Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Gridiron of Mirrors

Adam Schefter of ESPN reported this morning that "league sources" have told him the Patriots have no plans to trade backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Were I Garoppolo, I wouldn't sign any long-term leases around here just yet.

Schefter is as well-connected an NFL beat guy as there is, and this is not the sort of story he'd get wrong. Those league sources are real and in a position to know something. We may safely assume, however, none of them is Bill Belichick, the person in the very best position to know. Therefore, the powers of deduction allow us to assume that those sources are from the most desperately quarterback challenged franchises in the league, like the Browns, 49ers, Texans, etc. and that they are reporting what was said to them by the Pats when they made discreet inquiries as to Garoppolo's availability.

No words on such a subject spring forth from Foxboro unless spoken or at a minimum approved by Belichick himself. There's a good chance he meant every one of those words. Tom Brady functioned at peak efficiency in 2016, but Belichick doubtless remembers that so did Peyton Manning in 2013, and by the end of 2014, Manning could muster no more than five or six good throws a game. Belichick probably has even more vivid memories of Brady getting the crap knocked out of him in the first half of Super Bowl LI. Brady is a physical marvel of flexibility, but no human body sustains repeated blows by huge men with impunity. So if the coach has decided Garoppolo is an insurance policy he wants for 2017, it's hardly an irrational decision

(Incidentally, it would also be doing Garoppolo a favor. He could play out his rookie contract and become a free agent with his reputation, based on five quarters of play and Belichick's good opinion, intact. He couldn't louse it up by failing to do well with a team for whom it is impossible to do well, such as Cleveland. If I were a quarterback, I sure wouldn't want to go a team that lost four previous starters due to injury the previous season.)

But it wouldn't be an irrational decision if Belichick was just blowing smoke about his plans either. In general, persons seeking to sell an asset tend to talk up the value of the asset. Belichick could not do more to drive up Garoppolo's value than to declare it is so high he couldn't consider swapping him away. It might discourage some suitors, but it's bound to encourage one or more of them to return with better, probably ridiculous offers. After all, if Bill like the guy so much, he must be worth a lot right?

The market will offer further encouragement. Current free agent quarterbacks include Tony Romo, a proven success who's a cinch to be injured by Columbus Day, and a bunch of just good enough to lose chaps like Jay Cutler, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Case Keenum. Every time Deshaun Watson's agent sees that list, he grins. Same probably goes for everyone in the Pats front office from the coach on down.

Did you know that as of now the 49ers have a rookie coach, rookie GM and no quarterbacks whatsoever on their roster? Belichick does. Does he know the Texans' commitment to Brock Osweiler has put old colleague Bill O'Brien in an equivocal employment situation? Oh, yeah.

In short, Belichick has every incentive to say he won't trade Garoppolo if he really doesn't want to, and even more incentive to say it if he's willing to persuaded to do so. He is in the catbird seat, a seat that will become more and more comfortable as the draft approaches.

Pretty good deal if you're defending Super Bowl champion and your big offseason move might be to wait for the Cleveland Browns to screw up.


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