NFL

Garoppolo Causes Conundrum For Patriots

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New England Patriots temporary starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is about to put his current employer in a bind.  The third-year signal caller from Eastern Illinois hasn’t started a regular season NFL game yet, but he’s about to receive his four game audition while the legendary Tom Brady serves his league mandated suspension for that little equipment malfunction you might have heard about.

Not only are we expecting Garoppolo to be serviceable under center, but we expect him to be good.  Even without the services of Dion Lewis and a mediocre offensive line, Garoppolo is going to play well and the Patriots will likely win three of their first four games.

He certainly has all the physical tools and the work ethic to get the job done.

“He works his tail off to prepare, and I know he has the respect of everybody,” Brady said. “I think that’s what you always do — you try to come out here and earn the respect of your teammates and your coaches, and you’ve got to put the work in. You’ve got to show that you’re willing to show up every day and do whatever it takes to get the job done.”

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick confirmed Brady’s statement.

“I think that happened Day 1 when he came here,” Belichick said. “He’s always done that. I don’t think it’s been any different this year. I think he’s grown this year, but I don’t think his approach has been any different. And I think he does have [respect], I would agree with that.”

If this does indeed play out, the Pats will have another offseason decision on their hands.

What do they do with Jimmy?  

We’ve seen the Patriots draft and then flip assets at the quarterback position, none better than what they did with Matt Cassel, who filled in for Brady during the 2008 season when he tore his ACL in Week 1.  Cassel took a team that was undefeated the season before and navigated them to an 11-5 record, narrowly missing the postseason.  Former Patriots and then Kansas City Chiefs personnel man Scott Pioli miscalculated his abilities, and dealt a second round pick for a mediocre, system driven quarterback.

The Pats selected Ryan Mallett with the same idea in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft, but ended up losing on the eventual deal to the Houston Texans as they only recouped a seventh-round pick.  Mallett didn’t receive any regular season snaps and his attitude and long release came into question.

Garoppolo is clearly the most talented backup/next Brady the team has ever had, and although he’s no “Tom Terriffic” (who is?), he can be an NFL starter somewhere.  He has no lack of confidence in his own abilities.

“I like to think I’m pretty close in comparison to Aaron Rodgers,” Garoppolo said. “He’s very athletic and gets the ball out quickly. He’s very knowledgeable of the game, controls the offense totally, and that’s something I try to do. Just know the offense inside and out.

“I think Jimmy’s got a good presence for the position. I think he always has,” Belichick said as the team broke training camp. “Every player develops throughout the course of their career as they gain experience. That’s no different for him or anybody else. But I think his demeanor’s good.”

Dealing away guys like Cassel and Mallett were easy decisions for Belichick, mainly due to the age of Brady at the time.  Now that he’s 39 years old, the clock is certainly ticking on his career, despite playing at an unbelievably high level in 2015.

It’s likely that Brady will want to play out his current deal that has him under contract with New England through the 2019 season at a very reasonable salary of $14 million.  He will be 42 years old that final season.

Garoppolo is signed through next year where he’s scheduled to earn roughly $1.5 million combined for the 2016 and 2017 seasons.  Certainly he’s a great bang for the buck, but he’s going to want to get paid when he hits free agency.  Even if the Patriots could afford to pay him in the neighborhood of eight figures annually, would he even want to stay in New England to be Tom Brady’s very expensive backup for two more years?  Six years as a backup?  He would be 28 years old by the time he would have the chance to be the full-time starter.

Do the Patriots try to trade Garoppolo after the 2016 season?  It sounds good on paper, but whatever team that’s willing to give up a premium pick and a huge contract for the former FCS star will be doing so with all of the information from a grand total of four NFL starts.  They would also know that New England would have to trade him knowing that he will hit free agency after 2017.  That thud you just heard was the leverage that the Pats normally have dropping to the floor.

There is one other option for New England, but it’s the unthinkable, right?

That is, of course, commit to Garoppolo after the 2017 NFL season.  Committing to Garoppolo would also mean “decommitting” from the greatest player in the history of the franchise and perhaps the greatest player in NFL history.

Surely the Patriots couldn’t entertain the thought of moving away from Brady, could they?  

If you ask Lawyer Milloy, Mike Vrabel, Troy Brown, Drew Bledsoe, Deion Branch, Richard Seymour and Asante Samuel they may have a different answer.

New England has routinely sold high on their former stars and have always treated personnel with the theory that “it’s better to leave the party 30 minutes early than 30 minutes late.”

Tom Brady has to be a different story, right?  He, along with Belichick put the franchise on the map and made it one of sport’s most consistent winning franchises for the last decade and a half.  He has taken less money in his contracts multiple times so the team would be able to field a better squad and has been lauded for it.

Do you dare move away from a guy like that even one day before he’s ready to move on from you?  

If history tells us anything about New England, the answer is yes.  Garoppolo has the job audition of his life over the first four weeks of the regular season, but make no mistake about it, Brady’s next 12 games will be just as big of an audition.

If some team throws a first-round pick at the Patriots for Garoppolo in the offseason, that would certainly make owner Robert Kraft’s life a little bit easier as the team would then play out the Brady experience until it’s last day.  If recent history has taught us anything, the team’s that have traded for other team’s backup quarterbacks haven’t received all that much in return from the actual play on the field.

It’s more likely that both quarterbacks will be on the Patriots roster through the start of 2017 and then it will be time for Belichick to make the toughest decision of his head coaching career. In 2001, Belichick moved away from Drew Bledsoe for an unknown Brady which at the time was nearly as improbable from moving away from Brady will be in a year or two. Will things come full circle and will he move away from the man that made it possible for him to be considered as one of the greatest coaches of all time?

Stay tuned.


About Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade.  Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN.  He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.