New England’s search for an heir apparent continues as draft day grows closer and the league awaits for Bill Belichick’s next move at quarterback. Jimmy Garoppolo, 26, a claimant once believed to be the next in line for quarterback of the Patriots has instead assumed his role as the face of the future for the San Francisco 49ers, signing a five-year, $137.5 million deal. After holding onto Garoppolo throughout the 2017 offseason, the Patriots pulled off one of the most controversial roster moves in the Belichick-era. In a trade that shocked fans and adversaries alike, Jimmy Garoppolo was sent to San Francisco in exchange for a second-round pick. A move that would leave experts befuddled, asking themselves what exactly they were failing to understand.
Franchise quarterbacks are as elusive as anything in professional sports yet Belichick appeared to possess two of them. Behind the greatest quarterback of all time was someone suitable enough to inherit the role once Brady decided to hang up his cleats. For Patriot-haters who ridiculed the team’s future once Brady retires, Garoppolo was a swift kick in the gonads. Jimmy G was a special talent and Belichick knew it.
Then two months later came Seth Wickersham’s notorious article that marked “the beginning of the end.” The article cited the trade as the center of a deeply-rooted feud amongst Belichick, Brady, and Kraft, and published with its fair share of backlash. According to an interview with the Boston Globe, Wickersham said in response to the article he “received death threats, had his number posted online, and read a number of vulgar emails.” Supporters of the team refused to acknowledge what was reported due to its anonymous sources and the authors previous coverages on the “Spygate” and “Deflategate” scandals. Members of the organization itself including owner Bob Kraft vehemently denied the reports, releasing a press release and continuing their season business as usual - involving a comeback in the AFC Championship and a superbowl appearance.
As the world knows the Patriots would lose the super bowl 41-33 and the team’s best cornerback Malcolm Butler would be spontaneously benched and watch the Eagles offense amass 538 total yards and decimate New England’s secondary. In what was reported as a game-time decision and a shock to Butler and his teammates, the team’s star cornerback would ride the bench and watch his defense get the shit kicked out of them. After the game reporters would swarm Belichick with questions but he was as tight-lipped as usual, “we put the players and game plan out there that we thought would be the best, like we always do.”
It was a move that didn’t make a lick of sense.
Butler played in nearly 98% of the team’s defensive snaps the past three years. He played in 100% of the team’s defensive snaps throughout the postseason. Yet when it came time to play in the biggest game all year Butler wouldn’t step on the field. When Belichick mutters gameplan in reference to benching Butler it’s not without reason people mutter ‘bullshit’.
Even at halftime when the Eagles led the Patriots 22-12 and Nick Foles had already torched the Patriots secondary for 215 yards passing, Belichick made no visible adjustments other than switching Eric Rowe and Stephon Gilmore’s matchup assignments. The greatest defensive mind in football history, a man praised for his adjustments and locker room prowess still felt the team’s all-pro cornerback belonged on the bench. Belichick rode it out with Eric Rowe, Johnson Bademosi, and Jonathan Jones. In Belichick’s own words, “players win games, coaches lose games.”
The season's drama was capped off by Gronkowski’s farewell post on instagram dedicated to his friend and now-former teammate Danny Amendola. After signing with the Miami Dolphins last week, Gronkowski wrote... “Stay FREE, Be HAPPY.” This was likely a reference to the way Belichick runs the team. Nearly a month after publicly contemplating retirement it appears the reports of Gronkowski’s unhappiness may be true.
Even for the New England Patriots - a team accustomed to controversy, spotlights, and public scrutiny - this past year has been a lot to take in. However, it remains simple. The tension in the locker room consists of two key components.
Both short and long-term complications
Five years, and two superbowl rings ago a documentary series on Tom Brady’s personal life seemed nearly inconceivable.
The TB12 Method.
Tom vs Time.
Guest appearances on late night talk shows.
As warranted as all the media attention may be, it’s never been how Belichick operates. While no one can blame Tom Brady for growing his brand and [awkwardly] demonstrating muscle-pliability massages on Stephen Colbert; it’s not the Patriot Way”. Since Belichick took over the organization in 2000 no one until now has had a public persona to the scale of Brady.
TB12’s presence in the locker room grew out of control the minute Alex Guerrero advised a player not to do squats. With all the speculation that came with Wickersham’s article - the only quote that glared with undeniable truth was when Brady allegedly told his teammates, "Bill's answer to everything is to lift more weights." Belichick, 65, is from the era when athletes chain-smoked cigarettes and believed bench pressing was the key to longevity. The tandem’s philosophies were destined to clash.
Albeit it’s Tom Brady. Tom Terrific. The Pharaoh. California Cool.
Breaking News: Belichick doesn’t give a damn about avocado ice cream or Alex Guerrero’s theory on soft muscle tissue. For as long as the future hall-of-fame coach remains, things will be run his way. For a baby-boomer that way encompasses some squats.
Belichick wants to set the Patriots up for the future, cement his legacy, and go retire to Nantucket Island where he can spend the rest of his days fishing and deflecting media attention. No one could have expected Brady to hang on like this at 41, and it’s complicated the quarterback situation. It’s hard to predict the future when the guy in question avoids strawberries and carbs like he’s Dracula starring down a piece of garlic. Belichick has been watching game film since he was nine and has football broken down into a science. Kale salads and a diet depleted of tomatoes threw everything off.
Belichick will remain with the organization until he can assure two things:
1. Josh McDaniels can keep the ship afloat.
As reported by Mike Reiss, Josh McDaniels decided to turn down the Indianapolis Colts’ job offer as head coach due to assurance that he would succeed Belichick.
2. The team has its next quarterback.
As the legacy of the Sith follows the guiding principle of the “rule of two,” we must ask ourselves how “The Hoodie” will devise his plan of succession. As one of the greatest dynasties in sports history nears its final days, and it’s reign of control over the AFC reaches its twilight, opponents eagerly await for the genius of Bill Belichick to manifest itself as one final nomination, the team’s next quarterback.
With the 31st overall pick and a slim chance of moving-up, it’s safe to say the big-name quarterbacks will be off the board: Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield, Lamar Jackson. That leaves the Patriots with a handful of unsung prospects to choose from including Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph, Washington State’s Luke Falk, and Richmond’s Kyle Lauletta.
Mock drafts will cite Kyle Lauletta due to his love for lacrosse and family ties to the Naval Academy. Others will say Mason Rudolph as he passes the “Bill Parcells Quarterback Test” and possesses the physical tools needed to deliver tough throws. Luke Falk set several Pac-12 records, including total offense, passing touchdowns, passing yards, and completions.
With all the uncertainty surrounding the future of the team's quarterback position, one thing is unquestionable - Belichick is going to do his homework. Whoever the Patriots decide to select in April - if anybody at all - expect them to reciprocate the "Patriot Way" well beyond the years of their rookie contract.