Bill Belichick has enjoyed one of the most successful tenures ever as a head football coach, having succeeded year after year in crafting a contender with top-notch talent on offense, defense and special teams. I have no doubt that he will go down as one of the greatest of all time, and deservedly so. Last week, however, he finally slipped up: The Jimmy Garoppolo trade to San Francisco is one that, I believe, he will come to regret.
The second-round pick that New England received, on its face, looks like a great haul in exchange for only a backup quarterback. Draft picks are incredibly valuable in the NFL, with first and second-round selections notoriously hard to come by. In any other scenario, I’d argue that giving up an unproven signal-caller with only 63 career passing attempts in exchange for a high second-round pick is a masterstroke. But the trade left New England’s depth chart bare, save for Tom Brady. And though it has since been filled with journeyman Brian Hoyer (who, ironically, was cut by the 49ers to create space for Garoppolo), the Patriots are now betting that 40-year-old Tom Brady will last long enough for the team to draft and groom his eventual successor.
It would have been smarter to stick with Garoppolo. We know almost nothing about him, but he looked impressive in his two starts in 2016, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s spent four seasons behind the GOAT. Drafting and developing good quarterback talent is really difficult. For every Andrew Luck or Carson Wentz – guys taken at the top of the draft who have developed nicely – you’ve got a Brandon Weeden or Blaine Gabbert or Carson Palmer or Johnny Manziel or RG3 … you get the point. I understand that keeping Garoppolo would have been expensive, and I get that Tom Brady has looked fantastic even as he’s entered his 40s. But quarterbacks decline quickly: Peyton Manning had a career year in 2013, but by 2015, he was a shell of his former self. In trading away Garoppolo, Belichick has signaled that he not only believes Tom Brady has several years left, but also has confidence that he can draft and develop someone to take his place.
That’s a huge risk. And for a team as well-built as the Patriots on both sides of the ball, it seems like an unacceptable one. Garoppolo knew the playbook and was talented enough to eventually take over and continue the Patriots’ tradition of success. New England will be too good for the foreseeable future to draft high enough to take one of the top college passers. Will the guy they eventually get be as good – or better – than Garoppolo? Maybe, but maybe not. Either way, it feels like Belichick didn’t think this one through, and down the line, he may pay for it.
Contact Andrew Ziperski at ajzip ‘at’ stanford.edu.