49ers

Brady's real lesson to Jimmy G could keep Lance on sideline

49ers
Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo

The message from the organization to the quarterback was clear: Thanks for your time, effort, the Super Bowls and the memories, but the time has come for us to plan for the next step.

The quarterback bristled at the thought of being brushed aside. He took offense to the idea that his best years were behind him, that he didn't have a lot of good, hell, legendary football ahead of him.

He could have thrown a public stink or made a scene. Maybe forced his way out of town. But instead, Tom Brady welcomed Jimmy Garoppolo to New England with open arms, a diplomatic attitude and a re-lit fuse.

The year was 2014, and the Patriots had just selected Garoppolo in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft, the highest pick used on a quarterback in the Bill Belichick tenure until one month ago when the Patriots took Mac Jones at No. 15 overall.

The message was clear: Garoppolo was there because it was time to plan for life after the then-three-time Super Bowl champion. Brady, then-36, was coming off a season in which he completed only 60.5 percent of his passes -- his lowest mark in a decade -- while throwing just 25 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

The decline of Brady finally had arrived, or so the Patriots believed, and Garoppolo was there to listen, learn, soak up everything and take up the mantle.

Seven years later, Garoppolo finds himself in the role Brady once occupied. After three-plus years as the 49ers' starting quarterback, San Francisco informed Garoppolo they were drafting his successor, and he would eventually hand over the offense to him when the time came.

 

In the month since Trey Lance's arrival, Garoppolo has said and done all the right things, showing he is even more of a leader than previously believed and setting the proper tone for what the 49ers hope is a return to Super Bowl contention.

Garoppolo admitted he thought about asking for a trade after the 49ers informed him of their decision. But that's not what Garoppolo learned from watching Brady go to work every day with him looking over his shoulder.

Use everything as fuel. If they think you're done or not good enough, then show up and prove them wrong. Or else no one will remember your name.

Garoppolo has said he'll use his time with Brady to foster a relationship with Lance. Be himself, an open book, and help the rookie whenever he can.

But Brady's most important lesson to Garoppolo, if he was paying attention, was what it takes to keep your heir apparent holding a clipboard on the sideline even as the organization is trying to push you out the door.

The tireless work to hone your craft both on the field and in the film room. Doing all the little things to take care of your body. Staying on the field, and, above all else, winning. Giving no opening, and providing no reason for them to accelerate their planned departure for you.

The comparison between Brady and Garoppolo and Lance and Garoppolo doesn't fit perfectly, of course.

Brady was 36. Garoppolo is 29. Brady had already won three Super Bowls. Garoppolo has two rings, both won while holding a clipboard for the Patriots, and led the 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance before he crumbled in the final 10 minutes -- a collapse that ultimately started the clock on his time in San Francisco.

It's unfair to compare anyone directly to Brady. Few, if any, have the crazed internal desire of Brady to keep pushing the boundaries. That push for eternal greatness intensified once Garoppolo arrived.

Brady would decide when it was time to leave. No one else. But don't mistake Brady's desire for self-preservation for any ill-will toward Garoppolo. Reports have suggested their relationship was rocky, but both quarterbacks have painted a different picture of their bond.

They were friendly but wanted nothing more than to finish each day on top.

"The competitiveness between the two of us was very similar. If I’m playing my best friend in one-on-one basketball, if we are both into it, by the end, we are going to hate each other," Garoppolo told Bleacher Report in 2018. "That’s how it is. All the good competitors have that. We got along, but there were always times where we wanted to kill each other. It was a healthy, competitive relationship."

Garoppolo arrived in New England a 22-year-old kid fresh out of Eastern Illinois University, anointed to take over for a football god. He did what anyone would in his position. He tried to be present without being annoying, hoping to be a fly on the wall to survey Brady's day-to-day routine.

"I didn’t want to be a bother or a nuisance to him," Garoppolo told NBC Sports Bay Area's Matt Maiocco last fall. "I just tried to pick up everything I could, just organically. I didn’t want to be a pest and annoy him too much. But whenever I saw an opportunity to learn something new, see something he did, I tried to take advantage of it."

 

They both knew how things were supposed to go. Garoppolo was there to be a sponge and then be the guy as Brady either rode off or was pushed into the sunset.

But Brady, naturally, had other ideas and bucked the plan.

With Garoppolo waiting in the wings, Brady started what could be deemed his second Hall-of-Fame career (with the first coming from 2001-2013).

In three full seasons with Garoppolo backing him up, Brady led the Patriots to two Super Bowl titles, threw for 12,433 yards, 97 touchdowns and only 18 interceptions.

The only time Garoppolo saw the field was in mop-up duty (remember when Brady didn't congratulate him for a touchdown pass in Kansas City?) or when Brady was suspended after the Deflategate scandal.

Halfway through the 2017 season, with Brady still humming along as an elite quarterback, the Patriots were forced to trade Garoppolo to the 49ers, signaling that Brady's greatness had eviscerated their succession plan.

RELATED: Jimmy G's attitude toward Lance's arrival sets tone for Super Bowl return

But Garoppolo left 1 Patriot Place with several lessons from Brady.

He knows how to be a professional. He commands the locker room and the huddle. But he also knows how to handle the arrival of his successor without fracturing the team, and how to do so while plotting to keep a firm grasp on the job he believes is rightfully his.

"It's kind of coming full circle," Garoppolo told ESPN's "Keyshawn, JWil and Zubin" about going from protege to mentor. "You go through this NFL career, and you start as a young guy coming in. Tom kind of showed me the ropes. The competition between us was awesome. It really made me grow as a rookie and as a young player. So, that's kind of what me and Trey, we'll mold our relationship into that. But it will happen naturally. It's one of those things you can't force anything. Just let it come as it may."

Brady let Garoppolo inside. Not all the way, but just enough to help Garoppolo on his NFL journey without giving him an opening to supplant him. Garoppolo, Brady and Jacoby Brissett called themselves "The Wolfpack," and frequently posted Instagrams together. Brady hosts a weekend with former and current teammates who are close friends, and Garoppolo was invited when he was a Patriot.

But in three-and-a-half seasons in New England, Garoppolo only threw 94 regular-season passes. When he did see the field, the promise was evident. But Brady's play never tailed off and Garoppolo never got the chance to show what he believed: That he was better.

 

“I’ve always had that mindset,” Garoppolo told Bleacher Report in 2018. “I knew that [Brady] was better than me in my first day in the NFL. Naturally, you’re the rookie and he’s the veteran, but you have to have that mindset, that you want to be the starter.”

“Even when I was a little kid, my brothers, whenever we would play, I would literally always think I was going to win. I wouldn’t, but I would always think that. It’s like when I go to New England, when I first got there, I thought in my head, ‘I’m better than this dude.'"

Brady never showed weakness or doubt. He was irked by the idea that the Patriots were planning for life after him, but any anger or irritation never bubbled to the surface. He used Garoppolo's arrival to push himself to new heights. Just another slight to fuel a legend.

For all the teachings the Patriot Way gave Garoppolo, the most significant lesson from Brady was about self-preservation and how to prolong your NFL life without the toxicity or sideshow a new quarterback in town can bring.

Garoppolo knows Lance is the planned future. Just as he was in New England. But he also is acutely aware that he can throw a wrench in the plan by doing precisely what Brady did to him.

Elevate his game, stay on the field and, above all else, win.

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