With his fifth Super Bowl win (in seven appearances), Tom Brady made history this past season with the New England Patriots. No quarterback has been to, or won, as many Super Bowls as Brady, and only Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw have four. But what if history was different? What if Tom Brady did not play for the Patriots? As everyone knows, Tom Brady was drafted in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft which means every team in the NFL passed on him numerous times. That also means that every single team in the NFL could have ended up with Brady. The question then is; what if any one of those teams had decided to take a shot on him earlier in the draft? Of the different situations Brady could have been drafted into, the Patriots one seems to be ideal. They did not need him, they did not plan to use him anytime soon, so they could patiently develop him and figure out gradually if he had what it took to play in the NFL. What other teams could have offered a similar, low stress beginning to his career? This is in contrast to the more common situations highly drafted QBs find themselves in, with lofty expectations, and pressure to live up to their draft position. Which teams may have needed Brady to jump directly into the fray, and would that have worked? Depending on the situation, could any other team have had the same success with Brady as the Patriots? Would Brady still have five Super Bowl wins? Would he have more? Would he have none? We will investigate what could have happened with 15 different teams if they had selected him in the Alternate Histories of Tom Brady.
15 St. Louis Rams
We start our alternate histories with the team that made the 198th selection in the 2000 NFL Draft, the one right before the Patriots chose Tom Brady, the St Louis Rams. If the Rams had taken Brady instead of Matt Bowen, history would have been drastically altered just two years later. In 2001, the Rams were riding high with the ‘Greatest Show on Turf.’ Like the 2000 Patriots, they did not need a quarterback, so taking Brady would have been the same sort of late round flyer. With Kurt Warner at the controls, and Marshall Faulk dominating on the ground and out of the backfield, the Rams made it to Super Bowl XXXVI at the end of the 2001 season. As we all know, they narrowly lost to the Patriots, lead by Tom Brady. The Patriots would never have been there without Brady, however, who had taken over for Drew Bledsoe when he was injured, which means the Rams would have won their second Super Bowl. Brady would have then replaced Kurt Warner the following year when he was injured, and the ‘Greatest Show on Turf’ may have continued for much of the next decade, rather than sputtering out when Warner moved on and Faulk slowly declined.
14 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers fielded some of the best defenses in the NFL for much of the first decade of the 21st century. They had top 10 defenses nine times between 2000 and 2010 while having mostly below average, or worse, offenses. They won a Super Bowl with Brad Johnson so you can only imagine what they could have done with Tom Brady. Tampa grabbed a QB 35 picks after Brady in 2000, but they could have gotten Brady six picks before the Patriots instead. If the Buccaneers had Brady, their victory in Super Bowl XXXVII would have remained, but better quarterback play would have helped their defenses make the team a contender, and probably given them a few more shots at the Super Bowl over the next decade. We also could have seen a Jon Gruden and Brady coach-QB combo that may have rivaled that of Brady-Belichick. One other perk of this alternate history is we could have all been spared from Jon Gruden on Monday Night Football.
13 Buffalo Bills
The first decade of the 21st century was spent in mediocrity for the Buffalo Bills. They had one good quarterback, Drew Bledsoe. If they would have drafted Tom Brady, Bledsoe would never have come to Buffalo, but the Bills could have avoided having to rely on Ryan Fitzpatrick, Trent Edwards, and others. With Brady as a starter, the Bills could have more easily built around him and perhaps eked out a few more wins in some of those 8-8 or 7-9 seasons. That, along with the Patriots not dominating the division, would spell more playoff appearances for the Bills. The Ravens, Steelers, and Colts were the other top teams at the time, but Brady beat all of them with the Patriots, so he presumably could have done the same on the Bills. With one of the greatest QBs in NFL history, the Bills could have certainly gone to four more Super Bowls. But as they are the Bills, Brady could have suffered four losses just like Jim Kelly, and Buffalo could be the only team to go 0-8 in the Super Bowl.
12 San Diego Chargers
If the San Diego Chargers had selected him, Tom Brady would have been called upon within the first few games of his initial season thanks to Ryan Leaf’s wretched performance. Would what was a 1-15 season for the Chargers have been helped by Brady's presence, or would a poor offensive line that gave up over 50 sacks have lead to constant pressure, and a poor overall performance by the inexperienced rookie? With less time to learn the playbook, and get up to the speed of the pro game, perhaps Brady would have been battered and rattled like so many other rookies who start too soon. With a new offensive coordinator the following season, Brady would have had to learn a new system again. In 2002 an entire new coaching staff would most likely have moved on from Brady to give the second year prospect Drew Brees an opportunity. Brady could have caught on as a backup, or been picked up as an emergency starter somewhere else, but with constant new offenses to learn, usually for less talented and more desperate teams, Brady may have had difficulty finding success. It is still possible however that he and Bill Belichick, who would have been fired from the Patriots after a few seasons of mediocrity, could have joined up in Detroit and turned the Lions into a dynasty.
11 Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings were relatively set at quarterback in 2000 with Daunte Culpepper, who they named their starter after marinating on the bench during his rookie year. If the Vikings had grabbed Brady with a late pick, he probably would have sat his rookie year as well, but had an opportunity in 2001 when Culpepper was injured for the last few games. If Culpepper did retain his job at that point, Brady would have certainly taken over in 2005 when Culpepper suffered a major knee injury. With a great quarterback, the Vikings would have challenged the Packers for supremacy in the NFC North. The potential for a Favre-Brady rivalry would have only been exceeded by the Brady-Rodgers rivalry which would have followed. The playoff appearances during the next few years for the Vikings would certainly have been more successful, and a win over the Saints in the 2009 NFC Championship game would mean a Super Bowl matchup with Peyton Manning and the Colts. With Brady sticking around past the 2009 season, the Vikings would have avoided dropping to the bottom of the division, and Brady could have easily brought them back to another Super Bowl in the ensuing years, perhaps against Peyton Manning and the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.
10 Oakland Raiders
The last three years that the Raiders were actually good was 2000 through 2002 before Jon Gruden departed. If the Raiders would have selected Tom Brady in 2000 he probably would not have played during those three years with Rich Gannon established as the starter, but it could have helped the Raiders make it to the Super Bowl in 2001 as they would not have been eliminated by the eventual champions, the Patriots. Once Gannon was injured in 2003 Brady would have certainly taken over and the Raiders may have avoided their decade plus long run of losing seasons. Even if the front office problems and coaching carousel kept them struggling with Tom Brady, once their current team started coming together in 2015, Brady could have led the team as far or further than they made it this year, and the Raiders short term future would look great as well.
9 Detroit Lions
There comes a point when a team needs to consider if their problems stem from the players they are drafting or if it is what they are doing with those players when they get them. One of those teams that always seem to have countless high draft picks over their history, but never seems to have any success, is the Detroit Lions. Even when they had Barry Sanders they only made the playoffs five times in a decade, losing in the wild card round four of those times. With Calvin Johnson, the Lions had just had two wild card losses in nine seasons. They did even worse over Brady’s first 10 years in the league, with zero playoff appearances while topping five wins only four times. One can imagine Tom Brady suffering a similar or worse fate than Sanders and Johnson. If the Lions had drafted Brady they would have most certainly avoided their 0-16 season as well as both of their 2-14 ones. But any success would lead to slightly worse draft positions with an even greater likelihood of ending up with busts, which would translate to even more six win seasons. With decent production, Brady would toil behind a makeshift line, losing to Favre and then Rodgers twice a year, occasionally losing to both Manning brothers, and never making the playoffs. While spending most of his time in Detroit, he would probably never meet Gisele, but instead date reality TV stars. Eventually he would retire early and join fellow former Michigan quarterback Jim Harbaugh on the Wolverines’ coaching staff.
8 Indianapolis Colts
With one of the two best quarterbacks in the league at the time, the Indianapolis Colts certainly did not need to grab another one, but like everyone else, the Colts had some late round picks they could have used on an extra QB instead of a lineman, without hurting themselves. If they would have grabbed him, there is a good possibility Brady would not have played at all for a long time. But it also means that Brady would not have played against the Colts ever. One result of Brady to the Colts would be that in 2003 and 2004 the Colts would have avoided losing to the Patriots in the playoffs, which would lead to Manning playing at least one more Super Bowl in 2003 and probably another in 2004. Without Brady in his way, Manning could have finished his career with a Super Bowl record of 4-2. If Brady took over once Manning’s injury problems started, he could have started winning Super Bowls of his own, and maybe even finished his career with more overall rings than Peyton. But with four of those rings as a backup to Manning, Brady would never match Peyton, who would be considered the greatest quarterback ever with only Brett Favre as a potential rival.
7 Washington Redskins
For some teams, ownership is the problem, and no star quarterbacks, ruthless edge rushers, or even brilliant coaches can prevent mediocrity. The Washington Redskins somehow went 15 years with only three playoff appearances, all of which were wild card game losses. The question then is, would Tom Brady have been enough to change all that, or would Washington’s problems have held him back? If the Redskins decided to draft Brady he would have become the first of five, or potentially six, QBs who had three seasons as the main starting quarterback before the team moved on from them. Mark Brunell from 2004-2006, Jason Campbell for three years after that, then Rex Grossman, then Robert Griffin III, and now Kirk Cousins is going on his third and perhaps final year as a starter if the Skins choose to franchise him. Based on that history, Brady would probably have lasted three years with Washington as well, before ownership lost patience. During that time the roster would be in flux, the coaching staff overhauled a few times, and the team would hover between four and eight wins. From there Brady would hopefully earned a chance to sign with some other team and finally show the NFL what he could really do.
6 San Francisco 49ers
After three great years from Jeff Garcia, the San Francisco 49ers suffered seven years of mediocrity until Jim Harbaugh took over and made them Super Bowl contenders. If the 49ers had grabbed local boy Tom Brady in 2000, and if he took over once Garcia faltered, those seven years would have certainly seen more success, including some playoff runs. But, if they had also hired Harbaugh when they did, that QB-coach combination, made up of two former Michigan starting QBs, could have been historic. Replacing Alex Smith with Tom Brady in the 2011 NFC Championship game would have certainly been enough to change to outcome of the 49ers’ overtime loss to the Giants and gotten them into the Super Bowl where they would not be playing the Patriots. Instead we would have gotten back to back Har-Bowls with brothers Jim and John Harbaugh facing off as coaches of the 49ers and Ravens in two straight years. With Tom Brady on the 49ers, it is hard to imagine his presence would not have swung both of those Super Bowls to the Niners. If Brady could have made a difference in 2013 against the Seahawks as well, the 49ers may have been the first NFL team to three-peat. Either way, San Francisco would not have been able to let Harbaugh leave and Brady and Harbaugh would still be contending for championships for a few years to come.
5 Cleveland Browns
What would have happened if Tom Brady had been drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 2000? It is possible, although not probable, that Brady could have single-handedly rejuvenated the team, leading the Browns to the playoffs, the AFC Championship game, and maybe even a Super Bowl, only to be let down by the below average teammates who the Cleveland front office had surrounded him with. Perhaps that would have convinced Brady to sign as a free agent with the Dolphins, where he could have won two Super Bowls before returning to the Browns a few years later. Maybe before he had returned, the Browns would have drafted Julio Jones, and once he re-signed, Brady could convince them to trade their number one draft pick for DeMarcus Ware as well. Then, in his first season back, Brady might have lead the Browns to the Super Bowl where they lose to the Green Bay Packers. The following year however, the Browns could have returned to the Super Bowl and come back from a three touchdown to one deficit to beat the San Francisco 49ers.
4 Dallas Cowboys
The 2000 NFL season was Troy Aikman’s last in the league which would have worked out quite well to give Tom Brady a year of getting used to the NFL before being handed the reins of the Cowboys once Aikman retired. The Cowboys were on the skids for the first couple years of the 2000s as the pieces of their great '90s teams got older or left the team, but the hiring of Bill Parcells (along with Sean Payton) as coach in 2003 brought the Cowboys a bit of success despite having to rely on Quincy Carter, Drew Henson, and Vinny Testaverde under center. If they had Brady, the Cowboys could have been even more successful. That success could have led to Sean Payton staying and taking over for Parcells when he departed. One can easily imagine what sort of offense Tom Brady and Sean Payton could have then developed over a career together. The NFL could have had multiple Peyton Manning versus Tom Brady Super Bowls in 2006 and 2009, and maybe even a third in 2013, which could have made their rivalry even more legendary than it was to begin with.
3 New England Patriots
We have gone over a number of alternate histories of teams that could have gotten Tom Brady, but what about the team that did get him? If any of these other teams had been smart enough to draft Brady and the Patriots missed out on him, they would have had to turn to Damon Huard when Drew Bledsoe was injured in 2001. That would have led to the Patriots ending with a top 10 draft pick but knowing Belichick he might have traded it away for three future third round selections. After another six years of Bledsoe’s 10 year deal, with nothing more than a couple of first round playoff exits, Bill Belichick would probably be fired and the Patriots new front office may have traded Bledsoe to the Raiders for the number one pick, and used it to select JaMarcus Russell. This of course would lead to five straight losing seasons until the Patriots decided to hire Jeff Fisher in 2010 and gone 7-9 for the next six years. Meanwhile Belichick and Brady would both eventually end up with the Houston Texans in the same year that they draft J.J. Watt, and the Texans would have won every Super Bowl since then.
2 Atlanta Falcons
Another team Brady may have been required to start for right away was the Atlanta Falcons who had an old, and not that great, QB in Chris Chandler along with both an offense and a defense that ranked near the bottom of the league. If Brady had a chance in Atlanta, he would have been even more harried, thanks to an offensive line that gave up the second most sacks in the league. If he survived the beating and managed to make it through the next season when they gave up even more sacks, he would have probably been ousted by the Falcons number one draft pick in 2001, Michael Vick. After riding the bench as a backup for a while, he would have begun his inevitable journeyman career, being shipped to one weak team after another. Instead of eventually ending up with Bill Belichick somewhere else, maybe Belichick and the Patriots would have stuck with Drew Bledsoe until he retired in 2005 and earned a high draft pick to grab another QB a year or two after that. Perhaps Brady would have spent this year’s Super Bowl, sitting in his bathrobe on the couch, and watched as the Patriots, led by Belichick and Matt Ryan, suffered the worst comeback loss in history, as they were beaten by another late round pick, Dak Prescott, and the Dallas Cowboys.
1 New York Giants
The New York Giants lost the Super Bowl a few months before the 2000 NFL Draft and did not really have that great of a quarterback at the time. If they would have grabbed Brady, he could have climbed into the starting role relatively quickly. The big question is, what would have happened to the Giants two Super Bowl wins over the Patriots? Well for one, they obviously would not have played the Patriots. In 2007, the team New England defeated to go to the Super Bowl was the San Diego Chargers. The same San Diego Chargers who had traded Eli Manning to the Giants when they drafted him in 2004. With Brady as a starter, the Giants do not make that trade and Eli would be the starting QB for those same Chargers when they win the AFC Championship Game, and go to the Super Bowl to face the Giants. Of course, Eli would still somehow beat Brady in Super Bowl XLII, except this time it means Brady's Giants lose to Eli's Chargers. In 2011 the Ravens were the ones who lost the AFC Championship Game to the Patriots. With no Brady on the Patriots, Super Bowl XLVI is a rematch of 2000 with the Ravens once again toppling the Giants. In the ensuing years, Brady probably would not have done much differently with the Giants than Eli actually did, but perhaps with the help of this year's Giants defense, Brady could have led them past the Packers, Cowboys, and Falcons to finally win his first Super Bowl in three tries for the Giants.
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