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.
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.