With his fifth Super Bowl ring and fourth Super Bowl MVP under his belt, Tom Brady has almost nothing left to accomplish. He has completely solidified his standing as a historic athlete, a once-in-a-lifetime winner. Whether or not you believe that he is the greatest of all time, there is nothing more that he can possibly do to change your mind.
G.O.A.T. or not, the fact remains that Tom Brady will be 40 years-old in August. Up to this point, he has shown no signs of wavering. Since 2014, Tom Brady has, quite possibly, been playing the best football of his career, with two Super Bowl victories and total quarterback ratings of 112.2, 102.2 and 97.4. But Patriots fans should be under no illusion; Tom Brady will not play forever. Despite a high level of play, he is undoubtedly on the back nine of his career.
In an interview with Pro Football Talk, Patriots radio color analyst and former quarterback Scott Zolak estimated that Tom Brady will play three more years. This should come as no surprise, especially given the recent side-by-side speculation of how much longer Bill Belichick will coach. In the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, owner Robert Kraft came out to say that he and Belichick have an understanding about when Belichick will retire, suggesting that it will come sooner rather than later. The 64-year-old Belichick has previously said that he does not want to coach into his seventies. It has been thought that he and Brady will retire together, meaning that their reign in New England may end sooner than many fans expect.
Going into the 2014 NFL season, Tom Brady was in noticeable decline. In the few seasons prior, his play had dipped and the Patriots organization took notice. Their response was taking quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round of the NFL draft that year, the highest Bill Belichick has ever drafted a quarterback in his sixteen years with the Patriots.
Garoppolo should be the solution now. The current backup shined in his one-and-a-half games during Brady’s suspension. Before spraining the AC joint in his throwing shoulder in the first half of week two, Garoppolo threw for 502 yards with four touchdowns and zero interceptions for a quarterback rating of 113.3. His command of the Patriots offense proved to be even more impressive than the numbers. In the week two game against the Miami Dolphins, the Patriots made no effort to simplify the intricate New England offensive scheme for the young quarterback, and he responded remarkably.
If the Patriots have identified Garoppolo as the quarterback of the future, they must act quickly. He will be a free agent at the end of the 2017 season, and will likely receive some large offers on the market. The Patriots are an organization famous for being unwilling to spend large amounts of money in free agency. It is unlikely that they would pay a starting quarterback-level salary for a backup. Their best bet is to work out a contract extension before Garoppolo hits the market, paying him something in between the salaries for a backup and a starting quarterback. Garoppolo, like most NFL backups, likely yearns to see the field, making it probable that he will leave in free agency if such moves aren’t made.
The Patriots must hope that Garoppolo values Super Bowl rings (he already has two) over playing time. In free agency, Garoppolo will be courted by teams without viable options at quarterback, teams who are unlikely Super Bowl contenders. If Garoppolo wants to be set up with the best possible team, to prepare him for future success, he should remain Brady’s backup until Brady’s retirement day finally comes around. Based on his limited performance, if Garoppolo stays with the Patriots, he has a chance to develop into a very good NFL quarterback. If he signs with the quarterback killing Cleveland Browns or some other team at the bottom of the league, he will likely be forgotten. It is a tough sell for someone who has already been a backup for three years, but if he wishes to leave behind a legacy, a Patriots contract extension will likely be his best option.
In all reality, Jimmy Garoppolo will probably want to see the field, and the Patriots will almost certainly lose him in either a trade or free agency. If that happens, New England should act sooner rather than later to draft a quarterback. In the third round of the 2016 draft, the Patriots selected Jacoby Brissett, a mobile quarterback out of North Carolina State. Brissett saw the field this past season after Garoppolo’s injury. With him under center, the Patriot’s offense looked much less potent, even being shutout in week four against Buffalo. While he appears to possess a good deal of raw athleticism, he needs further development in processing the game and leading an offense to lead the Patriots to any kind of major success. While he may learn these skills in the years before he sees the field depending on when Brady retires, Brissett’s performance was clearly inferior to Garoppolo’s play during the first four weeks of the season. Brissett may be the next quarterback to lead the New England Patriots, but he is far from a sure thing. The Patriots would benefit from taking a quarterback in the early rounds of the 2017 or 2018 draft to afford time for quarterback development, in case Brissett fails to work out as a starter.
The Patriots should do everything that their front office can muster in an effort to keep Jimmy Garoppolo until Brady’s inevitable retirement. At this stage, Jacoby Brissett has done nothing to instill confidence in Patriots fans. It is simply too soon to tell. The Patriots should draft a quarterback in the opening rounds of an upcoming draft. It is apparent that Garoppolo benefitted from his time as Brady’s backup, just like Aaron Rodgers benefitted from his time as a backup to Brett Favre. The next quarterback to lead New England will surely be a downgrade from arguably the greatest player of all time, but providing that next starter with enough preparation time within the system will be integral in preserving the Patriots’ success.