This article originally appeared in the July 18 issue of Patriots Footall Weekly. To subscribe, click here.
Rarely has a backup quarterback gotten so much attention.
Coming off their latest Super Bowl triumph, the Patriots were inevitably going to be in the news this past offseason, but one player who received an inordinate amount of attention was Jimmy Garoppolo. Having played just six quarters in relief of a suspended Tom Brady at the start of last season, Garoppolo opened many an eye in front offices of NFL teams needing starting quarterback help.
For weeks leading up to and into the free agent signing period, rumors swirled around Garoppolo, with reporters on both sides stating categorically that the 25-year-old passer would - or would not - be traded by New England.
Free agency came and went. The NFL Draft came and went. And when spring practices commenced in May, Garoppolo suited up, as he has the past three years, with the Patriots.
It's impossible to say with any certainty whether or not Garoppolo would still be with New England today had 2016 turned out differently for him. Had he continued to play at as high a level as he was performing in relief of Brady before injuring his throwing shoulder in Week 2, perhaps New England would have been overwhelmed with trade offers too tempting to pass up.
As it stands, he enters 2017, the final year of his original rookie contract, as Brady's primary backup for the fourth consecutive season. Whether he stays in that role hereafter - or eventually succeeds Brady - is something he claims he's not dwelling on right now, although it does cross his mind on occasion.
"Not really. I mean, from time to time. It's your career, so you're obviously thinking about it a bit," he acknowledged during the spring, "but I mean with [organized team activity practices and mini-camp] and everything going on, there's plenty to think about with that."
In the next breath, however, Garoppolo hinted that he'd be open to staying with the Patriots beyond 2017, even though he hasn't been shy about admitting he is itching for more playing time.
"You know, I entertain any possibility. I don't know, like I said, I'm not really thinking about too much right now. There's just so much going on with OTAs and training camp is right around the corner. That's where my focus is. We'll cross that bridge when we get there, I guess."
In the meantime, the Patriots should feel comfortable about both their starting and backup quarterbacks heading into their latest title-defense season. Brady, who'll turn 40 in August, shows few signs of the effects of Father Time and continues to maintain that he'd like to play well into his fifth decade.
If there's any lingering question mark at the position, it's the development of third-stringer Jacoby Brissett, who spelled Garoppolo for two-plus games before Brady returned last October. He showed some playmaking potential as well as the expected rookie mistakes during his cameos last season, but as head coach Bill Belichick always likes to remind us, players usually see their most significant growth between their first and second years in the NFL - where Brissett currently finds himself.
"I think I'm working my tail off each day. I hope I'm out here getting better," he stated diplomatically after one recent spring outing. "I'm working my tail off to do that. I've been given the opportunity to go out there and have the opportunity to get better, so, I'm just trying to make the most of the opportunity.
"Take it slow, cherish each day, get better each day and worry about the next day the next day."
Of course, Brissett has a sizeable advantage over most other players in his position, as he has one of the best of all-time in Brady and an experienced teammate in Garoppolo beside him in the meeting room and on the practice field.
"Jimmy is a very intelligent guy. He has been in this offense for four years. He knows a lot and he knows where I'm coming from as far as coming from college," Brissett pointed out. "He has been very helpful as far as helping me with the offense and just getting acclimated to the NFL and the learning style. He pushes me just like Tom pushes me every day and I think it's a healthy relationship."
"You know, I think we're making improvements every day as an offense, as a team," added Garoppolo. "I think we're going in the right direction."
Tom Brady - Even on the precipice of 40, still considered the greatest in the game today, and possibly ever.
Can TB12 maintain his elite level of play to help guide New England to a sixth Lombardi trophy?
New England enjoys perhaps the deepest QB depth chart in the NFL.
**Josh McDaniels**, 14th season with Patriots / 17th NFL season
**Jerry Schuplinski** (Assistant), 5th season with Patriots / 5th NFL season
|**12**||**Tom Brady (18th year)**||**12/12**||**432**||**291**||**3,554**||**67.4**||**28**||**2**||**15**||**112.2**|
|10||Jimmy Garoppolo (4th year)||6/2||63||43||502||68.3||4||0||3||113.3|
|7||Jacoby Brissett (2nd year)||3/2||55||34||400||61.8||0||0||6||83.9|
Stats for 2016 -bold *indicates projected starter