In 2014, the New England Patriots made their clearest statement up until that point about the football mortality of future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady. The team, after all, had drafted Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round that year in part because of the uncharted territory ahead for the then-36-year-old who was just coming off one of his worst statistical seasons since becoming the Patriots’ starting quarterback in 2001.
What followed was a career renaissance for Brady, who led New England to three Super Bowl wins over the next six seasons and forced them to trade the promising-looking Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers by still playing at an elite level in 2017. But almost six years removed from the Patriots investing their highest draft pick of Bill Belichick’s tenure as de facto general manager in the position, the lessons learned are still relevant to this day.
Belichick was asked about the Garoppolo selection shortly after it was announced, and his answer that day was telling not just when it comes to quarterbacks per se but also about how he views roster construction as a whole — something that is again relevant when looking at Brady’s upcoming free agency next month: Belichick’s Patriots will not let one position or one player-specific situation stand in the way of fielding a competitive team.
“In our organization I don’t think we would put together a team the way Indianapolis did it when they lost [Peyton] Manning and they go 0-16, 1-15 or whatever it was.” Belichick pointed out back in 2014. “I don’t think that’s really what we’re looking for. Unfortunately when we lost Tom in 2008 — we had a player that could step in and we won 11 games. We want to be competitive even if something happens to a player at any position.”
Brady potentially leaving as a free agent to end his 19-year tenure as the team’s undisputed starting quarterback would qualify as “something happening,” but if Belichick’s statements are to be taken at face value — and his track record over the years suggests that should be the case — the Patriots will try to be ready for whichever situation unfolds. Whether it is rolling forward with second-year man Jarrett Stidham or another passer, New England will have a Plan B in case Plan A is not retained.
“I think depth is always important,” Belichick added back in 2014 when talking about his team investing a day two draft selection in the quarterback position. “You never know when you’re going to need it. But I don’t think we’d be happy going 1-15 if we had an injury at one position. But other people have different philosophies. I’m just saying that the contrast to that example... I don’t think that’s really what we’re trying to do.”
While Belichick has been silent about his intentions as they relate to the Patriots’ franchise quarterback and long-term plan at the most important position in football, the idea that the team would leave itself exposed is not supported by his previous statements on the matter. Sure, six years is a long time and his opinion and approach could have changed since 2014, but it is more probable than not that the main goal remained the same.
The Patriots will try to build a competitive team regardless of the quarterback’s contract status. And if that QB is still the best option available — the belief at this point in time is that Brady is just that — the Patriots will try to keep him in the fold.