Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana is always one of the first examples of legendary signal-callers switching teams later in his career, which is now brought up whenever Tom Brady is discussed. The former San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback also happens to be one of Brady’s idols.
“I don’t know what’s going on inside there, but somebody made a mistake,” Montana told Jarrett Bell of USA TODAY Sports, regarding Brady’s free-agent move to Tampa Bay. “I think when you look at the whole situation, you try to figure out how you want to get away from things that are there. I had a different story, where they had made a decision. He, obviously, they never would have gotten rid of. I still don’t understand how New England let him get away. I don’t understand that.”
Montana was famously traded from San Francisco, where he’d won four Super Bowls, to Kansas City in April of 1993. Seeing the legend wear a Chiefs jersey was one of those bizarre, odd moments at which even youngsters raised an eyebrow at the time. The 49ers moved on, electing to press forward with another eventual Hall of Famer, Steve Young, who had sat behind Montana for years.
Though it will be equally as jilting seeing TB12 in a new jersey, Brady’s situation is different than Montana. He ultimately chose to leave New England. While the Patriots never officially made an offer, it’s widely been reported that the team wanted him back if he wanted to return to the only team he’d play for in his career. Bill Belichick treated Brady like any other player. Brady decided he was ready for a new challenge.
“It’s not about appreciation,” Montana said of why he thinks Brady left. “He wants control. I mean, he wants a lot of control. I don’t know what Tampa Bay gave him, but at some point in time, you’re just a player. You can try to get what you can and do what you want, but in the end, you’re still not in the hierarchy when it comes to hiring people, firing people and all that.
“I don’t know exactly what he’s looking for, but my understanding was that he’s just looking for more control of the offense. But I don’t know. I haven’t had a long conversation with him; I talked to him a little bit at the Super Bowl, but not enough time to really get in-depth.”
Montana changed teams as he was about to turn 37 years old. Brady turns 43 this year. Montana believes the move will invigorate Brady after two decades in the same system.
“It actually brings a new excitement to you, to a certain degree,” Montana said of switching squads. “Because it’s not going to be the same-ol’, same-ol’ going into the same locker room that you’ve been going into for so many years, seeing the same people over and over. He doesn’t need a fresh start, but it gives you a great feeling inside, looking forward to trying to help the team move forward. And everybody believes in him, looking forward to watching him play.”
Brady’s move underscores the reality of the NFL. If the likes of TB12 and Montana can change teams, anybody can move.
Unlike Brady, Montana didn’t get a choice in the matter, getting traded by then-team president Carmen Policy. But, like Brady, the change underscores the truth that football is a business first.
“They say it and it comes up all the time, but it becomes a business,” Montana said. “At some point, it’s business. That’s why I had long talks with (Hall of Fame former 49ers coach) Bill (Walsh) about our relationship, after he retired. The relationship that happens, everybody makes it look like there’s friction, but in the end, he goes, ‘I just had to keep my distance to a certain point from you because I can’t become your best friend. Because I have to make a decision on you at some point.’ Although Bill didn’t make the decision, and I don’t think he would have made the same one that was made.”
Once Brady’s run in the NFL officially ends, he too will likely have a long talk with his former coach, Bill Belichick, and the two will know that together they put up one of the greatest runs in sports history. Even if, in the end, it was time to take different paths to close out the journey.