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TAMPA, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 07: Tom Brady #12 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers yells as he takes the field against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium on February 07, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Tom Brady ended up signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the rest of his free-agent market had seemingly dried up. Brady, of course, made all his other suitors look silly for sticking with whomever they had at quarterback over him.

Those ill-fated decisions became the subject of some serious shade from Brady in the upcoming season premiere of HBO’s “The Shop,” in which he quips about a potential team that passed on him for their QB at the time: “You’re gonna stick with that motherf***er?”

Obviously, that set off a speculation storm of who and what Brady was referring to with that jab. ESPN’s Jeff Darlington, meanwhile, mentioned a surprise team as the one that would regret not signing him the most.

“I’m gonna say, as clear as day, it’s the New Orleans Saints,” Darlington said on ESPN’s “Get Up” Tuesday. “And ‘regret’ is 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 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 say, ‘Man, I would’ve loved to have Tom Brady last year, because it would’ve also meant that I’d 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’s a little bit of – let’s call it ‘regret’ – that Tom Brady is not their quarterback.”

When Darlington says people will try to question his statement, he’s probably talking about angry Saints and Patriots fans on Twitter. But remember, Darlington was the reporter who said early in the 2020 offseason that he’d be stunned if Brady re-signed with the Patriots, and no Pats fans wanted to believe him. He’s obviously tapped into the goings-on of the Brady camp.

So it sounds like Brady got very close to signing with New Orleans, before they decided to bring back “that motherf***er” Drew Brees for one last run. It would be surprising if Brady spoke about a fellow future Hall of Fame, Super Bowl-winning quarterback that way. But knowing that Brady almost signed with the Saints, and that he was infinitely better than Brees in 2020, it makes logical sense that Brady would throw a little shade from the bay to the bayou.

It was, in Darlington’s words, clear as day that Brees could no longer play at the elite level he was used to playing, while Brady at age 43 just kept on winning the Lombardi Trophy. The question, now, is how long the Saints will regret their decision.

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Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @mattydsays. You can also email him at mdolloff@985thesportshub.com.