You know what the most surprising thing about Bill Belichick is? That he’s still able to surprise me.
You figure by this point, absolutely nothing the Patriots do would shock anybody. Cut your all-star safety a few days before the start of the season? Sure. Trade away your franchise lineman? Why not? Send one of the greatest receivers to ever play the game off to Minnessota in the middle of the season? Makes sense to me. For as long as Bill Belichick has been the coach of the New England Patriots, he has made moves that have left people scratching their heads, and yet every time he makes another one, we all act the same - like this is the first time he has ever done something like this, and wonder if he has finally lost it.
And with this latest move, Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers for a 2nd round pick, the internet is once again broken as it tries to figure out why Belichick did what he did when he did and what his rationale was. Apparently, there are thousands upon thousands of people out there who fancy themselves a better evaluator of personnel than Belichick, and they haven’t hesitated to make themselves known.
As for me, I went through the usual range of emotions after hearing we’d be losing another beloved player. Confusion. Shock. A little bit of despair. Bargaining. Eventually acceptance. And after sleeping on it and waking up this morning with a fresh perspective, I think it’s pretty obvious what was going on here.
Well...obvious to me, at least.
So while the rest of the world wonders why the Patriots didn’t hold out for the seven first round picks that they could have gotten for Jimmy G and what they are going to do when Brady falls off that cliff, here is my take on the trade, what they got in return, and why it makes a lot of sense.
One... despite many, many reports to the contrary, I have yet to hear a single confirmed report that there were any teams offering multiple first round picks for Garoppolo. Cleveland was linked to him early, but nothing was substantiated, and for all we know, this 2nd rounder is the best offer the Patriots have gotten up to this point. Seeing as how San Francisco is likely to be picking in the top 5 in 2018, with a shot at the number one overall pick, the Patriots are essentially getting a late 1st rounder for a quarterback that, in all likelihood, wasn’t going to be on the team next year anyway.
And why wouldn’t Garoppolo be on the team next year anyway? Because the National Football League is a massively broken system in which people scrambling to save their jobs make moronic, Hail Mary moves in hopes of catching lightning in a bottle with the knowledge that if it doesn’t work out, it’s not really their problem since they’re gone anyway. The harsh reality is that if you’re a quarterback in the NFL and you engineer one win - that’s all you need to do, generate a single win in one game - you’re going to get an absolutely massive contract from another team the following year. Be it Matt Flynn, Brock Osweiller, Matt Cassell, you name it, if you show even a modicum of competence as a QB, someone is going to give you multiple years and a buttload of money in hopes that you’ll be the guy going forward. Jimmy Garoppolo has played five and a half quarters of good football in his entire career as a pro, which is enough to get him four years and $50 million from somebody. And while I wish the absolute best for Jimmy G and hope he thrives out on the west coast, the Patriots simply weren’t going to pay that kind of money for a backupo QB, especially with Brady playing at such a high level still. Of course, they could have franchised him - but the franchise tag for quarterbacks is in the range of $26 million dollars, which is an obscene amount of money to pay a player you hope never sees the field at all. So for all intents and purposes, Garoppolo was gone.
Had he walked as a free agent, the Pats would be entitled to compensatory pick in 2019, most likely somewhere towards the middle/bottom of round 3, and that would only be if Jimmy G signed a big contract in 2018 and played well. Not only that, New England couldn’t make a whole lot of big splashes in free agency, lest they hurt their chances at that compensatory pick. So rather than let Garoppolo walk for practically nothing, they got what it sure to be a high second rounder for a half season rental for a player they weren’t going to keep next year anyway.
But why didn’t they trade him earlier in the season? Or in the offseason? Why wait when they probably could have fleeced Cleveland a few months ago? The answer to that question is twofold, I think. First, the Patriots weren’t 100% certain Brady would still be Brady in 2017. Any way you slice it and no matter how well he played last year, 40 years old is 40 years old. There is always going to be a chance, from here on out, that Tommy B’s play starts to dip significantly as he continues to get older. You can deny that all you want and call me a cynic for questioning how much longer Brady has, but the bottom line is that a time will come where he just doesn’t have it anymore. Had that been the start of the 2017 season, Jimmy G was waiting in the wings. Of course, as it turns out, Brady is as good as he ever was this year, so Garoppolo - and Jacoby Brissett, for that matter - became expendable. After ensuring that Brady still had his fastball, it made sense to move the two backups in exchange for additional assets. At this point, I feel that the team believes that Tommy B still has a few solid years left, so there’s no need to keep his heir apparent on the roster to be re-signed for a lot of money, so they might as well sell high now as opposed to earlier in the year.
However, while Brady is indeed playing as well as he ever had, there’s always a chance that he gets injured and misses significant time. The way that elite players are dropping left and right in 2017, it’s certainly something to worry about. And if that were to happen, as of this writing there isn’t another quarterback on the roster at all; all signs point to Brian Hoyer coming back to New England, but at the moment Brady is the only QB on the roster. So what then?
What I think happened here is that Bill Belichick saw this roster, looked at the current issues it has on both sides of the ball, and drew the conclusion that they wouldn’t be able to win the Super Bowl this year with any quarterback not named Tom Brady. If the Patriots believed Garoppolo was good enough to help them win the Super Bowl if Brady got injured, they likely would have kept him around this season and worried about what to do about him after the year was over. But their willingness to trade him leads me to believe that the Patriots brass realizes that this team will only go as far as Brady can take them - which, given both Brady’s play and the general lack of any good teams in the NFL this year, could very well be to another Super Bowl. But if Brady does go down, this trade likely means that Patriots know their chances at a repeat are more or less dead in the water. So may as well move Garoppolo and stockpile some additional capital.
And who knows? Maybe Belichick wanted to give Tommy B some additional job security to let him know that there isn’t some young guy waiting in the wings to steal his job. We all know how competitive Tom Brady is; maybe no Jimmy Garoppolo means he can focus solely on winning games now.
This trade makes a lot of sense for all parties involved. The 49ers get a good player who has spent four years learning under the greatest quarterback and coach of all time, and the Patriots get a very high draft pick to do with as they please. Question it if you want, but know that these things usually tend to work out in New England’s favor.
Just stay healthy, Tom. Please.