Jimmy Garoppolo Isn’t Tom Brady’s Replacement—Yet

Why we should resist the urge to hail Garoppolo as the crown prince of New England.

Photo via AP

Photo via AP

The Patriots have a habit of leaving players by the wayside. They’ve done it before and they’ll certainly do it again. Tom Brady is a worthy exemption of that trend. New England fans tend to fantasize about No. 12 retiring with the Pats, except for the very real fact that football doesn’t typically end up with storybook endings.

There’s where QB Jimmy Garoppolo comes in. The Patriots decided that Garoppolo was the 62nd best player—or better—in the 2014 NFL Draft. The second-round pick scattered Patriots analysts and fans. The media practically hyperventilated in its search for answers about the future of the Patriots. Brady is declining with his age, some said. Brady is no longer an elite Top 5 quarterback, said others.

Now that there’s been enough time away from the draft to put things in perspective, the unanswerable question looms: Is Garoppolo the prince of the Patriots, the heir to Brady’s crown? Those who pretend to know the answer right now are making assumptions, which often include: 1. Tom Brady won’t continue to be a great quarterback; and 2. Jimmy Garoppolo will be a franchise quarterback.

Here’s what we know: The Patriots have until the 2018 offseason—when both players’ contracts expire—to make their decision. Barring any major events or injuries, Belichick could wait four years before he makes a decision. To put it in perspective of how far removed this time is from NFL relevance: the 2018 Super Bowl will be played in a stadium that isn’t even built yet.

And let’s be honest, Jimmy Garoppolo is a third stringer. He played like a third stringer at first, struggling with the playbook and turnovers in camp. He’s been outpaced and made many mistakes. That’s natural. He’s young and he’s learning. He comes from Eastern Illinois U., where the playbook was considerably less complicated and the game speed considerably slower. He has also improved considerably. He has looked excellent in preseason, leading the third- and second-team offenses to touchdowns with ease and command.

He will play most or all of preseason week 4. Belichick prefers carrying two quarterbacks, and the Patriots are supposedly resting backup Ryan Mallet in the event that another team—perhaps the St. Louis Rams—wants to trade for him.

Perhaps his preseason start is a sign of things to come. Second-rounders do not stay third-stringers for long. They start. Since 2010 (not including this year’s draft), five quarterbacks were selected in the second round, including Geno Smith, Osweiler, Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick and Jimmy Clausen. All but Osweiler have gotten an NFL start, and he’s a one-year veteran.

Yet Garoppolo’s situation is similar only to Osweiler’s in that he’s the outlier. The Broncos selected Oswieler in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Denver buzzed with “what this meant for Manning.” One year later, Osweiler has fallen off the map and into his rightful place as Peyton Manning’s quiet understudy. He was disaster insurance for Peyton Manning’s neck, and the same is true of Garoppolo. Robert Kraft has said as much.

“Disaster insurance” can evolve into something else—the starter of the New England Patriots, for example. Brady was Drew Bledsoe’s disaster insurance, after all.

By 2018, the Patriots will re-evaluate, at which point they could elect to re-sign both Brady and Garoppolo to further frustrate people that need the answer. There isn’t one, at least not yet.

Until then, pay no attention to the ifs, the brouhaha, and the assumptions. The story of Jimmy “disaster insurance” Garoppolo has not been written yet. It may be the most interesting one since Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre, but it could also be as benign as those of Mallett, Rohan Davey, and Damon Huard. Don’t take haste in crowning Garoppolo the prince of New England. He’s still a third stringer.