Tom Brady’s defiance has altered the New England Patriots' plans, both on the field and in the front office
1/1/18 - Shawn Zobel - Founder & NFL Insider - Patrick Stumpf - Editor
The most-coveted commodity in professional sports today is a franchise quarterback. One mustn’t look further than the Cleveland Browns, who have started 20-some odd quarterbacks since 2000, to answer that.
For the better part of several years, the New England Patriots, in the eyes of many, had multiple. Their decision to trade Jimmy Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers for a 2018 second-round draft pick was one that shocked the country and stunned beat reporters.
The question: why?
Why did the Patriots, who had seemingly remained steadfast in its commitment to Garoppolo during a rumor mill that dragged on for months—accept, almost in conceding fashion, so little for such a hot commodity? Why, rather than await a transition many in Foxboro had long anticipated, did Bill Belichick suddenly make the decision to bypass it entirely?
On the surface, many could reason that Belichick salivates over early second-round picks. They are often of the same quality of talent as a late-first rounder, while significantly cheaper. For a team that has won the division nine-years in a
row, the only way to acquire said valuable picks is to trade for them.
However, the real answer to the question can be summed up best: Tom Brady’s skill set at age 40 has continued to defy logic, and has since altered New England’s future, both at quarterback and in the front office.
What the Patriots knew the day that they traded Garoppolo to San Francisco, regardless of how successful Jimmy GQ goes on to become on the West Coast, was that Tom Brady is a modern anomaly – a player who has outlasted even the
most dramatic projections by scouts and executives from around the league as to his expiration date.
Bill Belichick, in many respects, is tied to Brady. When one goes, so will the other.
According multiple sources close to the situation, in August of 2014, the New England Patriots extended Vice President of Player Nick Caserio with a new contract that provided extensive information detailing a succession plan for Caserio to take over the final decision-making authority from Belichick when he retires. In addition, Caserio will be given final authority to select the Patriots next head coach.
Whether that next head coach is long-time offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who returned to New England after a failed stint as head coach in Denver, or Matt Patricia, a rocket scientist by trade, who rather than putting his degree in Aeronautical Engineering toward maintaining submarines and aircraft carriers, has concocted defensive play calls for the past 13 years. While both would be considered the lead candidates for the position when the time comes, what is certain is that Caserio will be making the choice.
If one conducted a case study of some of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, you’ll find that at age 37 quarterbacks physically begin to fall off.
Among the most noteworthy players whose career followed this trajectory is Joe Montana. Traded by the San Francisco 49ers at age 36, Montana transitioned to Kansas City where he played his final two years with the Chiefs under Marty Schottenheimer. In 1993, his age 37 season, Montana threw for just 2,144 yards, his fewest in 13 years despite leading the Chiefs to an 11-5 finish.
Dan Marino’s legendary career came to an end after a 1999, 38-year old season that saw his numbers dip to levels that resembled his rookie year in 1983.
John Elway, in memorable fashion, won the Super Bowl at age 37 and 38 before retiring on top of the sport. When Peyton Manning turned 37 in March of 2013 – he went on to throw for 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns, however, his skills quickly declined over the next two seasons before a top-notch defense also afforded him a chance to
go out on top.
The jump in retirement age among top quarterbacks over the last 50 years can be attributed to the technological
advances on the medical side of the game, where athletes in today’s age are able to sleep in hyperbaric chambers to
preserve their bodies, for example. Otto Graham didn’t have the same luxury in 1955; nor did Johnny Unitas in 1968.
As the New England Patriots entered the 2014 Draft, they knew full-well Brady’s age at the time (37), and the history behind it. In order to create a bridge to its next signal caller, they needed to draft someone into their system and allow
for him to learn under Brady’s tutelage, ala Aaron Rodgers under Brett Favre.
According to a high-ranking Patriots source, New England’s selection of a fresh-faced kid from Eastern Illinois was when the proverbial ‘flip’ was switched on its master plan: Jimmy Garoppolo, the 62nd overall selection, would be the
heir to the throne.
But as the calendar continues to turn, and Tom Brady continues to defy age, continues to mount insurmountable comebacks, won a fifth ring and sets his sights on unreachable records, he has in the truest sense, foiled the very plan
the Patriots laid out three years ago.
And his very defiance of Father Time has since set into motion a series of “all-in” moves: trading for Brandin Cooks, trading away Garoppolo and signing a plethora of defenders, most recently ex-arch nemesis James Harrison.
In a span of just a few months, they’ve cleared out 2/3 of their quarterback room— a rarity in today’s game— after trading Jacoby Brissett to the Indianapolis Colts last September. In today’s game of supplementation, and athletes getting every ounce of athleticism out of their bodies, Brady has been as much of a trailblazer off the field in athlete rehabilitation as he has been a general on the field.
For the amount of money he’s left on the table, allowing New England the type of resources it needed to build a dynasty, Brady is a player who could go down as the least-selfish teammate in NFL history.
A player who has built an empire off the field that includes a business on the Patriots’ property – eventually Tom out-lasted Garoppolo and Jimmy’s impending free agency this spring forced New England’s hand, and Belichick sent him packing, just like he has with so many players in the past.
For a franchise to trade a young, impressive talent in Garoppolo, it says only one thing about Brady and his future with the team – they’re going all in, and they are going to ride Brady until he physically cannot perform anymore. And when that time comes, expect Bill Belichick to gracefully depart into retirement as well. As for the quarterback position, given Brady has already outlasted the first contingency plan, your guess is as good as any.