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Tom Brady to the San Francisco 49ers? Unlikely, but not impossible

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) passes under pressure from San Francisco 49ers linebackers Samson Ebukam (56) and Dre Greenlaw (57) during the first quarter of a National Football League game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. on Dec. 11, 2022. | Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

If Brock Purdy does indeed need elbow surgery and the San Francisco 49ers continue their revolving door of injured quarterbacks, could the team turn to 45-year-old local boy Tom Brady for one last hurrah?

Multiple analysts are connecting the dots. An anonymous NFL executive spoke to Mike Sando of The Athletic and predicted the 49ers will sign Brady and trade Trey Lance to the Tennessee Titans, while Keyshawn Johnson has been beating the Brady-to-the-49ers drum on multiple ESPN shows.

On one hand, it would make sense. If Brady’s in pursuit of an eighth championship, the best place to do it would be on a roster loaded with talent at every possible position. Very rarely does a team with uncertainty at quarterback and no draft pick until the end of the third round have such a promising outlook, but that’s where the 49ers stand.

As nice as it would be for Brady, and as poetic as it would be for him to finish his career some 25 miles from where he grew up in San Mateo, would it be practical for the team? He limped through the 2022 season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, posting a career-worst 52.5 QBR. When his Bucs visited Levi’s Stadium in Week 14, he was intercepted twice as San Francisco rolled to a 35-7 win. He’s made a habit of playing his best whenever it looks like the game’s passed him by, but the clock may be ticking.

Then there’s the matter of continuity. Unless Brady has access to the Fountain of Youth, he physically can’t have more than a couple of years left. George Blanda, the oldest player in NFL history, threw his final pass at 48, and he was mostly a kicker at that point. Blanda wasn’t a regular starting QB past his age-39 season, and his final game as a starter came at 41. A fairer comparison would be to Vinny Testaverde, who started seven games for the 2007 Carolina Panthers, including three after his 44th birthday.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy (13) of the San Francisco 49ers talks with Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) after their National Football League game at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara on Dec. 11, 2022. | Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Even if Purdy’s a complete non-factor for the 2023 season, there are still other in-house options to deal with. Lance is expected to heal from his ankle injuries in time for the season, and though other options seem to have rocketed past him on the depth chart, the Niners still invested a lot of resources in the North Dakota State product. He’ll only be 23 when the season begins, and he was the third overall pick in 2021—a pick that cost San Francisco two other first-rounders.

Moving on from Lance would leave the 49ers with egg on their faces. His value can’t be high after making just four starts in two years and suffering a season-ending ankle injury in the last of those four starts. The team could shrug it off and cut their losses, acknowledging a rare misstep in what’s otherwise been a chain of excellent moves. Tennessee would be a sensible landing spot, as the anonymous executive predicted, considering the Titans just hired Ran Carthon as general manager. Carthon had spent the last six seasons working for San Francisco, including the last two as the team’s director of player personnel.

As for Jimmy Garoppolo, he’ll be a free agent this offseason, leaving one less signal-caller for general manager John Lynch to deal with. If he leaves in free agency, rather than via the trade that fans had anticipated for two years, will Portuguese artist Rita Carvalho keep drawing him every day?

Ultimately, the quarterback position isn’t going to be a sure thing for the 49ers for a while, unless Purdy recovers without surgery and continues the form he demonstrated to end the 2022 season. Brady’s just one possible option, and a longshot at that. But it’s fun to consider.