By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — It’s the biggest story in New England, and everyone is talking about it. People seemingly cannot get enough.
No, it’s not the 13-3 team that’s beginning its postseason this coming weekend. It’s not the 40-year-old quarterback wrapping up an MVP season. It’s not the potential of the healthy receiving duo of Rob Gronkowski and Brandin Cooks, the superb play of Dion Lewis, and the complements of Danny Amendola, James White, Rex Burkhead and Chris Hogan. And it’s not the local team’s chances of winning a third Super Bowl in four years … for the second time since 2001.
Nope, it’s none of those things. It’s the midseason trade of the backup quarterback.
Of course, this was no ordinary trade, as it was the surefire superstar franchise quarterback for the next decade and beyond, the great Jimmy Garoppolo who was traded away. This deal caught many by surprise for its timing; surely the Patriots could have gotten a bit more in return had they put Garoppolo on the block prior to last year’s draft, when he was entering his fourth NFL season and final season under contract.
And, catastrophically, the trade left the Patriots with only the greatest quarterback of all time — the league MVP — to play the quarterback position for the present and foreseeable future.
As you might imagine, the organization is in shambles, and the “lingering sadness” inside the walls at 1 Patriots Place is so palpable that you can palp it without even trying. Children should steer clear of Gillette Stadium on Saturday night, because the risk of some inadvertent palping of the sadness is far too great.
Hyperbole aside, there are many interesting angles of the Garoppolo trade being explored, including the news that the Browns felt they were “consistently frozen out of trade talks for Garoppolo.”
If we accept the report at face value, then it would seem as though the Browns would be willing to give up a first-round pick (originally belonging to the Texans) and “other goodies.” A first-round pick and “other goodies” certainly constitutes a better return than a second-round pick.
And the fact that the Texans went 1-8 after the trade deadline, turning that first-round pick into the No. 4 overall pick? Knowing that the Patriots could be looking at all of the top quarterbacks entering the draft, or any of the nation’s best college players? And seeing the 49ers go 6-1 after the trade, turning what looked like the 33rd pick into the the 41st or 43rd pick?
It’s making people wonder out loud, “Hey — Bill. What the heck?!”
It’s true. That’s what they’re saying.
Some people have speculated that perhaps Belichick witnessed the Whos down in Whoville holding hands and singing around a Christmas tree and, as a result of his suddenly normal-sized heart, sent Garoppolo to San Francisco because it was a better place for the quarterback to thrive.
Considering Belichick has never — not once, ever — made a transaction for any sentimental or charitable reason, that seems difficult to believe.
So, then, what’s the deal? Again, the people are wondering.
And these days, you can’t get away with just answering “because that organization is the pinnacle of dysfunction, because the Browns might not have properly filed the paperwork correctly in time to execute the trade, because the Browns would have leaked out the fact that the Patriots tried to trade Garoppolo, etc. etc. etc.” That’s what folks in the media refer to as “an insufficient if plausible explanation.”
But I have a theory. It’s based on … whatever it is that theories are based on. And it’s admittedly a bit creative. But hear it out.
For those who are just scrolling, looking for this great theory, it begins here.
Let’s assume that you’re all correct in your assessments that Garoppolo is a guarantee to be a top 10 quarterback for the next decade. I have my doubts (I’ve seen flashes in pans several times over the past decade alone), but I will proceed as if Garoppolo’s guaranteed greatness is a universal truth with which Belichick agrees.
So Belichick sends Garoppolo to the Niners. Go get some NFL playing experience, and hey, maybe you’ll end up being the franchise quarterback for the 49ers. You have that opportunity.
At the same time, Belichick could have been taking a calculated gamble that the 49ers would not be signing the largely unproven Garoppolo to a long-term contract, that instead the team would try to find, say, a three-year contract with terms that made sense for both sides. A contract that wouldn’t make Garoppolo among the highest paid QBs in the NFL (the 26-year-old only has 12 NFL touchdown passes to his name, after all), but would compensate him well in a market that desperately needs something to believe in.
And maybe — just maybe — when that contract expires, the New England Patriots will be among the teams looking to sign a quarterback on the open market. A quarterback they can trust, one with experience, one with that intangible “it factor,” and one who’s proven capable of improving and getting smarter each and every week. And maybe the Patriots would make Garoppolo the best offer.
It’s far-fetched, sure, but the one lynchpin that holds this thing together is a man by the name of Don Yee.
While none of us mere mortals has the inside scoop on when Brady will actually stop playing … Don Yee does.
And assuming Brady doesn’t actually believe he’s a bionic man who can play in the NFL until he’s 60 years old, that year realistically might be somewhere in the ballpark of 2021.
Let’s just say that Yee was equipped with this knowledge just as Garoppolo was reaching free agency. And let’s say the Niners were trying to sign Garoppolo to a long-term deal. Might Yee advise his client to hold off on signing anything, knowing that some other teams might come calling with some offers worth considering? And let’s say it’s time for Garoppolo to make this decision. Again, assuming he is The Chosen One who can save a franchise, what if Yee reminded Garoppolo, “You know, Bill did give you that opportunity in San Francisco. He could have shipped you to Cleveland for a better return, you know. You were the one player he really treated right when making a trade, you know. You know? You know.”
In swoops Belichick, who in his late 60s is dead-set on leading the Patriots with a quarterback not named Brady for the first time in 20 years, and he reunites with the hero known as Jimmy Garoppolo. And remember, this imaginary situation takes place in 2021, the first year of a new CBA … a CBA which may not include the franchise tag, thus giving players the rights they desperately want (and deserve). All of this worrying in January 2018 becomes a distant memory, as Garoppolo leads the Patriots to seven Super Bowls and passes Brady as the greatest quarterback of all time. Everyone wins — what a hit!
The great theory is now over. I’m now going to wrap up this story with some closing thoughts. If you were just scrolling — farewell! It was a pleasure. Hope you enjoyed the theory.
Now, do I wholly subscribe to this theory? I don’t, but that’s because I don’t view Garoppolo the same way many people have been viewing Garoppolo for years. He’s looked great at times, for sure, and he was a real life Big Baller in leading the previously-dead-ass Niners to five wins to end the year. It was hard to not get swept up in Jimmy G-Mania, and hey, perhaps it is a sign of amazing things to come.
But, well, I’ve seen this before. The football world fell in love with Nick Foles, who in his second year out of Arizona went 8-2 as the Eagles’ starting quarterback, setting an NFL record for touchdown-to-interception ratio (27-to-2) in the process. Foles posted a perfect passer rating in one game against the Raiders when he threw for 406 yards and seven touchdowns. He was great down the stretch and led the Eagles to an NFC East title.
Nick Foles was hot! (The Eagles, by the way, were 2-4 that year with starter Michael Vick. They were rescued when Savior Foles donned his cape and lit up the world.)
Foles and the Eagles lost their playoff game that year (Foles played fine, with one of his two touchdown passes being a go-ahead score with less than five minutes to play against the Saints).
Foles did not follow up his great 2013 season very well; teams had figured him out. He completed 59.8 percent of his passes in 2014, throwing 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions before breaking his collarbone. His replacement was a man by the name of Mark Sanchez, who performed similarly with 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions — albeit with a significantly higher completion percentage.
The Eagles ended up trading away Foles, a second-round pick and a fourth-round pick in exchange for Sam Bradford and a fifth-round pick. Foles has since thrown 15 total touchdowns and 12 interceptions while posting a 7-8 win-loss record over the past three seasons, and with him stepping in late this year for the injured Carson Wentz, most analysts have him pinned as the reason for the Eagles’ impending playoff loss as the NFC’s No. 1 seed.
Foles is just one example of a young quarterback dominating the league for one hot minute before falling back to earth in unspectacular fashion. Robert Griffin III was pinned as the face of the new NFL when he threw 20 touchdowns with five interceptions and rushed for 815 yards and seven touchdowns in his rookie season, leading the Redskins to a 9-6 record and a playoff appearance. He threw 22 touchdowns and 21 interceptions after that, and he’s been completely out of the league now for a full season. His career appears to be over.
Oh, and remember Matt Flynn? He may be the best comparable to Garoppolo, because he had just two starts to his name before he became a free agent and cashed in with a three-year, $20 million deal with the Seahawks, who guaranteed $9 million of that money. That financial dedication was based on Flynn’s work in relief of Aaron Rodgers. In 2010, Flynn impressively went 24-for-37 for 251 yards and three touchdowns and one pick in Foxboro on national TV against the Patriots (before terribly mismanaging the clock and fumbling on the final play of the potential game-winning drive). In his lone start of 2011, Flynn threw for 480 yards, six touchdowns, and one interception in a wild Week 17 shootout against Matthew Stafford and the Lions.
“We have GOT to sign that guy and give him millions of dollars!” the Seahawks gleefully exclaimed; Flynn didn’t win the starting job, which went to Russell Wilson. He’d throw just 225 NFL passes (8 TDs, 6 INTs) and start five games before washing out of the NFL within three years.
So while it was easy and fun to have watched the Garoppolo Madness from afar in December and gasp in wonderment that the future of the NFL has arrived and its name is James Richard Garoppolo … it’s possible that Garoppolo might not be the second coming of Joe Montana. It’s certainly more possible than many folks seem to be realizing at this moment in time. He’s thrown 12 touchdowns and five interceptions, and he’s got a 7-0 record. Several players — the aforementioned QBs and a few more in recent years, like Matt Cassel, Derek Anderson, and Tim Tebow — had accomplished more and looked to have extremely bright futures before they either proved to be mediocre or worse.
It is, of course, also possible that he goes on to become an all-time great quarterback, or even just a two-time Pro Bowler with a better career than Matt Flynn. And it’s technically possible that the kid out of Eastern Illinois goes on to prove that he should have been made the starter over Tom Brady (MVP of the league, greatest quarterback of all time, still playing at the highest level at age 40) and that the Patriots made a mistake. And lastly, it’s possible that my
wild great theory is 100 percent accurate, and Belichick has outsmarted us all.
All that’s really known right now is that everyone is probably freaking out a bit too much about the Patriots’ trade of a backup quarterback.