Tom Brady won. What did you expect?
Forget about Mo Lewis’ watershed hit on Drew Bledsoe. The real reason Brady got the chance to become the best quarterback in NFL history is because Bledsoe fell asleep at the switch. He thought being the quarterback of the Patriots was a birthright.
- Who will be Brady's backup now that Garoppolo is gone?
- Belichick on the trade: "We rode it out as long as we could"
- DJ BEAN: I still hate the Jacoby Brissett trade
Brady had replaced Bledsoe before Drew even knew what happened. Brady made damn sure Jimmy Garoppolo wasn’t going to do to him what he did to Bledsoe.
Of course, the Patriots did Brady a favor – it was never a guerrilla attack on his job. When Bill Belichick announced after drafting Jimmy Garoppolo in 2014 that “we all knew” Brady’s age and contract situation, that was like banging trash can lids together over Brady’s head in the middle of the night.
He’s coming. What are you gonna do about it?
What Brady’s done at the ages of 37, 38, 39 and 40 is throw 113 touchdowns and 20 picks in 52 regular season games while going 41-11. He went 7-1 in the playoffs, threw 20 touchdowns and nine picks and in the one playoff game he lost, withstood a merciless beating from the Broncos that would have left every one of the other “elite” quarterbacks in the league curled in the fetal position.
Garoppolo’s presence inspired a quarterback who’d been really good and often great from 2009 through 2013 to go incredible. All the time.
But it’s telling to realize who really blinked. Garoppolo.
In the first hours after the trade, my thinking was that the Patriots had seen enough to decide, “Yeah, he’s not getting any worse. Let’s make a move with Jimmy while we can.”
But the other evidence doesn’t support that. While the Patriots decided not to franchise Garoppolo because of the cap implications that would create, they did try to extend his contract. As Phil Perry pointed out to me Tuesday morning, “It’s Garoppolo that put up the white flag. Why sign an extension when the old guy looks the way he does?”
And maybe this is where Brady and Garoppolo sharing representation – Don Yee and Steve Dubin – helped both quarterbacks.
Even if Garoppolo agreed to the most lucrative contract a backup has ever signed here in New England, it would never approach what he’d make in starter’s money elsewhere. Garoppolo is getting paid. And he was wise to Brady’s true plans (which is to play until the wheels fall off or he “sucks” as he’s stated) because Brady’s agents know there are no plans for Brady to wrap it up.
Also, because Garoppolo’s leverage was indicating to potential suitors (i.e. Cleveland) that he wouldn’t do re-sign long term if he didn’t like the situation, the Patriots weren’t in the driver’s seat completely when it came to dealing him.
Belichick seemed to indicate as much on Tuesday.
“It is just not sustainable given the way that things are set up,” said Belichick on a conference call. “Definitely not something we wanted to walk away from and I felt we rode it out as long as we could. We’ve, over a period of time, explored every option possible to sustain it but, at this point, it felt like we had to make a decision. It’s a very complex situation on multiple levels. This is really the last window that we had and we did what we felt was best for the team.”
Being in the same locker room, meeting room and sideline with Brady for the past three-plus seasons, nobody had a better chance to bear witness to Brady’s greatness. If we can all recognize how maniacal Brady is in preparation and how possessive he is of his position, don’t you think Garoppolo got the same message?
The Patriots wanted Garoppolo to succeed Brady. He didn’t want to wait. Brady reminded him every day he was going to make it near-impossible to beat him out.
Brady smothered Garoppolo’s chances. Killed them in their crib. Garoppolo actually deserves immense credit for developing like he did behind Brady and not cowering. Make no mistake, the coaching staff gave him every chance to develop and they wouldn’t have been talking about bridge extensions if they truly wanted him gone, but Garoppolo’s own competitiveness is as important to his success as his quick release.
The upshot of all this is that Brady beat back a challenge that the Patriots didn’t think he could. No disrespect. And – judging from Belichick’s telling answer to a question during Tuesday’s conference call – his personal jury remains out on Brady playing to 45, never mind 42 (which would be the end of Brady’s current contract).
"I'd say when a player gets to a certain point in his career...at some point it becomes year to year,” Belichick said. “The expectations aren't over a long period of time or a longer window like they would be with a younger player coming into the league when you look at a player's growth from 3-5 years...When you get players that have reached a certain point, then it's their ability to maintain, although they can work to improve on little things, techniques, skills like that...But it's more of a maintenance and maintaining that high level of play, their maximum level of play, wherever that level is that they've reached and trying to sustain that. Trying to predict that, I don't think it's easy. It's not something I try to do a lot of. I try to look at it year to year. I learned that a long time ago. I'd say that advice has served me well."
Which means that – for Brady – the fight to keep his job as Patriots starter isn’t over. But this battle has been won.