The Jimmy Garoppolo Question

One of the biggest questions heading into the off-season involves the Patriots’ plans for Jimmy Garoppolo. Tom Brady’s talented, but minimally tested backup is heading into the final year of his rookie contract. With Brady showing no signs of wear, the Patriots have to ask themselves if dishing out a big enough contract to retain Garoppolo is valuable to the franchise. That being said, Peyton Manning’s awful final season was only two removed from his MVP year in 2013. As incredible as Tom Brady has been in 2016, there’s literally no guarantee that he can sustain his level of play going forward. Now, I’m not saying Brady is going to fall off a cliff, but the Patriots would be wise to keep an insurance policy around. So the question is, ‘is Jimmy Garoppolo that guy?’

The Jimmy Garoppolo Question

From the New England Perspective

Brady’s future may not be concrete, but the general consensus is that he has at least two or three more solid seasons left before he inevitably declines. The Patriots will replace him, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll replace him with Jimmy Garoppolo.

Garoppolo is an unrestricted free agent in 2018 and there will be no shortage of suitors for his services when the time comes. If Brady is willing to play in 2018 and beyond, the Patriots aren’t likely to pay Garoppolo, their backup, the same amount of money that other teams would give him to start. Knowing this, the Patriots may attempt to shop him this offseason in an attempt to get something this year, versus nothing next year. There have already been rumors that both the Browns and Bears are interested, but the point is that Garoppolo may be more valuable to the Patriots as a trading piece than as a successor.

There’s no way Garoppolo overtakes Tom Brady as the starter in the short-term, and the Patriots may already have a solution for their backup role: Jacoby Brissett. When Garoppolo went down in week two with a shoulder injury, Brissett competently took over the reins for the Patriots until Brady’s return from suspension. He’s not exactly the next Michael Vick, but he’s good enough to be Brady’s backup while the Patriots draft a true successor in the future. Essentially, the Patriots have all the leverage in this situation – so long as Brady remains healthy.

Have We Seen Enough of Him?

Let’s assume the Patriots believe Brady will play at least two to three more seasons and are content with Brissett as their backup. This leaves Garoppolo as the odd man out, but is there really enough for interested teams to go on? How do we know that Garoppolo isn’t the next Brock Osweiler?

Garoppolo has only started in two games – and he didn’t even finish the second one. Granted, he was great in that little window, but teams would have to be crazy to assume he is a franchise starter. I’m not saying he can’t be; there’s just so little film on him. We’ve seen him beat a Cardinals team that ended up 7-8-1 and a Miami team that had a below-average defense and lost five of its first six games.

However, those two games shouldn’t be disregarded either. Against Arizona, Garoppolo was missing two starting offensive linemen and Rob Gronkowski, and threw the ball just as much as he handed it off. That last bit may not seem as important, but the Patriots allowed Garoppolo, a backup, to throw the ball 33 times against Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. That shows the coaching staff had confidence in his ability against what was then considered a Super Bowl-favorite team. As for Miami, Garoppolo left the game about halfway through the second quarter, after he built an insurmountable lead.

But, Is Garoppolo Even Good?

In five quarters, Garoppolo threw four touchdowns for nearly 500 yards without any turnovers. Jimmy might not have a lot of game film, though he’s legit in the film he does have. But that’s the macro observation, what about the nitty-gritty of his game? Garoppolo had a favorable scouting report and was projected as a first or second round pick, but the organization under which he has developed says even more. Few, if any, teams coach as well as the Patriots.

Also notable, on FS1’s The Herd, NFL Films senior producer and analyst Greg Cosell had this to say about Garoppolo. He has “really quick feet, he’s got a very quick delivery, he’s very compact, he’s a precise player, and he’s got the added element of movement to him.” Essentially, there’s a lot going for him. When Cosell was asked about how Garoppolo would fit in a place like Cleveland, he felt that Hue Jackson would see Jimmy as a guy who could run his offense “quickly and efficiently.”  That might not be an All-Pro endorsement, but Jimmy would probably be an upgrade over many teams’ current options at the position.

Then Who Would Trade for Him?

I already mentioned that the Browns and Bears want him. Cleveland hasn’t had a long-term, quality quarterback in like three centuries and the Bears may finally be done with Jay Cutler. Both teams have loads of cap space, so they could offer him a large contract when Garoppolo becomes a free agent.

San Francisco could also be a viable trading partner, especially with offensive guru Kyle Shanahan as head coach. Shanahan was recently quoted as having a strong interest in Garoppolo when he was the offensive coordinator in Cleveland in 2014 – that interest may still linger. Plus, it would be a splash move for John Lynch, the 49ers’ new general manager. Lynch’s hire was a shock so he might want to win back the press conference with an aggressive move.

The Texans and Jets could enter the mix as well, though both of these teams already have a lot of financial questions at the position. That goes double for the Texans, who may not want to try free agency again to solve their quarterback issues. Regardless, Garoppolo will generate attention if the Patriots decide to shop him because he’s low-risk-high-reward. Even if a team gives up an RGIII ammount of picks for him, that team can cut him because his cap hit is so low and there’s no obligation to resign him. At the very least, a team could trade for Garoppolo for a trial run.

But What if Garoppolo Wants to Stay?

The simple answer is that it doesn’t matter what Garoppolo wants because he’s already under contract. New England can basically do as they wish with him. However, say he decides to play ‘company guy’ and not only refrains from demanding a trade, but patiently waits for Brady to retire too. Garoppolo would be a clear front-runner for the most coveted quarterback job in the league. He has talent and the Patriots know him better than anyone else.

Say Brady puts up one more elite season then throws up a dud the following year. Bill Belichick never demonstrates loyalty to his players. Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones were two of the best players on New England’s defense last season. They’re both gone. This isn’t a criticism, just an observation. Belichick only cares about winning: you fit his program, it doesn’t fit you. Brady may be synonymous with the Patriots’ brand, but even he’s not immune to Belichick’s philosophies. If Brady’s play declines, Belichick will promote Garoppolo. It’s the nature of his business.

Also, consider this. How many commercials did Tom Brady do five years ago? And how many does he do now? It’s a sizeable difference, and while this may be speculation, Brady may see the end of the road. If Garoppolo is aware of this, he could decide to stay in New England – there aren’t better options elsewhere. Few coaching staffs are as elite and fewer organizations are as well-run.

The Verdict

Ultimately, Garoppolo’s future resides on any trade proposals that might find their way to Belichick’s desk this offseason. The Browns have two first round draft choices and ten more scattered in later rounds. They could certainly create an offer if they feel Jimmy has more upside than any of this year’s prospects. If New England doesn’t receive any worthy offers, they may simply try to keep him for the future. Garoppolo will have at least more four years of experience in the Patriots’ system than any rookie and he’s tentatively proven that he’s a quality player.

If Garoppolo does leave by trade or choice, it’s extremely unlikely that he has the same level of success that he would have with the Patriots. He’s already in the best building he can be in.