We should know better than to question Bill Belichick’s football genius. It’s almost exactly one year since the New England Patriots head coach traded linebacker Jamie Collins to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for a third-round draft pick. It’s a move that still defies conventional thought 12 months on. Collins appeared at the Pro Bowl months earlier after recording five forced fumbles, five sacks and 51 solo tackles in the 2015 regular season. “The best defensive player we’ve got, the most athletic guy on the team,” is how former Patriots team-mate Dont’a Hightower described him.
None of that controversy mattered in February. No one asked whether Belichick had made the right call to trade Collins. Belichick was the coach behind the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history and the Patriots had won another Lombardi Trophy, the team’s fifth under his leadership. Questioning Belichick is not a smart move.
Garoppolo trade to 49ers was part of a ‘complex situation’ says Pats’ Belichick
Yet the decision to send Jimmy Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for a second-round draft pick leaves New England remarkably exposed. The wisdom of Belichick’s move is questionable – at the time of writing the Patriots only have one recognised quarterback on their roster. That quarterback just happens to be Tom Brady, arguably the best at his position ever, but suddenly the Patriots’ season hinges on the health of a 40-year-old in a brutal sport. The situation is at odds with everything about the Patriots. Quarterback injuries can end seasons in an instant, just ask the Green Bay Packers. Just what is Belichick’s plan if Brady gets hurt?
Make no mistake, no backup can be expected to play at the level usually enjoyed by fans in New England. Brady is playing some of the best football of his career this season and leads the league in passing yards with over 2,500 through eight games. With Brady at the helm the Patriots are top of the AFC East at 6-2 and look likely to be contenders in the postseason.
But Garoppolo represented both a credible backup and a possible long-term replacement option for the future Hall of Fame quarterback. With Brady serving his Deflategate suspension at the beginning of last season, Garoppolo started the first two games of the year. The Patriots won both and their back-up quarterback threw for five touchdowns and no interceptions. Overall at the Patriots, Garoppolo recorded an average QB rating of 106.2 and completed 67% of his passes. He certainly showed potential in New England, with the caveat that those wins at the start of 2016 were the only two games Garoppolo has started in the regular season. His entire career consists of 94 passes – Brady has 8,533. Having said that, while it is difficult to make any firm predictions about Garoppolo’s future, in a league short on talented quarterbacks he was undeniably an asset in New England.
The Patriots have signed journeyman Brian Hoyer as a backup for remainder of the year. Hoyer, who spent three years with the Patriots between 2009-2011, lost all six games he started in San Francisco at the beginning of this season, completing just 58% of his passes. Some have also suggested that Colin Kaepernick could, and should, be given an opportunity to return the NFL with New England. But that’s a liberal fantasy. Team owner Robert Kraft donated to Donald Trump, while Brady and Belichick are friends of the president – and his opinion of Kaepernick and the protests he started last season are well documented. Besides, purely from a football standpoint, Kaepernick hasn’t played since New Years Day and would be forced to learn the Patriots’s offensive midway through the season. Hoyer was the 49ers starter less than three weeks ago and has experience of being on a Bill Belichick roster. Regardless, both are notable downgrades on Garoppolo.
Building the next Brady: Jimmy Garoppolo by the men who coached him
The decision is even more remarkable if reports that teams enquired about the availability of Garoppolo in the off-season are true. Cleveland are said to have offered New England a second-round pick in the summer but the two clubs couldn’t reach agreement. New England were seemingly reluctant to trade away, aware of his value to the franchise. So something has changed. Garoppolo’s rookie contract is due to expire at the end of the year and contract renewal negotiations between the two parties may have broken down. If so, Belichick made the decision to get a draft pick rather than get nothing.
“We probably had the best quarterback situation in the league for the last two and a half years, its just not sustainable given the way that things are set up,” said Belichick on Tuesday. “We explored every option possible to try and sustain it, but just at this point felt like we had a to make a decision.”
Brady’s form through the first eight games of the year has also likely surpassed expectations in New England and Belichick may now believe he can play for even longer than he’d anticipated. Brady himself has been vocal about his desire to play until he is 45. With almost all other quarterbacks this would be a laughable assertion. And while, with Brady, no one would put it beyond him past examples aren’t encouraging. Warren Moon, Vinny Testaverde and Doug Flutie all played past the age of 40. None enjoyed great success. Peyton Manning’s arm strength fell drastically in his final year in Denver. He was 39. In his new book, The TB12 Method: How to Achieve a Lifetime of Peak Performance, Brady makes some highly questionable claims about “TB12 electrolytes”, maintaining his body’s “alkalinity” and sleeping in “bioceramic recovery wear” each night. But time catches up to the greats eventually – even those of us who take TB12 electrolytes.
Of course, if Brady can stay healthy this season and lead the Patriots to another Super Bowl win, no one will question the logic of Belichick’s decision to trade away Garoppolo. But even geniuses can make mistakes.
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