Reimer: At end of season, it's more apparent than ever Bill Belichick didn't want to trade Jimmy Garoppolo

Alex Reimer
January 02, 2018 - 10:42 am

Shanna Lockwood/USA Today Sports

There’s still a case to be made that Jimmy Garoppolo has not asserted himself as an upper-echelon quarterback in the NFL. He’s undefeated as a starter, but seven games is far from an indisputable sample size. Just four years ago, for example, Nick Foles led the league in passer rating. He’s posted a rating of 77.7 since.

But even Garoppolo’s most ardent skeptics must admit he’s performed exemplarily well when under center. The 26-year-old quarterback heads into free agency after leading the 49ers to five consecutive wins, giving San Francisco visions of securing its first franchise passer since Steve Young. In the month of December, Garoppolo completed 67 percent of his passes, threw for six touchdowns and sported a QB rating of 94. Tom Brady, meanwhile, finished with an 81.6 rating in that span. 

That cherrypicked sample illustrates the curious circumstances under which the Patriots traded Garoppolo for a second-round pick in late October. After holding onto Garoppolo through the offseason, when his value was at an apparent apex, the Patriots suddenly dealt him away at the deadline for an underwhelming return. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the trade with the 49ers came together in less than one day. 

The Patriots did this with a 40-year-old quarterback, who may finally be starting to show his age. Brady threw interceptions in five consecutive games towards the end of the season, which is the first time since 2002 he’s turned the ball over that often. Brady has also been a regular presence on the injury report, missing practice with an achilles ailment and mysterious shoulder injury. 

For the first time in years, Brady is not playing his best football. That doesn’t mean the end is here. But it is a reminder that 40-year-old quarterbacks typically deteriorate –– even the best of all-time. 

Even more strangely, it seems as if Bill Belichick holds Garoppolo in exceptionally high regard. Last week, San Francisco general manager John Lynch shared the praise Belichick lavished upon the former heir apparent to Brady when the trade went down. 

“Bill, beyond thinking this kid was a special football player, thought he was a special person,” Lynch said, via MMQB's Albert Breer. “And he just said, ‘You’re gonna love the player, guys respond to him.’”

All of this comes at a time when Belichick’s relationship with Brady looks to be deteriorating. As my colleague John Tomase notes, it is a big deal that Belichick has curtailed Alex Guerrero’s access to the team. Guerrero is Brady’s personal guru, business partner and godfather to his son. At this point, Guerrero is an extension of Brady and the omnipresent TB12 brand. Belichick and Brady have proven they can win amidst this apparent rift. But their success doesn’t erase its existence. 

The weirdness of the Garoppolo trade is magnified when the Guerrero variable is introduced. On the surface, dealing Garoppolo indicates Belichick is more invested in Brady than ever. But the revelations surrounding Guerrero show otherwise. 

Belichick always has a plan, and nearly two months after the trade, it still looks like he wanted Garoppolo to take over for Brady. There’s no other plausible explanation for holding onto Garoppolo through the spring and trading him for less than market value eight games into the season. Sure, Brady was playing like an MVP candidate, but it is reckless to make a franchise-altering decision based on just eight weeks. That’s not how Belichick operates. Something must have happened. 

With Garoppolo on the cusp of securing a nine-figure contract, there are more questions than answers surrounding his departure from New England. Either Belichick missed spectacularly on one of the most pivotal decisions of his storied career, or there’s more to the story. 

The latter seems to be the better bet. In Belichick We Trust. 

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