By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub
Jimmy Garoppolo made his first start with the San Francisco 49ers in Week 13 of the 2017 season, and these are the facts: since that time, he has a 21-7 record while the Patriots have gone 19-10, and you can bet a Subway sandwich that Bill Belichick knows it better than anyone.
And so here we are now, in Week 7 of a 2020 season in which neither the Patriots nor the Niners are exactly thundering toward November, and guess who’s coming to dinner in Foxboro this week: handsome Jimmy G, the man who might have been. Tom Brady is in Tampa, the Patriots have quarterback issues and the man whom Belichick identified as the heir apparent is about as far from Foxboro as possible, which cannot help but make one wonder.
Isn’t this exactly what the Patriots wanted to avoid – a life without both Brady and a clear succession plan?
“I think we all know Jimmy’s a quality player and can do all the things that a good quarterback needs to do,” Belichick told reporters yesterday. “He led the 49ers to the NFC Championship last year. We saw a little bit of him at the end of the year last year in preparation for this game and of course the 2020 games that he’s played in, so I don’t think there’s any question about his skill level and what he’s been able to accomplish and what their team’s been able to accomplish. We’ll be ready for his best. I’m sure we’ll get it. He does a lot of things well.”
Just to be clear, that’s Belichick talking, not me or anyone else who has regarded Garoppolo as the obvious successor to Brady, the original GQB. He can do all of the things that a good quarterback needs to do. And whether you agree with that assessment or not, the point is that Belichick wanted Garoppolo, wanted to keep him, wanted to do at quarterback what he has done at every other position on the field.
Be a year too early rather than a year too late, proact and not react.
Knowing what we know now, would you still do it the same way? Would you? (Be honest.) Prior to the 2017 season, Belichick had the chance to trade Garoppolo and didn’t. (Renowned NFL insider Adam Schefter is on record as saying the Patriots wouldn’t have accepted as many as four first-round picks for Garoppolo.) He ultimately traded him in the middle of the season, seemingly because Brady appealed to owner Robert Kraft. Then the Pats lost the Super Bowl to the Philadelphia Eagles.
And then, thanks to “The Dynasty” by Jeff Benedict, we now know that Brady went to Kraft after that season and asked to be let out of his contract after the 2018 campaign. Kraft said no. A year later, he said yes and forfeited the Patriots’ right to use the franchise tag on Brady after the 2019 campaign.
In the span of roughly two years, after having what Belichick himself called “the best quarterback situation in the league,” the Patriots effectively lost both Brady and Garoppolo for a second-round pick in 2018 and a compensatory selection in the 2021 draft, which feels like one of the worst examples of roster management in the history of all professional sports.
Despite that, this might all be more palatable from a long-term perspective if the Patriots currently had a solution at quarterback.
But they don’t.
On the heels of last week’s debacle against the Denver Broncos, the Patriots currently rank 28th in the NFL in passer rating. They are tied for last in touchdown passes. They have thrown the fourth-most interceptions. They rank 30th in passing yards have the fewest completions in the league of 20+ yards, which means they pretty much stink at everything when it comes to putting the ball in the air.
Meanwhile, for all of the justifiable talk of Garoppolo’s fragility, Cam Newton is here on a one-year deal and hasn’t exactly been the paragon of durability throughout his career, especially of late. Brian Hoyer might never see the field again. Jarrett Stidham has been going backwards for months now. Anyone who opted for trading Garoppolo and simply drafting “the next guy” clearly underestimated the challenge of finding competent quarterbacks, even in an era when playing the position may be easier than ever before.
Maybe you like Garoppolo as a player, maybe you don’t. Either is fine. But the fact is that Garoppolo had a 113.3 rating in two starts with the Patriots, with Belichick as his coach, and the team seemed well-positioned for the long-term. Now they are further away than ever before. More than anyone else, the Patriots have always understood the benefits of acting sooner, of settling up and moving on, because we all know what happens if you don’t.
You pay later.
And you’re paying now.
You can hear Tony Massarotti weekdays from 2-6 p.m. EST on the Felger & Massarotti program. Follow him on Twitter @TonyMassarotti.