Yesterday was LeBron Day — but today? It’s QB Day. We live in a world where two statements are simultaneously true: (1) Quarterbacks are more valuable than ever, and (2) Joe Flacco is on the verge of becoming the highest-paid player in the NFL. So, with the league set for an offseason featuring plenty of high-profile quarterback movement, we decided to devote a whole 24 hours to separating the signal-calling wheat from the chaff. You can find all of the posts here. And remember: No matter what happens, at least you don’t owe Brock Osweiler $37 million.
Patriots fans should thank Roger Goodell. Yes, he suspended Tom Brady for a quarter of the season for an unproved equipment violation that should have carried a small fine. But think about the positives: The suspension gave Brady extra motivation and provided the 39-year-old a month off from the rigors of NFL Sundays.
Most importantly, though, it allowed the Patriots to showcase backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo. Without Brady’s suspension, Garoppolo would’ve twiddled his thumbs for 16 games as the Patriots won another Super Bowl. (My apologies for not addressing Garoppolo as “two-time Super Bowl champion Jimmy Garoppolo.”) Luckily, he got to play for a game and a half before injuring his shoulder.
Garoppolo played long enough to flash the talent of an NFL starter: Teams desperate for a QB are reportedly willing to give up first-round draft picks for him. But he didn’t play for long enough to prove beyond any doubt that he’s worth the investment. He could be a team’s new franchise player; he could be a GM’s biggest mistake. His brief stint set forth the most interesting question of the NFL offseason: How should the Pats and their suitors value such an uncertain commodity?
Let’s take a look at the four possible answers.
Why the Patriots Should Keep Him
Brady turns 40 before the beginning of the next season. He says he’ll play into his mid-40s, and is under contract until 2019, when he’ll turn 42. For Brady to continue to play effectively past that age would be about as unlikely as the Patriots’ Super Bowl comeback. Only one quarterback has ever started 10 or more games at 42 or older: Warren Moon in 1998. Brady may be special, but even special quarterbacks flame out at this stage. Brett Favre threw 33 touchdowns at age 40, but fell off a cliff in his final season at age 41. Peyton Manning threw 55 touchdowns at age 37, probably the best passing season in NFL history, and at 39 had the worst statistical season of his career before retiring. Yes, the Broncos won that Super Bowl, but not because of Manning — remember, those Broncos won five games with Brock Osweiler starting at QB.
Despite what Brady says, history tells us otherwise. Garoppolo is familiar with the Patriot Way (and more importantly, the Patriots’ plays). And he’s proved he has the ability to succeed in their system.
Keeping Garoppolo for one year is easy; he’s under his rookie contract through this upcoming season. And who knows how this upcoming season will go. Maybe Brady will realize playing at 41 and 42 is too much, and the Patriots can sign Garoppolo to a long-term deal.
It could backfire if Brady wants to continue playing, forcing the Pats to either sign Garoppolo to an unusually large deal for a backup or let him sign with another team. This would be the worst-case scenario, and it isn’t even bad: New England would still likely get a high compensatory draft pick in return.
This method has the lowest risk and could come with a low reward, but the Patriots shouldn’t be scared of that. Negotiating the end of a franchise player’s career is always tricky, and hanging on to Garoppolo would be a good insurance policy.
Plus, Garoppolo is handsome. Like, very handsome. Dreamy. So handsome that I’m not sure I could hold a conversation with him.
Why the Patriots Should Trade Him
Many teams in the NFL would be smart to hang on to a talented young backup to prepare for a future after the retirement of their franchise QB, but that thinking doesn’t apply to the Patriots
There is nothing inherently great about the New England Patriots as a franchise; fans who remember the team’s 40-plus years without a championship should be aware of this. Their greatness is borne by Bill Belichick, perhaps the greatest coach in football history, and Brady, arguably the greatest quarterback ever. Without one or the other, they don’t have five Super Bowls; who knows if they would even have one. There is a chance the Patriots could win a championship after Brady with Garoppolo at QB and Belichick still in charge, but they would be smart to win as much as they can right now. With five Super Bowl championships, there’s a strong case that this is the greatest dynasty in football history. If they can win a sixth or seventh, it would be hard to argue against that.
If the Patriots can flip Garoppolo for a usable piece to give them a better chance of winning with Brady, they should. A hitch in that plan is that they’ll likely receive a draft pick rather than a veteran, but they should be able to demand a pick high enough that they can prioritize a player who can contribute immediately. If Garoppolo turns out to be a Pro Bowl QB, they can live with that, knowing they did their best to maximize their glory days.
The Patriots also have third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett. While he didn’t do much in the two games he started in 2016, New England would not have used a third-round draft pick on him this past year if they didn’t like him. So if the Patriots trade Garoppolo, they’ll still have a young post-Brady potential starter on the roster.
Besides, you could argue that Garoppolo is too handsome. It could distract his teammates and cause a rift with Brady, who has spent most of his career being the most handsome person around and might be insecure about the effect aging could have on his handsomeness.
Why Someone Should Trade for Him
When Garoppolo has played, he’s been great. In 2016, he posted a 68.3 completion percentage, 9.2 adjusted yards per attempt, and four touchdowns with no interceptions. Yes, it’s a small sample size, but those are impressive numbers.
His career preseason numbers are roughly the same, too: A 67.1 completion percentage, eight touchdowns, and three interceptions. Yes, preseason performances should be taken with several sprinkles of salt, but there’s nothing that raises any red flags.
Compare Garoppolo to the alternative many teams face: trying to find a franchise quarterback in the first round of the NFL draft. Both are risks, but Garoppolo has already proved he can stay on an NFL roster for a few years and has impressed in both regular-season games and in preseason action. That puts him way ahead of players who have never read an NFL playbook. He might not be worth the no. 1 pick, but he’s less of a risk than anyone in this year’s draft.
Besides, the idea that Garoppolo is too handsome is ridiculous. If that was true, the Patriots would not have been able to win two Super Bowls with him on the team. If anything, Garoppolo’s handsomeness is more likely to distract opponents than his teammates, who have had the opportunity to adjust to his handsomeness over the course of the season.
Why Everyone Should Stay the Hell Away
Ninety-four passes! Ninety-four career passes! Only 80 of them not in garbage time! Even if they were 94 good passes, that’s not enough to consider making a franchise-changing decision.
Let’s say the top quarterback in this year’s draft is Deshaun Watson, and he has a great game Week 1 and a good game Week 2. How convinced are you that he’s a franchise quarterback? Not a ton, right? He still has a whole career ahead of him in which to succeed or fail. That’s essentially what we know about Garoppolo; he’s made two good starts with a Super Bowl–winning roster. Both options are risks, but a first-round draft pick is a risk that’s five years younger and won’t be a free agent for four years.
If you watch tape of Garoppolo’s two games, you won’t see him doing anything that’ll convince you of his pending superstardom. He made one pass that really stood out as a top-tier throw, a scrambling 33-yard bomb to Danny Amendola. All but four of his 43 completions were characterized as “short” by Pro Football Reference; his longest pass came when the Cardinals simply opted not to cover Chris Hogan. Most of his passes are quick hits, and he’s good on those. He’s decisive, accurate, and capable of leading the Patriots to a reasonable amount of success.
Except, we saw Matt Cassel lead the Patriots to a reasonable amount of success in 2008, which led to a big contract with the Chiefs. He replicated that performance only once, in his 2010 Pro Bowl campaign. Aside from that season, he’s been below average.
Merely being around Brady and Belichick does not guarantee greatness. If it did, we’d be hearing about the illustrious post-Patriots careers of Kevin O’Connell and Ryan Mallett, who were picked in the top three rounds of the draft and did little in New England or elsewhere. Other than Cassel, the most successful Brady backup to leave the Patriots is Brian Hoyer. Admittedly, he’s different from Garoppolo — he was an undrafted free agent, not a second-rounder, and he never got a chance to play as much as Garoppolo has — but Hoyer and Cassel are not exactly inspirational examples.
We shouldn’t project the failures of other ex-Pats onto Garoppolo, and he definitely has demonstrated a lot of qualities that successful quarterbacks have. But there are too many mysteries with Garoppolo to justify the price the Patriots will demand. He’s given us a glimpse, and a glimpse is not enough to confirm he’ll be worth it.
There is only one thing we know for sure about Garoppolo: He is very handsome. You only need a glimpse to figure that out.