49ers vs. Buccaneers: Is Week 14 a job interview for Tom Brady?

Tom Brady #12 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
Tom Brady #12 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images) /

49ers -3.5. 8-4. 48. Fox. Sunday, Dec. 11. 42. 4:25 p.m. ET. 6-6

The biggest storyline when the 49ers host the Buccaneers in Week 14 will be Tom Brady returning home, but is it also a job interview for 2023?

Yes, it’s time to dust off the thoughts and suggestions about future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady somehow working his way back onto his boyhood team, the San Francisco 49ers, once the 2023 season rolls around.

Yes, we’ve been here before. Back in the winter of 2020, Brady wanted to join the Niners after his storybook career with the New England Patriots, yet San Francisco stuck with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo instead.

Even last year, during Brady’s brief retirement, there were thoughts it was merely a ploy to somehow force the Bucs to trade him to the 49ers, finally, even though nothing of the sort came through.

Now, with Brady and the Buccaneers visiting the Niners this Sunday for Week 14, the thought of the GOAT somehow wearing a red and gold uniform is going to rise to the surface.

Would 49ers roll with Tom Brady over Trey Lance in 2023?

Garoppolo, who suffered a serious foot injury in the Week 13 win over the Miami Dolphins, is a free agent in 2023 and could potentially have played his final snap in a San Francisco uniform (again).

The 49ers tried to do the transition to their top pick from the 2021 NFL Draft, Trey Lance, last offseason. But the inability to trade Garoppolo, followed by Lance’s Week 2 season-ending ankle injury, led to Jimmy G being another viable option under center once more.

Garoppolo won’t return to the Niners to serve as Lance’s backup, though. Not a chance there.

In reality, head coach Kyle Shanahan wants to make that full commitment to Lance, finally, after two years of him hardly seeing the field. But, in terms of an NFL career, a two-year span is awfully lengthy, and it doesn’t help to serve those critics who thought Lance was too raw and inexperienced coming out of college anyway.

Yet San Francisco wouldn’t have to “give up” on Lance if it targeted Brady, also a free agent, this offseason. Shanahan and Co. would merely be pushing Lance’s deployment as a full-time starter down the road one more year.

It’s something Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times (h/t 49ers Webzone) argued in favor of doing, at least from Brady’s vantage point:

"But if Brady does decide to play in 2023? Even though they twice rejected him, it might make sense for the 49ers to swallow hard and see if the seven-time champion can get them to a Super Bowl and win it.Their roster is loaded with the NFL’s top defense and tons of speed, a commitment to running the football and a good offensive line.Also, don’t underestimate what playing near his home in San Mateo, California, would mean to Brady, as well as becoming part of the 49ers’ quarterback legacy with Joe Montana and Steve Young."

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Even Shanahan, speaking to the media in advance of Sunday’s game, made comments that didn’t seem to mind the fact Brady will turn 46 years old by the time a team like the 49ers could deploy him:

"He’s kind of flawless in his technique, how he gets everyone the ball, and he’s done that his whole career.But his throwing mechanics, they only get better each year, so I feel like his arm’s stronger now than it was 10 years ago, and his legs moved just as good as they did 10 years ago. They weren’t great then, but he’s extremely efficient and quick in the pocket and knows where to look and knows where to get the ball to, and he’s still the best to play."

Sure, they’re just compliments. But, as Stroud also suggested, perhaps Shanahan is actually entertaining bringing Brady into the fray after failing to do so back in 2020.

Tom Brady auditioning for 49ers this Sunday?

Brady and the Buccaneers are struggling, offensively, this season. There are plenty of reasons why, but the league’s fifth-worst scoring offense is now going to be tasked with going up against the NFL’s best scoring defense, that of the Niners.

However, returning home to Northern California and playing in front of family and friends who didn’t have to take a flight to view the game might serve as a bit of extra motivation for Brady.

Especially if he’s looking at other opportunities after this season.

Perhaps it’s essentially looking like a job interview, Brady matching up against an elite San Francisco defense in what’s a home venue for both opponents, ironically.

Granted, a number of things would have to fall into place for anything remotely close to Brady signing with the 49ers next season. He’d have to not retire, which is an obvious checkmark at 45 years old, and the Niners would have to both be willing to part ways with Garoppolo while putting off Lance’s deployment as a starter for another season.

The last caveat seems the least likely, but it’s on the table. It has to be.

Especially if Brady somehow lights up San Francisco’s defense on Sunday when the two teams square off from Levi’s Stadium at 4:25 p.m. ET.

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