio callers' alternative to Montana in age-old "Which QB is better?" debates, and arguably has surpassed Montana as the greatest quarterback ever.

Brady, like Montana, will begin the twilight of his career in a uniform other than the one most associated with his journey to greatness. He signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency after spending two decades with the New England Patriots, and Brady told Montana he didn't think his input was valued enough by the Patriots.

"I think that was one of his beefs up there," Montana recalled to USA Today Sports' Mackenzie Salmon in an interview published Wednesday. "He told me, 'They ask my advice, I tell them and then they don't take it.' So, I think he would like a little bit of input and I think they'll probably let him have that, especially with the success he's had."

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Montana's two-season tenure with Kansas City is a blip on the NFL's historical record, but he wasn't a bust. Before Patrick Mahomes led the team to back-to-back AFC Championship Game appearances during the 2018 and '19 seasons (as well as a win in Super Bowl LIV), Montana was the only QB to lead Kansas City to an AFC Championship appearance since the first moon landing. Were it not for a concussion in the '93 conference championship, Montana might've helped Kansas City end its Super Bowl drought a quarter-century before Mahomes did. 

The Buccaneers would almost certainly take that, considering the franchise's anonymity since winning Super Bowl XXXVII. Montana thinks trading Foxboro's frigid winters for Tampa will do wonders for Brady's psyche.

"I think he's gonna have fun," Montana said. "He'll be in a better place for him mentally, he'll be happier and if you look at what they did offensively last year, they threw up some crazy numbers. So you add Tom into the mix and the big knucklehead tight end (Rob Gronkowski), and they'll be fun to watch."

[RELATED: Why Kittle's record 49ers contract still is a huge steal]

Brady, 45, is signed for as many years with Tampa Bay as Montana played with Kansas City. He already has two more Super Bowl rings (six) than his idol, and Brady will aim to top Montana once again by doing what he couldn't and winning a title with a second franchise.

If that happens, Brady and Montana might not end up with much left to relate to after all.