By Ian Borzain
The Patriots backup quarterbacks have been afforded an opportunity with Tom Brady’s four game suspension and they have both taken advantage. Jimmy Garoppolo put in excellent performances in the first two weeks of the season in Brady’s absence. “Jimmy G” marshalled the offense well against the Arizona Cardinals, a clear Super Bowl favorite. He minimized mistakes against a top defense, and the Patriots’ defense held firm. In Week 2 against the Miami Dolphins, he shredded the Miami defense in the first half only to fall victim to a shoulder injury in the second. Jacoby Brissett took over and held off the Dolphins second half comeback. Brissett then put in a solid performance in Week 3 against the Houston Texans, and the Patriots defense came up big in a shutout victory. The Patriots success without Brady presents an interesting dilemma for the team in the future.
Jimmy Garoppolo proved himself to be more than a strong athlete; his first two games of the year demonstrated cool headed decision making and strong movement in the pocket. While only two games is a tiny sample size, Garoppolo appears to be ready for success now. The majority of Jimmy’s plays in Weeks 1 and 2 centered on short passes in tight spaces very similar to the plan of attack Tom Brady has executed with unparalleled success. Fortunately, Jimmy’s AC joint sprain is not a major injury, and at this point, it appears he may return to action as soon as Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.
Third stringer Jacoby Brissett showed a very different set of skills in the Patriots 27-0 win over the Texans in Week 3. Brisset utilized his powerful athleticism and raw speed in a completely different offensive system created by coordinator Josh McDaniels. Jacoby’s great mobility in the pocket was seen on his 27 yard scamper for his first career touchdown. While Brisset’s throwing ability was not put on display, he capably led the team despite the short week of preparation and his own limited experience in the pro game.
While the success of the Patriot’s backups has put in the team in an enviable position, it also raises questions as to the future. It is certain that Jimmy Garoppolo will continue as Brady’s understudy after Brady returns in Week 5 through the conclusion of the 2016-17 NFL season. Garoppolo could eventually become Patriots franchise quarterback but would have to wait until Brady’s contract expires in 2018 at the earliest without Brady unexpectedly returning or declining rapidly.
If Brady continues to operate at a high level, the Patriots will be left with a difficult decision. Jimmy Garoppolo will be due for what will likely be a massive contract after the 2017 season when he hits unrestricted free agency. The constraints of the salary cap make it untenable for the Patriots to carry both quarterbacks at such high salaries. Losing Garoppolo to a rival team after the promise he has shown will be a bitter pill to swallow for Patriots management.
One way to mitigate the potential loss is a potential blockbuster trade involving Garoppolo. His strong play in Weeks 1 and 2 has raised his stock to the point where a first round draft pick and more are a reasonable asking point for the Patriots. This draft pick could applied to again searching for another replacement for the ageless Brady.
As for Week 4 against the Bills on October 2, the Patriots appear likely to have options. Both Brissett and Garoppolo practiced on Tuesday. While the status of each is unclear, it appears that it will not be necessary for Bill Belichick to sign a free agent backup. Whoever starts will face a difficult test from Rex Ryan on the defensive side of the ball, but the Patriots gameplan is sure to put either quarterback in the best position to take care of the football and ultimately win the game.