Tomase: How Deflategate cost the Patriots Jimmy Garoppolo

John Tomase
January 02, 2018 - 9:04 pm
Jimmy Garoppolo

Kyle Terada/USA Today Sports

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The Patriots paid a steep price for Deflategate, but it keeps getting steeper. The latest cost?

Jimmy Garoppolo.

The more you think about it, the easier it becomes to draw a straight line between the Indianapolis Colts accusing the Pats of doctoring footballs during the 2014 AFC title game and the decision to dump Garoppolo on the 49ers nearly three years later for the absurdly low return of a second-round pick.

The ramifications could reverberate throughout the franchise for the next decade. In addition to robbing the Pats of Tom Brady's successor, the deal could hasten the departure of Hall of Fame coach and architect Bill Belichick, now that he's staring at a future without a quarterback.

The trickle-down effect would be more like a tidal wave, starting with the exodus of coordinators and coaches, two of whom -- Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia -- could depart next month for head coaching jobs.

What does this have to do with Deflategate? What follows is simply my theory, but it starts with owner Robert Kraft. Follow along . . .

In the two days between Indianapolis reporter Bob Kravitz breaking the story and ESPN's Chris Mortensen reporting that 11 of 12 footballs were significantly underinflated, the Patriots hunkered down.

Besides Brady's dismissive chuckles on Kirk & Callahan, the Pats went radio silent. Pressure immediately mounted for owner Robert Kraft to speak, but the inaccurate PSI numbers in the ESPN report were clouding public perception and so the organization remained mum while formulating a response.

Belichick and Brady addressed the controversy during their Wednesday press conferences. Belichick said he had no explanation and punted to his QB. When asked directly if he's a cheater, Brady less than forcefully responded, "I don't believe so."

Three days later, Belichick amped up the drama with his Mona Lisa Vito press conference. The gist: learn the Ideal Gas Law, because science explains everything.

By this point, one voice remained silent: Kraft. The heat intensified on one of the NFL's most influential owners to say something, anything, about his superstar quarterback. Fans wanted an aggressive counterattack, particularly after Belichick's nothing-to-see-here defense.

And so that Monday in Arizona, just after landing at the Super Bowl, a simmering Kraft unloaded on the NFL and demanded an apology if the league couldn't prove its allegations.

The fans loved it. His fellow owners? Not so much. The ensuing months would be marked by heated rhetoric and escalating hostility on both sides, with the Pats employing what one local media personality described as the "deny-deny-accuse" defense. It left a lot of scorched earth.

For months, the Patriots stayed on the attack. Their media friends accused a handful of league officials of acting as an anti-Pats deep state. The team questioned the accuracy of the gauges used to measure the air pressure. It released the Wells Report in Context. The fusillade of defiance was unrelenting.

And then, just like that, Kraft capitulated. In May, he reluctantly accepted the team's punishment in the interests of protecting the league's "partnership of 32 teams." We'll never know what, if anything, was promised in return. If it was leniency for Brady, Kraft got played, because 16 months and countless court battles later, the quarterback served a four-game suspension.

Meanwhile, Patriots fans felt burned by the owner who had saved football here, believing he had abandoned Brady in favor of his fellow billionaires. What he saw as pragmatism, they saw as betrayal. Anyone paying attention knew Kraft would never become an Al Davis-style outlaw, but such nuance was lost on a blood-lusted fanbase that had spent two years stoked into permanent outrage.

In the months that followed, one fact became clear -- Kraft would never forsake Brady again. His affection for the quarterback bordered on paternal, and if he had failed him once, he would not do so a second time.

There's a growing consensus that Belichick had other ideas. Given the choice between an aging veteran star and an up-and-coming replacement, Belichick has always opted for Option B, starting with the decision to replace $100 million franchise quarterback Drew Bledsoe with Brady himself back in 2001. The shocking departures of Lawyer Milloy, Richard Seymour, Logan Mankins, Vince Wilfork and others established Belichick as bloodless in the service of continued success.

The only reason he'd treat Brady differently is sentimentality, and Belichick has never exactly gushed like a geyser in that department. For all of Brady's talk of playing until 45, it's simply unsupported by history, and Belichick hasn't lasted this long by betting on long odds.

The smart play, somehow, someway, involved transitioning from Brady to Jimmy G. in the next year and Belichick knew it.

He also knew Kraft would never go for it. NBC Sports Boston's Tom Curran reported that Belichick didn't explicitly seek Kraft's permission to jettison Brady, but if he had, the answer would've been no.

Kraft's personal loyalty to Brady trumped his coach's autonomy to buy the groceries. And so on Halloween, Belichick sent Garoppolo to San Francisco for a meager second-rounder. We immediately debated the return, as if that were the point. In reality, 10 first-rounders wouldn't justify trading away a franchise quarterback. On some level, I bet a resigned Belichick recognizes there was never any winning this deal.

All Garoppolo did was lead the one-win Niners to five straight victories to close the season. His teammates gush over his leadership. One has already predicted a 2018 Super Bowl title. In the Bay Area, they've dubbed him Jimmy GQ.

He could've been posing for magazine covers in Foxboro after taking the baton from Brady. But the criticism that accumulated throughout Deflategate started Kraft down a path of unconditional devotion to TB12 and he has been overcompensating ever since.

One day soon, it may cost him his coach, his team, and his dynasty.

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