For the entire NFL offseason, the word untouchable hasn't been far from any mention of New England Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. The Pats reportedly have no interest in getting rid of Tom Brady's backup, who's on the last year of his rookie contract and is likely to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, even though Brady is a 39-year-old who has, at best, three more seasons of high-level play. The idea of Garoppolo wearing anything but a Pats uniform was kiboshed again Sunday when ESPN's Adam Schefter said a trade is "not happening."
Really? Is Jimmy Garoppolo actually untradable? And if that's true and nothing can sway Bill Belichick from his current position, what's the end game? In exactly 10 months, Belichick is going to have a soon-to-be 41-year-old quarterback and a 26-year-old heir apparent with two career starts who will stay in New England only if he's given a long-term deal. How is Belichick going to turn a seemingly unworkable situation in his favor? He's going to let it all happen and go from there. These are three scenarios for how things might shake out in this zero-sum quarterback game.
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Garoppolo isn't actually untouchable and the Pats prefer him gone
All reports at draft time come with a caveat. There's always a price where a player, team or coach can be bought, and the Patriots are no different. Now maybe the price for Garoppolo is so high (Jimmy to Jacksonville for the next 17 Jaguars first-round picks, Tom Coughlin's personal diaries about Eli Manning and the naming rights to Shad Khan's mustache) that he's virtually untradable. It's basically the same thing as "not happening." Or maybe it's because the Patriots have no intention of trading but are kicking the tires to see what the market looks like after declaring that no market exists. Maybe it's a total lie -- the kind you hear dozens of times per April -- and the Pats are actually desperate to get rid of Garoppolo. Or maybe it's because the Patriots are actually going to ride out this Garoppolo thing and see where it take them.
Whatever it is, Belichick will get a blind benefit of the doubt and deservedly so. He's lauded as a football savant who turns everything he touches into Lombardi trophies. But he's not infallible, and he absolutely could be in the process of blowing a potential decade of future Patriots success. Either he holds on to Brady for too long and Garoppolo leaves; he puts too much faith in Garoppolo by paying him like a starter when he's merely a starter-in-waiting; or he lets Garoppolo go without getting anything in return. There's danger in each and all of those.
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Garoppolo is merely Brady insurance
Quarterbacks get hurt and 40-year-olds have a rapidly oncoming expiration date, so why not keep around Garoppolo in 2017 -- a title-defense season, you'll remember -- and hope he doesn't have to come in but know he's a security blanket if needed. For this to be true, Belichick is basically saying he doesn't care about the draft picks he could get right now for Garoppolo. Having a trusted, solid backup in another potential Super Bowl season outweighs the handful of high to mid-round draft picks Garoppolo could fetch.
And why shouldn't it? Belichick's five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback was famously taken in the sixth round. Last year's title-winning team had no first rounders at starting skill positions and only two were second-round picks. The Pats offense had as many undrafted players as players selected in the first 100 picks of their respective drafts. Is it any wonder Bill Belichick isn't panicking at the thought of losing high picks for a quarterback who could potentially be Brady's replacement?
But maybe (probably? almost certainly?) Belichick knows something we don't. What if Brady has told him he's gone after this year. No fanfare, he wants to play it out and then retire. Suddenly, keeping Garoppolo doesn't just make sense, it's a brilliant show of patience. Or perhaps Brady has said the 2018 season (two more seasons) will be his last? In that case, with Brady playing far below market value anyway, would Garoppolo take a backloaded long-term deal with New England to sit for one more season before getting a job that's been promised to him?
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Belichick is figuring it out on the fly
If you think Belichick has to get something for Garoppolo while he still can, then you have to believe Brady is going to play long enough to outweigh the loss of his successor. If you think Belichick should keep Garoppolo, then you think Brady must not be long for the NFL. Since both things cannot be true, then Belichick must be crazy for fiddling while his QB depth chart burns. How can he not know what he wants to do?
Easy: Nothing happens the way you want in the NFL. The Cowboys wanted Tony Romo to have two more years under center before handing the reins to Dak Prescott. It didn't happen that way, and it ended up working out great, if a bit awkwardly, for Dallas. The Redskins wanted Kirk Cousins to prove definitively that he either deserved a long-term deal or didn't. In their eyes, neither happened, and now Washington has put itself in a situation far more difficult than the one in New England.
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Now we wait ...
So Belichick waits. And wait he should. If there's nothing you particularly value, why make a trade simply to make a trade? If the worse-case scenario is that Tom Brady secretly found what Ponce de Leon couldn't, can play for four more seasons and, as a result, Garoppolo leaves for nothing, that's a risk worth taking. If it's being in the same spot next year and involves redoing a bunch of contracts to clear up space to throw money at Garoppolo to have him be a $20 million backup, so be it. And if it's using Garoppolo as insurance, not needing him, seeing him walk and eating the draft picks they could have gotten for him, how much does it affect the Pats? Could they miss something they never had?
Complicating all of it is loyalty to Tom Brady, which is odd when referencing Belichick who never has any qualms about getting rid of his favorite players once he thinks they've gone over the football hill. Brady isn't just any player though and one gets the feeling this decision would be a little easier if the Pats had gone 10-6 and lost in the wild-card round this January.
Belichick is buying himself time and he's entitled to it courtesy the fistful of rings he has. Any other coach or GM would have had to make a decision long ago. All of it makes for the most fascinating personnel situation since Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers wore the same Green Bay Packers uniform. The Pack, however, had a plan of succession. It involved running off the greatest quarterback in franchise history after a 13-3 season that ended one pass from the Super Bowl, but they stuck to it. There doesn't seem to be a Jimmy Garoppolo plan. Maybe that's been the plan along?