Tom Brady continues to ponder his NFL future but Luke Willson could see the veteran quarterback returning home for his 24th NFL campaign.
Brady, 45, completed his third season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and will become a free agent in 2023. Brady has said he remains undecided regarding whether he'll continue playing or retire and move into the broadcast booth, having signed with Fox Sports as a lead NFL analyst once he's thrown his final pass.
But should Brady continue playing, there's speculation the seven-time Super Bowl champion could reunite with Josh McDaniels. McDaniel completed his first season as the Las Vegas Raiders head coach but won six NFL titles with Brady in New England as an assistant coach.
Willson won a Super Bowl with Seattle over an eight-year NFL career as a tight end and is now a league analyst with TSN. He feels Brady could resurface with the San Francisco 49ers.
Brady hails from the Bay Area and grew up a 49ers fan.
San Francisco (13-4) visits Philadelphia (14-3) on Sunday in the NFC title game. The Eagles, led by MVP candidate Jalen Hurts at quarterback, tied the Kansas City Chiefs for the NFL's best regular-season record.
Kansas City faces the Cincinnati Bengals (12-4) in the AFC championship Sunday.
The 49ers have reeled off 12 straight wins, including playoff victories over Seattle (41-23) and Dallas (19-12). And that's despite losing quarterbacks Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo to injuries as rookie Brock Purdy, the last player taken in the '22 NFL draft, is 7-0 since replacing Garoppolo.
But Willson sees Philadelphia winning Sunday's game. Even if the 49ers emerge victorious, Willson figures only a Super Bowl victory would preclude the club from possibly looking at Brady.
"I think San Francisco is going to lose this weekend and (GM) John Lynch is going to be thinking to himself, 'We've been so close so many times. What are we missing?'" Willson said. "You look at Tom and he's got a situation where he can go in with the best defence in the NFL so they're going to win some games for him.
"He's got (running back) Christian McCaffrey, (receivers) Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk and (tight end) George Kittle."
Purdy's rapid maturation has prompted talk he could be ready to become the 49ers full-time starter as soon as next season. But Willson feels Purdy could do much worse than learn from a veteran like Brady.
"I agree and I'm totally on that," Willson said of the Purdy talk. "But my thought again is if (head coach) Kyle Shanahan ends up a couple of yards short (Sunday) or in the Super Bowl, now all of a sudden it's, 'We love Brock, we've seen what he can do. Let's bring in Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback ever, for a year.
"It would provide a storybook ending to (Brady's) illustrious career. I'm sure Brock would be disappointed ... but imagine going into your second year and you've already played a bunch and you get to spend your second year behind Tom and maybe be the starter in the third year? That's still a pretty good gig for our guy Brock."
After winning three Super Bowls with Brady in New England, tight end Rob Gronkowski came out of retirement to rejoin Brady with Tampa Bay. They helped the Buccaneers win an NFL title in 2021.
But if Brady lands in San Francisco, Willson doesn't see Gronkowski following suit with Kittle already there.
"Kittle is a physical tight end," Willson said. "Kittle kind of does many of the things Gronk does but better at this moment."
However, Willson could see a potential Brady-Gronkowski reunion in Las Vegas.
"Josh McDaniels is a guy who loves the two tight-end stuff,": Willson said. "Darren Waller is already there (with Raiders) but Waller and Gronk are two different players.
"I could see Gronk going there."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2023.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press