The Jimmy Garoppolo Era in New England is over. And who can forget the highlights? The legendary preseason performances. The two starts. The injury in his second start. The trade rumors. The ongoing debate about whether he’s more handsome than Tom Brady. And of course, the two Super Bowl championships, in which Garoppolo played zero snaps. He’ll go into the Hall of Super Bowl Backup Quarterback Fame next to Jason Garrett, Bubby Brister, and Rohan Davey.
It feels like Garoppolo’s tenure was a success for the Pats: He was the 62nd pick in the 2014 draft, and the Patriots turned him into what should be a top-35 pick from the 49ers in the 2018 draft while getting several effective performances along the way without ever having to sign him to a non-rookie contract. Sure, there was talk of getting a first-rounder for Garoppolo, but this was a good return for a player we still don’t know for sure to be good.
Garoppolo’s tenure in New England was an odd one. He was forever caught between three roles: The first was his actual role on the team: an insurance policy for a 40-year-old quarterback who also happened to spend 20 months with an imminent suspension hanging over his head. The second was his role as a part of the team’s future: the successor to Brady. His third was his value as a trade chip, a (probably) good quarterback riding the bench in a 32-team league with fewer than 32 good starters.
The Patriots chose to cash in on the third. Normally, winning franchises in sports are the buyers. But with Brady, the team has had no need to heavily invest in a quarterback for the past 17 years. The Pats have used their backup role to develop players other teams presume will be good. In 2009, they got a high second-round draft pick for Matt Cassel; they got a late-round pick for Ryan Mallett in 2014; in September, they got Phillip Dorsett (a recent first-round pick) in exchange for Jacoby Brissett, and now they’ve gotten yet another high second-round pick for Garoppolo.
But hypothetically, they were supposed to stop doing this. Tom Brady is 40 years old. The Pats had two young, seemingly talented prospects, and have now traded both in under a year. They literally do not have a backup quarterback right now, although the consensus seems to be they’ll sign ex–Brady backup Brian Hoyer (who the 49ers released after the trade) to fill that role.
Garoppolo’s three roles with the Pats were united by a common thread: Brady’s age. The Pats needed a backup for Brady because Brady is 40, and 40-year-olds have achy bodies. (If you’re not 40, please ask a 40-year-old about this. They’ll be happy to talk.)
They needed a successor to Brady because Brady is 40, and almost no 40-year-olds have ever played quarterback effectively in the NFL—and even fewer 41-year-olds, and even fewer 42-year-olds, and legitimately no 43-year-olds have ever done it. Brady says he’ll play until he’s 45; that is utter lunacy that we would instantly reject if Brady hadn’t already done so many impossible things in his career.
And they needed to trade Garoppolo because Brady is 40. Why should the Patriots have any valuable player sitting on the bench when they could get somebody who can help them win today, before Brady’s window closes? There are rumors that the Pats will flip the 49ers pick to get a defensive player from elsewhere in the league.
Maybe the Patriots traded Garoppolo because they believe Brady when he says he’ll live forever. (He wrote a book about it—it must be true.) Or maybe they just understand what they’ve been blessed with: a player who might be the greatest of all time. It was wiser to use Garoppolo as an asset to help the team get better while Brady is still playing—however long that is—than hold on to him in hopes he can one day fill the largest shoes the sport has ever known.