Reimer: Wild conspiracy theories about Jimmy Garoppolo trade may contain some kernels of truth

Alex Reimer
November 01, 2017 - 10:28 am

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The drama surrounding Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo appears to just be picking up, even while Jimmy G is more than 3,000 miles away. 

From the moment Bill Belichick drafted Garoppolo in 2014, and subsequently cited Brady’s “age and contract situation,” the relationship between the two quarterbacks was often the topic of talk radio palace intrigue. There were minor hints of apparent discord, such as Brady’s bizarre insistence on playing during the 2016 preseason, but any tension was kept under wraps. That’s probably because Brady kept getting better, leaving little room for Garoppolo to issue any sort of challenge for his starting job. 

The Patriots put off their inevitable decision for as long as possible, but with Garoppolo set for free agency this spring, they were forced to make a choice. Franchising Garoppolo, and paying two quarterbacks more than $40 million combined, was untenable. Still, Garoppolo remained on the team, perhaps as insurance against any early-season Brady slippage. 

That, of course, did not happen. Through eight games, the 40-year-old Brady leads the league in yards and has thrown 16 touchdown passes with just two interceptions. He beat out Garoppolo for the job. 

Belichick was more candid than usual in his post-trade conference call, explaining his desire to keep Garoppolo around. “He’s a talented individual. He was a great person to coach. I met with him weekly and again, have a tremendous amount of respect for him. As his career moves forward we have to look to our team — both this year and beyond. That is the direction we have to take,” Belichick said Tuesday. “We probably had the best quarterback situation in the league for the last, call it 2.5 years. It’s just not sustainable, given the way things are set up. It’s definitely not something we wanted to walk away from, and I felt like we rode it out as long as we could. Over a period of time we explored every option, every possibility to try and sustain it, but just at this point felt like we had to make a decision.”

Belichick’s explanation seems pretty straightforward: the Patriots wanted to work out a deal with Garoppolo, but since Brady is still at the top of his game, it was no longer possible. Backup quarterbacks don’t make more than $20 million per season, and Garoppolo probably had no desire to sit on the bench for an additional two or three years. San Francisco general manager John Lynch said the 49ers were rebuffed when they approached the Patriots last offseason, lending credence to this theory.

But even with those realities in mind, the trade was still shocking. It’s rare for the Patriots to sell low on an asset, which is what they appeared to do with Garoppolo. Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com indicates the Browns were prepared to offer at least one first-round pick for Garoppolo last spring. Given the high price of quarterbacks around the league, her report is more believable than Ian Rapoport’s seeming spin job about the Patriots never receiving any first-round offers. 

Plus, even if the Patriots franchised Garoppolo, it’s still conceivable they could’ve fetched a second-round pick in return. Or, worst-case, they would have garnered a compensatory third-round selection in 2019. The 60-pick drop-off might have been worth it for the quarterback insurance. After all, Brady has already been sacked more times this season than in 2016.

Belichick miscalculated his quarterback situation. That’s rare to see, and difficult to take at face value. Fox Sports radio host Colin Cowherd said Tuesday he thinks it’s a sign that Belichick is nearing retirement and wants to help out his buddies across the league.

“Let’s look at what Belichick has done. He traded quarterback Jacoby Brissett (to the Colts) for a wide receiver (Phillip Dorsett) who was considered sort of a bust. Could he get more? Yeah. But the Colts GM is Chris Ballard, a friend of (Chiefs head coach) Andy Reid, who Belichick likes. They make the deal,” Cowherd explained. “Belichick trades quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo for a second-round pick. Could they have gotten more? Absolutely. Who’s San Francisco’s head coach? Kyle Shanahan, son of Mike Shanahan, who Belichick respects. This is what presidents do, folks. They pardon people.”

It’s an asinine theory –– and goes against everything we know about Belichick’s mindset –– but the speculation about Belichick nearing retirement may hold a kernel of truth. In the recent ESPN feature story on Brady, author Seth Wickersham reports Belichick’s friends are only giving him two or three more years at the helm before he walks away. 

Also contained in that story is a nugget alleging Belichick’s mistrust of Brady’s guru and business partner, Alex Guerero. “Brady has found himself in the middle of a conflict between the Patriots and Guerrero, with Guerrero blaming the team's trainers for injuries some of his clients have suffered and with Belichick making it resoundingly clear that Guerrero has no actual role on his staff,” Wickersham writes. “‘There's a collision coming,’ a friend of Belichick's says, and even without Garoppolo itching to supplant him, Brady is aware of the competing legacies at the heart of the Patriots' historic success. He says now that he "hopes" he doesn't play for anyone else, but ‘I'm also not naive to think I can’t.’”

The ESPN report jibes with tweets from NBC golf reporter Ryan Burr, who says Brady’s camp thought Belichick could trade the star quarterback at the end of the season. “Told TB relationship with BB not great and all his loyalty is too Mr Kraft,” Burr writes, using the wrong “to.”

It seems odd that a grammatically challenged golf reporter would have some groundbreaking knowledge about the state of Belichick’s and Brady’s relationship. But there have been some previous hints about Belichick’s seeming disdain for Guerrero. The coach shot down questions about Brady’s lifestyle guide, the “TB12 Method,” saying he has no plans to read it. Three years ago, the Boston Globe reported there was some tension between Guerrero and the Patriots’ training staff.

Some conspiracy theories contain pieces of truth. That appears to be the case here. Even though Garoppolo is gone, Brady’s end with the Patriots could still produce some sort of spectacle. 

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