At some point in the not so distant future, Tom Brady will finally succumb to the inevitable process of aging and he’ll no longer be able to play quarterback in the NFL at the level he’s been operating at for the past two decades. And when that day comes, the Patriots‘ dynasty will likely collapse — unless, of course, they manage to find a worthy heir at some point before Brady’s eventual decline and make a Favre-Rodgers type of transition. 

It turns out, the Patriots almost already found Brady’s heir — an heir that would’ve been worthy of inheriting Brady’s throne. 

Not Jimmy Garoppolo, who appeared to be on the cusp of replacing Brady before the Patriots decided to trade him to the 49ers. But Baker Mayfield, last year’s top-overall pick who immediately made the Browns competitive and has now elevated them to the status of a playoff-caliber team. 

Apparently, as Mina Kimes of ESPN wrote (in a story that you should read), Mayfield was “convinced” the Patriots were going to trade up all the way to No. 2 to draft him. Until draft day, Mayfield didn’t know if the Browns were going to take him with the top pick, which is what actually happened.

The Browns took him to start the draft. The Giants took running back Saquon Barkley at No. 2. The rest of the draft unfolded with the Patriots selecting offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn with the 23rd overall pick and running back Sony Michel with the second-to-last pick of the first round. Along the way, the Patriots passed on taking Lamar Jackson twice. So it seems like they only had eyes for Mayfield. 

So, how could it have happened? Luckily, we have a few more details that actually surfaced last year. 

Shortly after the draft, Mayfield’s agent, Jack Mills, was the first to reveal that the Patriots were very much in play for Mayfield. While it would’ve been costly to move all the way up to No. 2, the Patriots had the draft ammunition to offer the Giants an enticing package. 

“We knew the Jets at No. 3 was the bottom line,” Mills said at the time, during an appearance on former NFL executive Andrew Brandt’s podcast. “We had another team — which is going to surprise you — another team had said, ‘You may get a big surprise on draft day at No. 2 if [Mayfield] is available.’ It was the Patriots. They had (No.) 23 and they had (No.) 31, and they had two seconds, and I don’t know. We thought, boy, that’s going to be a heck of a move to get up that high from where they are. And of course, he wasn’t available so we never knew if that was a reality or not.”

It might still seem far fetched, but it’s worth remembering that nobody knew which quarterback the Browns were going to take with the first-overall pick. Even Sam Darnold, who went to the Jets at No. 3, thought the Browns were going to take him. If the Browns had taken Darnold instead of Mayfield, the Giants very well could have, in theory, traded down. While the Giants didn’t listen to trade calls for the second-overall pick because they desperately wanted Barkley, they only stopped listening to offers after the Browns took Mayfield. So up until that point, they could’ve been negotiating with the Patriots in the event the Browns took a quarterback other than Mayfield. 

Would the Giants have been willing to slide all the way from No. 2 to No. 23 in addition to, presumably, landing a whole bunch of other picks? We’ll never know. Giants GM Dave Gettleman doesn’t have a history of trading down. He clearly loved Barkley. It wouldn’t have been surprising if he had stayed put and taken Barkley at No. 2, which likely would’ve led to Mayfield falling to the Jets at No. 3. Again, we’ll never know.

But it’s fun, from a certain perspective, to imagine Mayfield with the Patriots. Rather, it’s fun to imagine how different the long-term outlook of the league would’ve looked. The Patriots would’ve been in a position to continue their reign long after Brady and Bill Belichick retired, assuming Josh McDaniels will take over for Belichick. A McDaniels-Mayfield pairing could’ve worked considerably well. 

The Browns, meanwhile, likely still would’ve been trending in the right direction with Darnold and a blossoming defense, but they probably would’ve been a few stages behind where they currently are with Mayfield. Who knows how the Jets would’ve responded to Darnold and Mayfield getting picked ahead of them at No. 3? Perhaps they would’ve taken Josh Rosen and Rosen wouldn’t already be onto his second team.

Back in reality, Mayfield is leading the AFC North frontrunner Browns into what could be the franchise’s best-ever season and the Patriots are still winning Super Bowls with Brady, who will turn 42 next month. Mayfield should be content with how it all worked out. Instead of inheriting Brady’s throne, he’s building his own in a city starving for football success.