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Darlington: ‘People still underestimate how close Tom Brady was to signing with Saints’

2020 could’ve been far less fun for Tampa Bay...

Divisional Round - Tampa Bay Buccaneers v New Orleans Saints Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

When the Buccaneers signed Tom Brady in March of 2020, it was obviously a huge deal. A six-time Super Bowl champion was coming to a Tampa Bay franchise that has never had much luck at the quarterback position. The signing was an instant game-changer.

The buzz that Brady’s arrival created was palpable. He instantly made the Bucs contenders in a way they hadn’t been in years, plus the other additions that came along with him certainly didn’t hurt the team’s chances to compete. And as excited and hopeful as everyone was going into the 2020 season, it’s safe to say that there weren’t many that correctly predicted what was to come.

Brady threw for 4,633 yards and 40 touchdowns in the regular season as he led his new team to an 11-5 record and its first playoff appearance since 2007. Then, in the first round of the playoffs, he led the Bucs to a road victory over the Washington Football Team. After that, it was a road win in the second round over the New Orleans Saints. Next was an NFC Championship Game win at Lambeau Field over the Green Bay Packers. And finally, Brady and the Bucs went on to finish the job on their home field in Super Bowl LV with a 31-9 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Of course, you all know the story of the 2020 season. It was a magical one for Tampa Bay. But as it turns out, it could’ve gone very, very differently. Brady got people talking earlier this week when a clip from his appearance on “The Shop: Uninterrupted” showed him discussing his free agency process last spring. He was in disbelief that an unnamed team was sticking with its quarterback over him. That has led to speculation all week about who that team could’ve been.

Well, on Wednesday, ESPN’s Jeff Darlington appeared on “Get Up” to discuss what has become a very hot topic. And after reaffirming that the Raiders were interested in Brady at one point and recalling the Bucs’ consistent interest from the start, Darlington said that the team that should most regret not signing the current Tampa Bay quarterback is the New Orleans Saints. He also said that “people still underestimate how close” Brady came to joining his eventual team’s division rival:

“Regret might be a strong word because, ultimately, Drew Brees decided to delay his broadcasting career a year and come back for one more season. The Saints did the right thing by bringing Brees back. But I think that people still underestimate how close Tom Brady was to signing with the New Orleans Saints up until he ultimately decided on the Bucs. I know that that’s gonna be a statement that people try to question. It’s the truth. And here’s the deal: Sean Payton cannot look back and [not] say ‘man, I would’ve loved to have Tom Brady last year because it would also have meant that I have him for a few more years moving forward. No question in my mind, the Saints, despite understanding they did what they had to do, there is a little bit of—let’s call it regret—that Tom Brady is not their quarterback.”

The Saints may not have regretted anything during the regular season, as they went on to win the NFC South again. But as Brees started to show his age down the stretch and certainly in the playoff loss to the Bucs, maybe some of that regret crept in.

The fact that Brady came to Tampa and won a Lombardi Trophy in his first year with the team may have hurt for a New Orleans organization that has done nothing but fall short year after year for over a decade, largely wasting the career of its own Hall of Fame signal-caller. Now, after Brees’ retirement, the Saints are left relying on former Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston getting his career back on track.

Thankfully for the Bucs, everything turned out as well as anyone could’ve dreamed.