See, this is why – despite an abundance of train wreck personnel decisions over the past few years, despite coming off a 7-9 season, despite Bill Belichick’s disdain for any media not inclined to swear fealty to him, the Patriots remain far and away the best team to cover in professional sports. Maybe ever.
It’s simple. The whiff of smoke from the “something’s about to happen” fire is always in the air. Add in the multi-layered history of the franchise. Add in the league-wide import of every move they make. Add in the legacies involved. It’s good shit.
Which brings us to L’Affaire Jimmy. The San Francisco 49ers traded all the way up to No. 3 on Friday with – one would presume – the intention of taking a quarterback.
Which meant that, not soon after, Jimmy Garoppolo was on the receiving end of his 242nd vote of confidence from Niners management.
Said votes of confidence – relayed by the estimable and well-connected Adam Schefter – mean as much now as Schefter’s March 2017 insistence that the Patriots wouldn’t trade Garoppolo. Under ANY circumstances.
To be very clear, I’m not hammering Schefter. He’s great at what he does and I don’t have the patience nor schmoozability to do it. But understand this, Schefter is relaying what he is TOLD by sources. It’s not an opinion. He and any other news-breaking reporter are is at the mercy of the source.
“Right at the time…” is the safe harbor we seek when something we said wouldn’t happen ultimately does. “What do you want, I’m just telling you what I was told…”? That’s another port we’ll pull into.
The Niners' ulterior motive in propping up Jimmy while continuing to grease the skids for his departure is simple. Create leverage.
Generous as Belichick was in 2017 when he swaddled up his sweet prince and left him on the Niners doorstep, John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan aren’t the same kind of Made Men that Belichick is. They can’t just give Jimmy back to Bill because Bill’s been wicked nice to Kyle and he’s great friends with Kyle’s dad.
The Niners have given Garoppolo $85.7M since the start of 2018. He’s played 25 games for them. Yes, he brought them to a Super Bowl. But overall, he hasn’t been worth the more than $3M per game the team’s paid him. Giving him back to the Patriots? It’s like throwing good money after bad. Lynch and Shanahan don’t have Super Bowl rings to buy them the benefit of the owner’s doubt. And the Niners don’t have a legend in place at quarterback.
What they do have is a window in which to get out of the Garoppolo business before they get stuck with the talented but brittle player for another season. If he stays in San Fran through the end of his deal, he’ll make another $48M. If they deal him now, they duck almost all of that. And imagine the shopping they could do.
Meanwhile, the Patriots just keep letting the game come to them. And I love the strategy. It’s March 26. In another month, five franchises are (most likely) going to spend top-15 picks on quarterbacks. Dominoes will fall in those cities. Players like Sam Darnold, Teddy Bridgewater, Garoppolo, etc. could be uprooted by the new guys that are coming in.
Think about it. If you’re Garoppolo and set to make $26M in 2022, do you want to bend over backwards helping Justin Fields take your job so that you can be released next year and making about half of what you’re now on the books for? No. San Francisco is setting up an almost untenable situation. The Jets will be looking at the same if they take Zach Wilson and Darnold is seeing the writing on his wall. Meanwhile, the arc of the Deshaun Watson saga will also be playing out.
Here in late March, there’s a gentle wind blowing through the quarterback tree. It’s going to pick up over the next month. The Patriots – even though they are a much, much better team than they were 12 days ago – still need to step carefully in finding the legitimate Brady successor.
If it winds up being the one they planned on all along – the one who it really has to be for the story to come full circle -- it seems like all they have to do is wait for Jimmy to come to them.