By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — You know, revisionist history is a real son of a gun. But if it’s going to be applied, it could at least be correct.
As it relates to the current day Patriots and the hubbub surrounding the team’s trade of Jimmy Garoppolo in late October, a name we’re hearing quite often is one Mr. Matt Cassel. You see, once upon a time the Patriots had Cassel on the roster, and he played better than anyone could have expected, and so the team applied the franchise tag on Cassel and traded him away the following offseason because Tom Brady had a very successful second half to his career that he planned to execute for the New England Patriots.
The question, many wonder, is why the Patriots could not have done the same for Garoppolo.
The answer is that they certainly could have done that.
But the idea that the Patriots would have fetched a better return than the second-round pick they got from San Francisco is simply false.
Of course, all it takes is one over-eager team to throw such an assertion off its axis. However, the fact that Cassel (coincidentally, now Tennessee’s backup quarterback who will be visiting Foxboro on Saturday) went on to be a mediocre-at-best quarterback in his career seems to be coloring the discussion quite a bit. Cassel was garbage, a crass man may argue, but the Pats still franchised him and got a huge return.
However did you arrive at such a conclusion, you crass, crass man?
Let’s just lay it down as simply as possible: Matt Cassel was a much, much more accomplished quarterback when he was traded than Jimmy Garoppolo was when he was traded. It’s not even remotely close.
We’ll eliminate Cassel’s first three seasons (39 total passes) and Garoppolo’s first two seasons (31 total passes) and look only at the two players’ tenures as starting quarterbacks for the New England Patriots.
Matt Cassel, 2008
15 starts, 10-5 record
3,693 yards, 7.2 Y/A
21 TDs, 11 INTs
PFR Approximate Value: 17
Jimmy Garoppolo, 2016
2 starts, 2-0 record
502 yards, 8.0 Y/A
4 TDs, 0 INTs
PFR Approximate Value: 2
Cassel also rushed 73 times for 270 yards and two touchdowns; Garoppolo rushed 10 times for six yards.
So, yes, in the sense that Cassel threw 453 more passes for roughly 3,200 more yards and 17 more touchdowns, the Cassel situation and Garoppolo situation is basically an apples-to-apples comparison.
(The win-loss numbers are a little skewed too; it should have Cassel at 11-5 and Garoppolo at 1-0. Or, maybe 1.5-0. Cassel played more than three quarters in the ’08 season opener but doesn’t get credit for the win, while Garoppolo played less two quarters in Week 2 of 2016 but gets credited with the win. Stats!)
And while we’re all living in the wake of the Jimmy G Phenomenon that was the end of the 2017 season, the fact is the kid threw six touchdowns and five interceptions in his five starts this year. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jacoby Brissett, Josh McCown and Tyrod Taylor all had better TD-to-INT ratios this year. In the past, we’ve seen better flashes from the likes of Nick Foles, Matt Flynn, Tim Tebow, Brock Osweiler, Robert Griffin, Derek Anderson and Cassel. None of them went on to have great careers. Most of them didn’t even have good careers. Most of them also got paid a lot of money, too.
Garoppolo certainly looks the part of a winning NFL quarterback, but the idea that he’s a surefire second coming of Joe Montana is probably a bit of a reach. He did play his college football against the likes of Towson, Middle Tennessee State, Austin Peay, Southeast Missouri State, Tennessee Tech and the University of Tennessee at Martin, after all. If Belichick wants to find another diamond in the rough, he’ll have plenty of time in February, March and April to scan all the Ohio Valley Conference tape that his cold, black heart desires. There just might be another Garoppolo out there in this world.
But I digress.
The other major difference in the Cassel-Garoppolo situations is that the Patriots didn’t go into the 2008 season with Cassel’s contract on their mind at all. They probably figured they’d re-sign him for peanuts after his rookie contract expired following the 2008 season, during which Brady would probably tickle that record of 50 touchdown passes once again.
If Belichick had used his cheatin’ crystal ball that summer to foresee that Brady would have suffered a complete tear of his left knee just seven minutes into the season, then Belichick surely would have signed Cassel to a contract extension which would have fetched him great offers from around the league following the 2008 season. But the world doesn’t work like that; you work with reality.
And reality, in that case, meant the Patriots had to apply the franchise tag on Cassel in order to salvage some of his value as an asset on the market. And that huge, wondrous, great return that the Patriots got? It was … a second-round pick. And that’s after also including Mike Vrabel, a defensive starter of 14 games in ’08, a three-time Super Bowl winner with the team, and a key veteran leader in the locker room.
So … a straight-up trade of eight weeks of the rights of Garoppolo fetched the Patriots a second-round pick.
And a trade of Cassel making franchise money plus Vrabel fetched the Patriots … a second-round pick.
Sometimes, trading a player that’s been franchised gets a team more in return. For example, Jared Allen got the Chiefs a first-rounder and two third-rounders when he was traded after getting franchised in the 2008 offseason.
The difference between Allen and Garoppolo? Allen was coming off a year in which he led the NFL in sacks, and he had just been named to consecutive All-Pro teams and made consecutive Pro Bowls.
Garoppolo had 94 NFL passes to his name.
Could Belichick have gotten more for Garoppolo if he had shopped him around the entire NFL before the trade deadline? Surely. But it’s clear that he had his reasons for wanting Garoppolo in San Francisco as opposed to, say, ending up in New York, Buffalo, or Miami.
And this idea that waiting until the upcoming offseason, applying the franchise tag, then trading Garoppolo would have garnered the Patriots some sweetheart offer from some imaginary team? It’s faulty. Very faulty.