Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports



Prior to Colin Kaepernick's hot start in the midst of their last Super Bowl run, the 49ers had spent more than a decade without a proven quarterback. You could make the argument that after nearly two decades of leadership from two of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, the 49ers were due for a lull. In life, there are a million what-ifs, and no one can read the future, especially in the sport of football. But what if the franchise was able to pass the torch to another Hall of Fame quarterback heading into the 2000s? It not only would've been unprecedented, it would've been near impossible to replicate. It's possible that the 49ers would have dominated their division for three full decades. Not to mention, the Bay Area would have stayed a popular landing spot for talented free agents. Jed York and the DeBartolos could be sitting on eight championships instead of five. Luckily, after three horrible seasons, it appears that the 49ers are ready to turn the page. Thanks in large part to general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan, the team is finally headed in the right direction. There's no longer a need to think about how bad it's been at the bottom of the division. Granted, the 49ers probably won't win more than six games this season, they could surprise a lot of people and make the playoffs. Regardless of how well they do, fans can find comfort in the fact that Kyle Shanahan knows how to succeed. They can also rest easy knowing that the search for the next quarterback is still very much in place. Now, there's no need to dwell on the past, but just for the fun of it, let's take a look at the quarterback who could've been.

Aaron Rodgers


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Admit it, this one still stings a bit. In the 2005 NFL draft, the 49ers owned the number one overall selection. For weeks leading into the draft there was speculation that the team could select one of three players: wide receiver Braylon Edwards, Aaron Rodgers, or Alex Smith, the latter two of who were viewed as promising young quarterbacks. We all know how this turned out. In fact, most fans are still reeling from this decision. You could make the argument that the failures of Alex Smith had a lot to do with the team's inability to keep a coordinator around. You could also argue that he had no mentor. Fellow quarterback Tim Rattay wasn't exactly the predecessor Smith needed to become a great leader. You could also argue that Aaron Rodgers had the great Brett Favre from whom to learn. As stated before, there are a million excuses available, but it won't change the fact that Alex Smith is in Kansas City, Rodgers is one of the greats and the 49ers are still without a franchise leader. Since Rodgers took over full-time quarterback responsibilities he has led his team to eight consecutive winning seasons in just nine years. In that time he has thrown for over 36,000 yards, scored 297 touchdowns and has been selected to the Pro Bowl six times. Not to mention he has a highly coveted Lombardi Trophy and a shiny Super Bowl ring. Spoiler alert: he's not done yet. There is no such thing as a perfect draft, or a sure-fire selection. The 49ers could've selected Rodgers, and today it could be Smith with the impressive resume. Hindsight is 20/20, but regardless of knowing the outcome, San Francisco fans really wish they had this selection back.

Drew Brees


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In the 2001 NFL Draft, the 49ers selected defensive end Andre Carter with the seventh overall pick. Twenty-five picks later, the San Diego Chargers selected Purdue quarterback Drew Brees. Carter was good, but he wasn't great. After five seasons he hightailed it out of San Francisco and signed with Washington. If he was worth the investment, the team would've kept him around. Brees, on the other hand, turned out to be a great investment. In his career, he has thrown for 5,000 yards a total of five times, is currently third all-time in touchdowns, and has also hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. Granted when Brees was drafted by San Diego, the 49ers had quarterback Jeff Garcia, who, although a solid option at the position, at the time had a career record of 8-18, and didn't appear to be the answer for San Francisco. His tenure also lasted only five years. If the 49ers would've taken Brees maybe Terrell Owens would've stayed put. Then by 2005, it would've been very difficult for teams to beat out an offensive trio of Brees, Owens and Frank Gore. For the record, Vernon Davis was selected one year later. Everyone knows how Brees fairs with a fast, physical tight end. With an offense like that the possibilities are endless. Barring any complications, the 49ers could've been the first team in NFL history to be named "Team of the Decade" twice. Not bad for a franchise currently in the process of rebuilding.

Peyton Manning


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Before you rule out the possibility that Manning could've been a 49er, consider this: in 2012, the Indianapolis Colts let Manning walk in lieu of Andrew Luck. Despite Coach Harbaugh's decision to stick with Alex Smith for the following season, there were serious rumors that linked Manning to the 49ers. Harbaugh shot down the rumors, insisting that Smith was his guy. After failing to land the five-time All Pro, Harbaugh still had a team to lead. Smith went on to give his best performance as a 49er by far, and Harbaugh led his team to the first of three NFC Championships. Manning, who many felt had already played his best years, looked better than ever. He compiled a record of 45-12 in just under four seasons, making the playoffs every year. Manning made the Broncos offense an instant contender as he turned in two more All Pro nominations, three Pro Bowl selections and a victory in Super Bowl 50. With the 49ers shut down defense and a Peyton Manning-led offense, they had the potential to beat the Seattle Seahawks in all three seasons under Harbaugh. If given the chance, the franchise could've played in two consecutive Super Bowls, as they came up only one play short against the Seahawks. With Peyton Manning under center they may have had two more Super Bowl victories.

Tom Brady


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Before you say something ridiculous like, this doesn't count, or no one knew that Tom Brady was this good before he entered the pros, accept the fact that this still could have happened. And for all the nay-sayers, Brady was a great college player. He won 20 games as an upper classman, and led his team to a Citrus Bowl victory against Alabama in 1999. He was drafted in the sixth round with pick number 199 overall, and since then it's been one All Pro performance after the next. Brady is the classic example of "anything can happen." He's also the poster child for "if you work hard enough, great things will happen to you." With five Super Bowl rings at the age of 39, Brady looks as though he could play three more seasons and hoist two more Lombardis. Yes every team passed on his services in the 1999 NFL Draft, but even worse than that, every team in the league passed on his services five times. He's constantly brought up in conversation as the best quarterback of all time, and when he retires they may have to wave the five-year wait for his cozy spot in Canton. He could have been a 49er. If he was, he would have taken over the year after Steve Young retired. And there's no doubt that he would have shared the same success if he played in San Francisco. There's also no doubt that if the 49ers would have passed the torch from Montana, over to Young and then to Brady, most of the NFL franchises would have closed their doors for good. They say that lightning never strikes twice in the same place. For San Francisco, in this scenario it could have struck for a third time.

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