News of Tom Brady's reported extension Monday morning sparked a great deal of speculation as to what that might mean for Jimmy Garoppolo. The young backup quarterback has yet to take a meaningful snap in the NFL during his two years holding the clipboard behind Brady, and the two additional years the Patriots evidently tacked onto Brady's deal have many believing that Garoppolo is now expendable.
That may be true, but it doesn't have a lot to do with Monday's turn of events. In fact, Garoppolo's future as the heir apparent took a much bigger hit in 2014 – before the second-round pick even had a chance to get his feet wet as a pro.
We all remember Bill Belichick stepping to the podium shortly after he tabbed Garoppolo in the second round of the 2014 draft. "We know what Tom's age and contract situation is," the coach said, referring to his then-37-year-old leader who had four years left on his contract.
At the time many felt it was simply an indication that the coach was planning for the future. Ryan Mallett, who would be dealt to Houston during training camp roughly three months later, was also under contract but entering his final year.
"With the situation we have at quarterback, I think that we felt as an organization that we needed to address that to some degree in the future, so we'll see how all that works out but I think you're better off being early than late at that position," Belichick said of selecting Garoppolo. "I don't think you want to have one quarterback on your team. I don't think that's responsible to the entire team or the organization."
So, with Mallett about to go and Brady in his late-30s, the idea of grabbing a well-regarded quarterback prospect made sense.
In retrospect, I believe the comments and selection had more meaning to them than originally thought. If Brady and Garoppolo both played out their contracts, the Patriots would have had to figure out a way to retain one of them, and Belichick was giving himself time to figure out his best course of action.
But in order for Garoppolo to represent that best course, Brady would have to decline, and that's why I feel the comments were about more than age.
Brady was coming off four straight seasons in which his performance dipped. Admittedly, as a Hall of Famer his play was still quite effective, but in 2013 his passer rating dipped to 87.3, his lowest for a full season since 2003. In an era where the rules are geared to help efficient passing games, 87.3 is not a good number.
Last season 24 quarterbacks posted a better rating than that including such "stars" as Luke McCown, Blake Bortles, Tyrod Taylor and Brian Hoyer. Brady was not great in 2013, and not just by his lofty standards.
So Belichick's words and actions may have been just as much about sending a message to his star quarterback as they were about preparing for the future. Obviously preparing for life after a 37-year-old star is good business, and if at the same time that preparation serves as some additional motivation then so be it.
We all know what happened from there. Brady had one of his best seasons ever, upping his completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdowns and passer rating significantly while dropping his interceptions. Oh, and the Patriots captured their fourth Super Bowl when he led a pair of dramatic touchdown drives in the fourth quarter against the Seahawks for the come-from-behind win.
Check out our favorite photos of Patriots QB Tom Brady from the 2015 season.
Suddenly, preparing for life after Brady didn't seem as urgent, and when he followed that effort with an even better one in 2015, it became even harder to envision Garoppolo ever getting a chance to supplant Brady in New England.
Now it looks like Brady won't be going anywhere for a while. He could be under contract through 2019 – two full years after Garoppolo's rookie deal is set to expire. Unless a dramatic Peyton Manning-like drop-off occurs soon, or Brady is injured, Garoppolo won't see the field in New England.
But in reality, that was likely true when Brady rebounded so effectively in 2014. Had he continued to trend downward, perhaps the torch would have been passed. That didn't happen and Garoppolo is trade bait.
It's another example of how Belichick's ability to think a few steps ahead puts the Patriots in position to succeed. If Brady was in fact close to done in 2014, Garoppolo would have been gaining the time needed to take his place. If Brady bounced back, then a young quarterback who's learned from the best would represent a nice chip on the trade market.
In a quarterback-starved draft, the time to deal Garoppolo might be now, but if Belichick doesn't like the return, he can simply hold onto a cheap and valuable backup and wait another year to set him loose. Either way the Patriots are in a position of power, and as long as Brady remains at the top of his game that won't change.