One of the many juicy nuggets in the Seth Wickersham article regarding the alleged internal dysfunction at the Patriots appears in paragraph 26. There, Wickersham reports that coach Bill Belichick and owner Robert Kraft had a meeting two weeks before the November 1 trade deadline, a meeting that lasted half of a day and left the office “buzzing.”
“The meeting ended with a clear mandate to Belichick,” Wickersham writes. “[T]rade Garoppolo because he would not be in the team’s long-term plans, and then, once again, find the best quarterback in the draft and develop him. Belichick was furious and demoralized, according to friends. But in the end, he did what he asks of his players and coaches: He did his job.”
Although the Patriots issued a vague and general comment, telling Wickersham that there are “several inaccuracies and multiple examples given that absolutely did not occur,” the team has not identified any specific instances that, in the team’s opinion, did not occur. A source with knowledge of the dynamics has pointed out to PFT that, as it relates to the Garoppolo trade, the one thing that did not occur is that Belichick was not given a mandate to trade Garoppolo.
The notion that Belichick was told to trade Garoppolo creates the impression that ownership opted to excise from the roster the primary in-house alternative a 40-year-old quarterback who wants to play until he’s 45. But the Patriots had tried, as Wickersham reports (and as PFT separately has learned) to try to get Garoppolo to stay, under a bridge-type deal that would have paid him very well to be the backup and then starter money, when Brady finally retires.
Ultimately, the Patriots had to decide whether to take a second-round pick in 2018 (which could become the next quarterback groomed to eventually replace Brady) or to let it all play out over the next several months, with the worst-case scenario being a Garoppolo departure as an unrestricted free agent, with a third-round compensatory draft pick in 2019. What if Brady’s play had slipped dramatically from November through January? What if they once again win the Super Bowl and Brady drives off in a Hyundai, one that is actually being driven by Mrs. Brady?
In 2009, the Patriots stickhandled their way through a delicate quarterback spot by tagging and trading Matt Cassel. The same thing could have been done with Garoppolo, if the Patriots had been able to carry $22.5 million or so in cap space for Garoppolo until they deal him to a new team.
If ownership were going to force a trade of Garoppolo in order to neutralize the primary threat to Brady’s ability to remain the starter, wouldn’t that push have come during the offseason, when several teams reportedly were interested? At the time, the thinking was that Belichick wanted multiple first-round picks for Garoppolo; why didn’t Kraft tell Belichick to drop his price and take a first-rounder?
With the pre-franchise tag window for trading Garoppolo closing and with Belichick perhaps hoping to use that second-round pick from the 49ers to help get a new quarterback in April, it makes sense to think that Belichick, exasperated by the inability to get Garoppolo and his agent to accept a bridge deal, decided to get 2018 draft-pick value for a guy who quite possibly would have walked away for no immediate compensation.