Patriots

Patriots

The Patriots quarterback situation has us like antelopes on the Serengeti.

Every gust of wind, every twig snap, our heads snap to attention, we cease chewing our mouthful of grass and sniff the air. What’s out there … in the distance? 

A fake Jimmy G Instagram post in June? A well-aimed “I’m playing until my mid-40s” from Tom Brady? A trade that ships out Jacoby Brissett – would-be heir apparent to the heir apparent – what does it all meeeeaaaannnnn?

Do any of them give insight on what the Patriots plan for the future is? Do all of them give insight?

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If this team were just an on-again, off-again playoff participant, handicapping the futures of the incumbent starter and promising backup would command attention.

But the Patriots aren’t just that.

They are on the greatest continuous run the league’s ever seen and are about to begin chasing their eighth Super Bowl appearance in 17 Brady-Belichick seasons.

Do the Patriots believe Brady – 42 when his current contract expires after the 2019 season – will still look like the greatest there’s ever been when that time comes?

Will Bill Belichick – who’ll retire someday as one of the greatest coaches in NFL history – be able to carry out a capstone ballsy, bloodless, fearless, ruthless decision and move on from Brady and on to Jimmy Garoppolo?

 

Will the Patriots try to have their cake and eat it too, franchising Jimmy G while watching Brady for signs of decline?

And how long is Garoppolo willing to stand there looking handsome and capable while never getting a chance to do anything but turn prematurely gray while Matt Stafford’s making $27 million a season?

The 2017 season opens in four days. The Patriots have larger immediate concerns than who’ll be starting for them in 2018 and beyond. But it’s hard not to speculate what trading Brissett – a seemingly decent enough quarterback prospect – means to the Brady-Garoppolo dance. This isn’t Joe Montana-Steve Young. This isn’t Brett Favre-Aaron Rodgers. Brady isn’t broken like Joe was and he’s not ambivalent and daffy like Favre was. And he’s more accomplished than they were.

But the jettisoning of Brissett means that it’s just Tom and Jimmy now, and Jimmy’s got an expiration date in March that needs to be addressed.

I asked Belichick Sunday how much contract status weighs into roster decisions.

“You have to take that into consideration. As a head coach, and Nick [Caserio] as the personnel director, we have to have a vision on 2018-2019. We're going to have a team those years. We're going to have a schedule so we can't ignore that and we don't ignore it,” Belichick acknowledged. “You balance that with this current team – whichever year it is, in this case 2017 – and you try to strike a balance there. You look at each player and then you look at the overall composition of the team, where you're at on all of those things – players, contracts, draft choices, salary cap and so forth.

“Not that you’re making final decisions for future years, but I think you just want to have a general idea of what your position is and where you're going to need to go and what your options are going to be and if you feel comfortable with those or if you don't feel comfortable with them, how to make the most of them, or even if you do feel comfortable with them, still how to maximize them … certainly, I don’t think you can neglect next season. We're going to have a team next season.”

What does that mean for March when Garoppolo’s deal runs out?

“In the end, we're going to do what’s best for the team and make the decisions that we feel are best for the team. With all due respect, I don’t think there are any games scheduled in March. I don’t think there are any scheduled in April, so what a team looks like in March and April is relevant, but in the end, it’s more what the team looks like in September, or I'd say more importantly in December and January. We never try to build a team for March. We try to build a team for September and then most importantly November, December.”

 

My translation:

We will worry about it when it’s time to worry about it. Worst-case scenario is still pretty friggin’ good: We have Tom. And we have a handle on what everyone’s contract status is, thanks for checking. 

So what’s that tell us about Brissett? It tells us that – despite accounting for five touchdowns in Thursday’s preseason finale and leading the Patriots to a 27-0 prime-time win last September in his first NFL start – he wasn’t making the team.

He didn’t get jettisoned for one reason, but a mix of them.

In the immediate, the Patriots had a need at wideout/punt returner with Julian Edelman down and Malcolm Mitchell still dealing with an injury. Brissett was a luxury item on their roster but he had value to Indy. The same was true for Philip Dorsett in Indy. They didn’t need him. The Patriots might. They’ll see how it goes.

Was it worth getting rid of a potential Brady backup in 2018 in order to get Dorsett, who may or may not work? Apparently. By doing the deal, the Patriots are tacitly stating that they can find someone else to do what Brissett may have been asked to do next year. Watch.

Is that an indictment of Brissett? Kind of. I’d been told during the preseason that Brissett needed to show something to hold his spot on the roster. While Thursday looked great, it wasn’t enough to offset whatever he failed to show in practices or preparation prior to that. And it wasn’t enough to unseat Garoppolo, who Belichick is still bullish on. Asked Sunday by Mike Giardi if Garoppolo is still improving in his fourth season, Belichick replied immediately: “Absolutely.”

Answers like that and the dismissal of any and all trade offers for Garoppolo all offseason make me think the nuclear option of trading Brady is in play. Along with a few others.

The Patriots have their cards close to the vest and are puffing on a stogie while deciding how to play a hand like the league’s never seen. But discarding Jacoby Brissett on Saturday didn’t bring us any closer to knowing who the trump card will ultimately be.

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