It’s late June. It’s quiet. We’re on the prowl for content. Then … BAM! Julian Edelman rolls the clock back 5.5 years and lets us know how pissed some Patriots were that Jimmy Garoppolo said, “No mas” during Week 4 of the 2016 season.
In a vacuum, Edelman’s comments provide a peek into how much Garoppolo’s stock may have dropped with some teammates after that week. It also shows the omnipresent NFL peer pressure to play while hurt.
But it does more than just that. It provides more backstory to the Brady-Garoppolo-Belichick machinations, which were fully in motion at the start of the 2016 season.
Think back to September/October of 2016. Jimmy’s in Year 3. With Tom Brady serving his four game Deflategate suspension, the Patriots are about to get hard evidence on whether Jimmy is who they think he is. And they think he’s really good.
Brady, meanwhile, is 39, somewhat expensive and out of the lineup because of an alleged football air pressure manipulation scheme that dragged on … and on … and on.
Whether he did it or not, the whole situation had been a millstone for 20 months. Meanwhile, Bill Belichick was checking his watch, studying actuarial tables and concluding that it was more probable than not that Brady was due for slippage.
How long could Brady absorb beatings like the one the Broncos handed him in the 2015 AFC Championship Game, when he was pressured 19 times and completed 48 percent of his passes? That game, in which Brady played valiantly, made everyone who watched wonder how close the expiration date was.
Then Garoppolo goes out in the opener and leads a Sunday Night Football win at Arizona. He comes back in Week 2 and is playing out of his mind into the second quarter against Miami before he got knocked from the game by Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso.
It’s important to note that Garoppolo hurt his right shoulder on the hit. Edelman says on the “I Am Athlete” podcast that it was his left shoulder. Wrong. And an important distinction.
Anyway, so Jimmy’s definitely out of the Week 3 game against Houston. But the evidence for Belichick is right there. He’s got his guy. Even though Brady signed a team-friendly, two-year, $41M extension before the season that would take him through 2019, the Patriots made sure they inserted $1M options prior to 2018 and ’19 that would allow them to get out if Jimmy ascended.
If Brady slipped when he returned in 2016 or even in 2017, the Patriots' succession plan was in place because of the second-round dice roll on a kid from Eastern Illinois. To Belichick, it likely seemed that he’d pulled off the same kind of masterstroke the 49ers did going from Montana to Walsh and the Packers did going from Favre to Rodgers.
The Patriots would get a quarterback who was cheaper, younger, more mobile and not suffering from BB burnout as Brady was after 17 seasons.
So as Week 4 begins, Garoppolo is cleared to practice and throw. He does so on Wednesday, but the decision on whether Garoppolo and his injured right shoulder or Jacoby Brissett and his injured right thumb will get the start will wait.
Ultimately, Garoppolo can’t go, even though -- as his practice time showed -- he was cleared to participate. But you can see why Belichick would be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Garoppolo was nothing but a good soldier behind Brady. He showed great improvement in three seasons. He’d just shown how legitimately good he was. And he was the future.
But there’s a locker room full of guys understanding the landscape that Brady's facing. Brady’s in exile. The team hasn’t made a no-strings contractual commitment to him. The last time his teammates saw him in a game, he was taking a merciless beating from Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware and never came close to tapping out.
Everyone understands a “Tom vs. Jimmy” showdown is underway. And Garoppolo -- in the mind of some teammates -- failed to answer the bell.
Yet even as Brady came back from suspension and began tearing the league a new one, Belichick’s fixation with Garoppolo remained.
In November, Belichick said, "Certainly we have a good quarterback in Jimmy and Jimmy could go out there and run everything that Tom can run. We’ve seen that. I’m not saying that he’s not capable or qualified to do it. He is. And he does a great job of it. And when we put Jimmy in there, it’s really seamless. You can’t, unless you were actually looking at the position, if you could just block out that position and say which guy was in there at quarterback, I don’t know if you would know a lot of times."
So even though damage was done with the rest of the team -- damage that is easily recalled almost six years later -- Belichick wasn’t moving off his spot. And he proved that the following spring by adamantly refusing to deal Garoppolo prior to the draft.
As it worked out, Brady’s MVP performance in 2017 saved Belichick from picking the wrong guy. Even though Belichick was dying to make it work, he simply couldn’t find a way.
And no, Kraft didn’t force Belichick’s hand on dealing Garoppolo. By the time Jimmy was shipped to San Francisco, it was clear Brady was near the height of his powers and Garoppolo wasn’t interested in any "bridge contract" to sit around and wait any more. As a source close to the negotiations told me, "They had no plan."
Of course, by the time Jimmy was dealt in October 2017, significant bitterness was sown. Which continued through 2018 and 2019 and you know the rest.
Fast forward to now and it’s ironic that the player Belichick was ready to bet on long term (Jimmy) is a spare part in San Fran. Brady has won three Super Bowls and played in four since October of 2016. And the Patriots still wound up with their quarterback of the future.
This team never fails to fascinate. Thanks Jules.