I wonder how the Patriots determined Tom Brady will indeed play forever. I’ll let you make the avocado ice cream and Bill Belichick-is-a-convert-to-the-TB12 Method jokes after Monday’s trade of backup quarterback and presumed Brady successor Jimmy Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers. I’m just going to stand over here and marvel at how Bill Belichick blindsided us all again.
I believed Brady was the Patriots quarterback who would become a Niner someday. I really did. He grew up in the Bay Area rooting for Joe Montana and the Niners dynasty. Then when he was grown up, he become a Patriot and surpassed anything Montana and the Niners ever achieved.
I figured the season would come when he still wanted to play – maybe at 43 years old, or 44 – and Belichick, who is as nostalgic as a tree stump when it comes to roster-building, saw that Brady was at last slipping and might have sent him to the place where his football journey began. Not because of the symmetry. Because the Niners seemed like the kind of dysfunctional franchise that might give Belichick a half-dozen draft picks for a 40-plus quarterback with a golden past.
Instead, Belichick traded the Niners his other quarterback, the 26-year-old with 1 ½ impressive games’ worth of experience and a presumably bright present and future, for a single second-round draft pick.
When the news of the Garoppolo trade came late Monday evening with a tweet via ESPN’s Adam Schefter, it was so shocking that the immediate reaction was: This must be a fake Twitter account. C’mon, this is like @AdamSchetfer trying to dupe us or something right?
But it wasn’t. The real Schefter was adamant over the summer that the Patriots would not trade Garoppolo for multiple first-round picks. And halfway through the season, here he was again, breaking the news that they had traded him without getting a single No. 1 in return.
It was bewildering. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad deal. But … it’s bewildering. Just like Belichick’s past curious trades of Matt Cassel/Mike Vrabel for a second-round pick (which became Patrick Chung), or Drew Bledsoe to the division rival Bills for a first-rounder, or Jamie Collins to the Browns for a second-round pick almost a year ago to the day of this deal, it will probably look better a few years from now than it does in that moment of surprise when we learn of it.
In the immediate aftermath of the news breaking, I kept thinking about what a great mood Belichick was in during his weekly interview with WEEI’s Dale Arnold, Michael Holley, and Rich Keefe on their afternoon drive program. I think it was the most engaging I’ve ever heard him, and that includes the shows a day or two after they’ve won Super Bowls. He was elaborative in his answers and even shared a funny story about the best Halloween costume he’s ever seen. I think he may have even laughed audibly. And all along, he knew. The son of a gun knew the news was coming and few would understand why he traded Jimmy Garoppolo. And he told a Halloween story. Amazing.
Perhaps in his memoirs Belichick will share his full reasoning for trading Garoppolo now. But until then, we’re probably not getting a detailed explanation unless he has an unexpected encounter with sodium pentathol. So what we’re left with is educated speculation based on what we know about the situation and what the trade confirms. So join me in attempting to draw a few conclusions:
I believe the Patriots are convinced Brady has at least a couple more years in him at a high, if not supremely high, level. Brady is 90 days into his 40s, and he already has the fifth-most career touchdown passes (16) of a quarterback 40 or older, trailing only Warren Moon (37), Brett Favre (36), and Vinny Testaverde (24), and George Blanda (22). He could conceivably surpass all of them before the end of the season. He’s still brilliant, and Belichick knows it better than anyone.
I believe the Patriots realized that it wasn’t feasible to pay both Brady (due $21 million next year) and Garoppolo (who likely would have commanded $24 million had the franchise tag been placed on him after this season) without gutting the middle class of the roster. And we know how Belichick feels about quality depth. Reports that Garoppolo and the Patriots discussed a new contract and didn’t make much headway make sense. If he was to make $20-something million to back up Brady, he might has well have had to also have been an outside linebacker adept at holding the edge and also thrive as a special teams gunner to justify the damage it would have done to the rest of the roster.
I believe the Patriots may have had slightly better offers over the last few months, but nothing resembling an outright draft-pick looting of their trade partner. The NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport (real account, I checked) reported that the Browns offered a second-round pick and “change’’ for Garoppolo during the draft.
Of course I was surprised the Patriots didn’t get a No. 1 pick for him. You know what that means? That they couldn’t get a No. 1 pick for him. If they could have received more, I’m sure they would have taken more. But Belichick thought this was enough. And Belichick the GM has helped Belichick the coach a heck of a lot more often than he’s hurt him. I wonder which college quarterback he has his sights set on?
Sure, the Patriots are driving without insurance now. The Patriots quarterback depth chart quarterback as of this writing is a single name, though it sounds like Brian Hoyer could return to where his career began soon. If something happens to Brady – and there is a long way to go on the journey toward Minnesota in February – there would have been some hope that a sixth championship was possible with Garoppolo at the helm. It is not possible now. There is no backup plan if Brady gets hurt.
If you’re a Patriots fan, of course you hope this deal works out for the best for your team. But I hope most Patriots fans want this to work out for Garoppolo too. He seemed a good and gracious teammate, and was a joy to watch during his brief time as the starter while Brady was suspended last season. I’m convinced he was the second-best quarterback in the AFC East over the past two seasons.
Like Jacoby Brissett, he is wearing different colors now, but Garoppolo remains easy to root for. I hope he blossoms with the Niners during their long turnaround, thrives under Kyle Shanahan like Matt Ryan did, and then, a few years from now, collides with Brady and the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Hard to fathom? Maybe. But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Patriots fans know that to be true as well as anyone.
The improbable can become reality in the time it takes for Belichick to act on an idea none of us would even know to consider. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is your latest proof.