Patriots

Hindsight 2020: What if Patriots had traded Jimmy Garoppolo sooner?

Hindsight 2020: What if Patriots had traded Jimmy Garoppolo sooner?

Moving on from Drew Bledsoe in favor of Tom Brady. Bringing in Mike Vrabel and Rodney Harrison. Cutting ties with Lawyer Milloy. Taking shots on Randy Moss and Corey Dillon. Drafting Rob Gronkowski, back problems and all.

The Patriots have maintained their level for the better part of the last 20 years in large part because of Bill Belichick's foresight as the team's general manager.

Still, in two decades, as there would be with any personnel czar with that kind of tenure, there are of course moves (or non-moves) that in hindsight prompt us to wonder what might've been.

In this edition of our Hindsight 2020 series, we're focused on the Patriots front office — Belichick's office — to pick out the decision that stands above the rest as the one that could've drastically altered the post-Brady course of the franchise: Not trading Jimmy Garoppolo prior to the 2017 season.

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At the NFL's annual meeting in Phoenix that year, Browns head coach Hue Jackson wasn't evasive. He wasn't playing coy. His team had the No. 1 and 12 overall picks in the draft. The top choice — earmarked for defensive end Myles Garrett — was not up for grabs. No. 12, though? Different story.

"We'll exhaust every opportunity" to find a quarterback, Jackson told a horde of reporters at the AFC coaches breakfast. Though he would not comment on Garoppolo specifically, citing tampering rules, the message was clear: If the Patriots wanted that No. 12 overall selection in exchange for Brady's backup, there was a conversation to be had.

On its face, making that move made sense for both sides. The Browns were desperate for a competent quarterback. They were flush with picks. The Patriots, meanwhile, didn't have a first or a second-rounder that spring. For them, trading Garoppolo with a year left on his contract represented an opportunity to bolster their 2017 rookie haul with a top-15 talent.

The decision wasn't that simple, of course. 

To pull the trigger, the Patriots would have to be willing to bail on Brady's insurance plan for that season — he hadn't missed significant time since 2008, but he was going into his 40-year-old season — as well as his long-term successor.

If Garoppolo remained on the roster, the benefit was that he would provide the Patriots a capable break-glass-in-case-of-emergency passer for a Super Bowl contender. Plus, it gave Belichick and Garoppolo's representatives time to try to finagle a long-term deal to keep Garoppolo in New England for the foreseeable future. 

If they could iron something out contractually, Belichick would be pulling off the near-impossible — something only the Niners and Packers had pulled off in the modern era. Riding into life after a Hall of Fame quarterback almost seamlessly, with a legitimate franchise guy ready to step in.

How likely was it, though, that holding onto Garoppolo for as long as possible would yield the Patriots the maximum possible benefit?

For that to happen, it seems, Brady would have either had to drop off the proverbial "cliff" performance-wise or suffer a serious injury. Again, we have the benefit of hindsight here, but there's an argument to be made that neither seemed imminent at the time. 

Brady was coming off of his fifth Super Bowl win and an MVP-caliber season in 2016. (The MVP went to Matt Ryan, in part, because Brady missed the first four games of that year suspended for Deflategate). Then, at 40, Brady went on to win the award for the third time in his career, and he threw for over 500 yards in a Super Bowl loss to the Eagles. It was unprecedented stuff for a quarterback his age, and yet not at all shocking given his performance the previous year.

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Garoppolo remained on the sidelines for the first eight weeks of 2017 as Brady played some of the best football of his career. There was no Bledsoevian moment where Garoppolo was able step in because of injury. And there was no reason for him to bite on a long-term contract extension if it meant sitting for another season (or more) behind a guy who at the time was playing better than anyone else on the planet.

We know what happened at that point: At the trade deadline, opting to get something for Garoppolo rather than holding onto him and letting him hit free agency after the season, Belichick dealt his No. 2 to the Niners in exchange for a second-round pick in 2018.

You can point to the team's unwillingness to invest real capital in a young tight end toward the end of Gronkowski's career — how did George Kittle slip to the fifth round in 2017, again? — as a front-office "what if?" 

You can point to any number of swings-and-misses in the draft's first couple of rounds — Dominique Easley, Jordan Richards, Cyrus Jones, Duke Dawson, Aaron Dobson, Ras-I Dowling, Ron Brace — as easy fixes in hindsight.

But deciding to keep Garoppolo prior to the 2017 season is fascinating to revisit precisely because of where the Patriots stand at the moment, without a clear-and-obvious long-term solution at the game's most important position. And because of what happened with that No. 12 overall selection.

The Browns did end up trading their second first-rounder three years ago, you might remember. It landed in Houston. 

That's right. In an alternate universe, a universe in which the Browns and Patriots had been willing and able to work out a deal for Garoppolo, the Patriots are rolling into next season with a seasoned backup oozing with talent, the No. 12 pick in the 2017 draft: Deshaun Watson.

Dolphins' Kyle Van Noy bristles at Patriots comparisons: 'We're our own team'

Dolphins' Kyle Van Noy bristles at Patriots comparisons: 'We're our own team'

You could call the Miami Dolphins "Foxboro South." Just don't call them that in front of Kyle Van Noy.

The veteran linebacker is one of four former New England Patriots who signed with the Dolphins this offseason, joining fellow linebackers Elandon Roberts and Kamu Grugier-Hill and center Ted Karras.

Miami is also led by an ex-Patriot in head coach Brian Flores, who has loaded his staff with New England alums in defensive coordinator Josh Boyer, tight ends coach George Godsey and quality control coach Mike Judge.

But Van Noy apparently is growing tired of those who believe the Dolphins are trying to replicate the Patriots' model of success.

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“I don’t now how many New England guys there are, but we’re going to get away from that,” Van Noy told the Miami Herald's Adam Beasley in a recent interview. “We’re our own team, this is not the New England Patriots. This is the Miami Dolphins. It’s totally different, and I’m excited for that. New beginnings.

The Dolphins began to forge their own identity late in the 2019 season, going 5-4 down the stretch after losing their first seven games. While Van Noy and his fellow Patriots cast-offs weren't there for that turnaround, the 29-year-old can already sense the team's new attitude.

"We’re the Miami Dolphins. We’re here to represent the people of Miami," Van Noy said. "They want it bad. I can sense that. Miami’s a football town."

The Dolphins fired ex-Patriots wide receivers coach Chad O'Shea as their offensive coordinator late in the 2019 season and used their No. 5 overall pick on Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, so perhaps they are intent on moving past those Patriots comparisons.

We'll find out immediately if that new approach pays off, as New England hosts Miami in its 2020 season opener.

Devin McCourty, wife share heartbreaking news of daughter's death

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USA TODAY Sports

Devin McCourty, wife share heartbreaking news of daughter's death

Devin McCourty and his wife, Michelle, endured every parent's worst nightmare last weekend.

The New England Patriots safety shared his wife's announcement Saturday that they lost their third child, Mia, last Sunday as the result of a stillbirth.

"I cry as I type this," Michelle wrote in an Instagram post. "My pregnancy had resulted in a stillbirth at almost 8 months of being pregnant — at exactly 31 weeks 2 days, when we found out that the baby girl growing inside me no longer had a heartbeat after being completely fine the week prior at my last doctor’s appointment.

"We are so heartbroken. We are devastated. We are speechless. We are angry. We are sad. We are confused. We are numb."

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The couple has two other young children: a 3-year-old girl named Londyn and a 2-year-old boy named Brayden.

The McCourtys received an outpouring of support from Devin's current and former teammates after he shared the news on Instagram.

Here's ex-Patriots quarterback Tom Brady: "Love you my brother. So sad for you loss! You are in our thoughts and prayers always ❤️❤️🙏🏼🙏🏼"

And here's Patriots linebackers coach Jerod Mayo: "My prayers and love to your family bro."

Patriots wide receiver N'Keal Harry -- "My prayers are definitely going out to y’all. Love you bro💙" -- Detroit Lions defensive end Trey Flowers -- "Prayers for you and your family! 💪🏾 be strong brother" -- and ex-Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib -- "Praying for ya family brotha!" -- were among many other NFL players offering their support to the McCourtys.

Michelle added in her message that she and Devin "appreciate the love and support we’ve already gotten, and just ask that you respect our privacy during this difficult time, since we have no answers to give anyway."

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