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Garoppolo’s Super Bowl 54 loss brings back assessment of 2017 trade

After winning Super Bowl 51, albeit in the lowest-scoring Super Bowl to date against an offensive powerhouse Los Angeles Rams team, the New England Patriots faced a decision: would they continue to move forward with franchise legend Tom Brady under center or would the franchise be handed over to 2014 second-round pick Jimmy Garoppolo. The Patriots began the 2016 season with Brady facing a four-game suspension, leading to Garoppolo starting under center for the Patriots in week one. Garoppolo played efficiently in a tight victory over the Arizona Cardinals, 23-21, to open the season, completing 24 passes on 33 dropbacks, throwing a single touchdown and zero interceptions. 

In week two, the Patriots hosted the Miami Dolphins, and Garoppolo found his rhythm against Brady’s long-term divisional punching bag. New England held a commanding 21-0 lead with 10 minutes remaining in the first half, with Garoppolo slinging all three touchdown passes to cap off efficient drives. Dolphins middle linebacker Kiko Alonso tracked Garoppolo down on the Patriots last offensive series of the half, with the young signal-caller rolling out of the pocket to buy enough time for receiver Malcolm Mitchell to get the first down on third-and-nine. Alonso launched himself at Garoppolo as he released the ball, flipping both players and slamming the quarterback down on his shoulder and back. In visible pain, Garoppolo limped off the field and didn’t return to action in a Patriots uniform aside from a few scattered pass attempts in week 17.  

The Patriots managed to get to a 3-1 record without their tenured field general, but with Brady back at the helm in week six, the Patriots cruised to an 11-1 record over their final 12 regular-season games, securing the first seed in the AFC with a 14-2 record. New England then dominated through the AFC in the playoffs before defeating the Falcons in Super Bowl 51, the iconic 28-3 comeback game. Because of the success Garoppolo had, there were questions both in and outside of New England about the longevity of Brady versus the youth of Garoppolo under center in the coming seasons. Knowing the organization wouldn’t want to waste capital on a large deal for both players with one not starting, nor would they want to see either player walk in free agency to another team without getting some form of compensation, head coach Bill Belichick had to weigh his options and make a decision long before the contract of either player expired, with Garoppolo’s being up after the following offseason in 2018. 

Brady’s passion for the game and capabilities were still as good as they had ever been, leading him to approach owner Robert Kraft and discuss retiring as a Patriot. Kraft and the franchise’s loyalty to Brady showed true, and they elected to name him the starter going into the 2017 season. Belichick, having neglected to shop Garoppolo during the draft in exchange for a ransom of picks, elected to get his work done before the trade deadline in the regular season.  

The hooded defensive mastermind waited until the last moment and traded Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers for a second-round pick in the upcoming draft, which was speculated upon as a questionable move at best, knowing he could have gotten much more in return. The move had left New England without another quarterback on the active roster other than Brady. 

Further speculation came about later when details regarding a heftier package of picks being offered for Garoppolo by the Browns, that were quickly declined by Belichick. This speculation that Belichick cared for the well-being of Garoppolo and wanted to put him into a situation where he could succeed, like in San Francisco with head coach Kyle Shanahan, rather than a team like Cleveland, is a bit much, considering Belichick’s lack of emotion. However, if Belichick saw true potential in Garoppolo and wanted him to succeed, the moves that were made benefited Garoppolo the most individually. 

Considering the outcome of the trade, the fact that during the following season New England secured its sixth world championship title in Super Bowl 53, and that Garoppolo’s 49ers fell short to Patrick Mahomes’ Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 54, both teams have seen playoff levels of excellence on both sides of the ball. Brady continues to find more in the tank with every passing year and his determination to retire as the most decorated quarterback of all time keeps him coming back to the field. Meanwhile, for San Francisco, their young nucleus has torn the league apart, with a defensive line anchored by 2019 Defensive Rookie of the Year Nick Bosa, that terrorized signal-callers throughout the regular and postseason. Garoppolo worked well within Shanahan’s run first, heavy play-action offense, leading the league in completions, attempts and touchdowns off of the fake handoff into a drop back. With veteran wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders brought in at the midseason point, Garoppolo had a well-rounded arsenal, including phenom tight end George Kittle.  

Taking a step back to assess the situation as a whole, Brady’s mountain of success outshines the capabilities of Garoppolo, as eventually, his teammates’ deals will run out, leading to free agents departing, which will weaken the team. Mahomes, with his otherworldly talents, will continue to dominate with ridiculous throws and insane arm angles, but once he is rightly compensated for his talents, that record-shattering deal will heavily dampen the team’s ability to resign other star players like defensive tackle Chris Jones. With the defense crumbling, pressure for the team to draft more defensive players with higher picks will eventually lead to Mahomes playing with a subpar supporting cast.

Garoppolo, fortunately, took a team-friendly deal, and his level of play as a signal-caller means the 49ers should be able to sign him to a mid-tier deal for his next contract, much like the one he currently is under. Though the quarterback position is considered invaluable, the ratio between quarterback ability and overall team capability determines a team’s success. Brady has been as successful as he has been due to his ability to take team-friendly deals, being one of the lower-paid quarterbacks since 2010, giving the Patriots organization additional capital to throw around for free agents and player retention. 

Many have discussed the details of the trade and the comparison between the two players, and while Brady is significantly more decorated and has the skills to match, Garoppolo appears to be on a similar path to the man he studied under in New England, with a dynamic head coach and well-rounded defense that’ll keep them as a contender for the coming seasons. 

Since the trade, Brady has won an MVP, was named first-team All-Pro in 2017, made it to two Super Bowls and won one. But his time has all but run out at this point, with age and injuries leading to him being close to the end. As one dynasty begins to crumble in the east, another emerges in the west on the Golden Coast. Though they’ll likely have to face Mahomes once more, the 49ers should find themselves back on the NFL’s biggest stage in the years to come, while the Patriots will try to squeeze one last championship run out of the greatest player to ever lace up a pair of cleats before he calls it a career.

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