The storylines that take hold surrounding the New England Patriots never cease to amaze me.
Whether it’s where camera operators stand, the temperature of Gatorade, the positioning of an instant replay board, the air pressure of footballs, or the chemistry inside the locker room, nothing gets those mouses clicking faster than a Patriots hot take. And the latest, other than the usual “rift” talk, has had legs for quite a while now, and that’s what ultimately happened with Jimmy Garoppolo and Belichick’s decision to trade him to the San Francisco 49ers. It’s the Patriots we’re talking about here, so at the end of the day nobody will ever really know what went on behind closed doors…but some of the explanations I have heard as to why New England did what they did just don’t make any sense. Words like “arrogant,” “foolish,” “shortsighted,” all being thrown around over a backup quarterback about to become a free agent. People saying that the Patriots should have traded Brady over Garoppolo and that the move doesn’t pass the Belichick smell test. That something must be up. We all know the song and dance by now.
And while I can certainly understand the appeal of the Deflategate storyline, or the headset discussions, or anything else that feeds into the Cheatriots narrative, this whole Garoppolo talk really has me stumped was to why it’s still a thing. Because to me, what happened here is as simple as simple can be.
As I just mentioned, I don’t know anything for certain. I’m not going to cite a bunch of “unnamed sources” and pass it off as fact. The below is nothing more than my opinion. But I don’t know…it just seems to make sense, doesn’t it?
It’s pretty straightforward, really: what it ultimately comes down to is that Jimmy Garoppolo came along about two or three years too early. That’s all there really is to it.
Ideally, the Patriots would have drafted him in 2015 or so, his rookie contract would be up just as Tommy B hit about 43, and the transition would have been smooth. But that wasn’t the way it unfolded, so the Patriots were stuck with a fairly lousy set of options: either try and move your backup QB who you believe will be a very successful player in this league, or trade the greatest quarterback to ever play the game right in the middle of an MVP-caliber season and on the heels of a Super Bowl performance for the ages. The Patriots went with the former, and that seems like a no-brainer if you ask me. Yes, it would have been nice to keep both Brady and Garoppolo around for the foreseeable future, but in order to make that happen, the Patriots would have had to completely cripple their salary cap. Not only would Garoppolo be getting paid upwards of $26 million to stand around and hold a clipboard, he would also be getting paid more than the starter. Plus, all the money in the world doesn’t add up to one of the most important factors for any competitor: playing time. Jimmy G wanted the opportunity to play, and why shouldn’t he? He has certainly earned that right. So it was time for him to move on.
There are those who think that the Patriots made the wrong move on this one, citing what I think is the most laughable argument when breaking down the mysteries of the Garoppolo trade: comparing this situation to the 49ers and Packers, who transitioned from Joe Montana and Brett Favre to Steve Young and Aaron Rodgers respectively. For some reason, the narrative is that both the 49ers and the Packers knew when it was time to move on from the old guard and allow the new guys to flourish. The consensus is that the Niners smartly traded Montana to the Chiefs in favor of Steve Young and the Packers wisely cut Favre to make room for Rodgers.
My main problem with this take is, quite simply, it isn’t even remotely true.
The truth is that Joe Montana was injured during the preseason in 1991, missed that entire year, and much of 1992 as well. By the time Montana finally returned, Young was in the process of leading his team to a 14-2 season on his way to being crowned NFL MVP. There was no “knowing it was time to move on.” Young had more than proven his worth. And with Aaron Rodgers, Brett Favre retired. He retired several times, actually. And when a player retires, someone else takes his place. That man was Aaron Rodgers. There wasn’t any decision from either front office here. Their all-star QB was no longer around, so they went with the backup. And both of these backups flourished. Does anyone want to argue that the Niners or Packers would have gotten rid of their franchise QBs if either were playing as well as Brady is right now and hadn’t gotten injured/retired? Of course not. In fact, I’d say that the only time I can think of where an owner/coach decided to move on from an all-time great in favor of a new, young QB is the Indianapolis Colts with Peyton Manning. And how did that work out for Indy? Manning led the Broncos to 2 Super Bowls, winning one, and the Colts…
Well, they do have that AFC Finalists banner. So maybe they were onto something.
If the Patriots had found themselves in a situation where Tommy B missed a lot of time and Garoppolo continuously played well, you can bet there would have been a serious QB controversy in New England. What happened instead was Brady missed four games due to a ridiculous suspension, Garoppolo played five good quarters, and then Brady came back to win another Super Bowl. What are the Patriots going to do in that situation?
And as for the apparent pittance the Patriots got in exchange for Garoppolo – perhaps they could have gotten more. Perhaps not. Belichick could probably have traded Jimmy G to Cleveland for a bundle. But that’s just a guess, and there have been no substantiated claims of any king’s ransoms anywhere on the table for Garoppolo. Plus, Cleveland is where careers go to die. Maybe Belichick wanted more for this kid. Not only that, but if Garoppolo does turn out to be a monster, better to have him in the NFC where you only play him once every four years. That makes a lot of sense to me.
So why not move him earlier in the year?
Probably because Brady was coming into his age-40 season and Belichick wanted to make sure that Tommy B could still play at a high level. If Brady really struggled, it was Garoppolo time. But Brady hasn’t struggled, and so Jimmy G was no longer on the table. It sucks, but what can you do.
Maybe I’m way off base here. Maybe there was more going on behind the scenes than we will ever know. But Occam’s Razor states that the simplest answer is usually the correct one, and the simplest answer is that Jimmy Garoppolo became a Patriot a little earlier than we wished he would, and because of that New England had to move him because they still have the best to ever do it under center.
But that storyline doesn’t get pageviews, does it?
Now enough of all this. It’s the playoffs. There are more important things to focus on.