BOSTON (CBS) -- Mike Lombardi has been one of the most vocal supporters of the Patriots and the moves that Bill Belichick has made in the past year. Now, he's offering his thoughts on the Patriots' situation with backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and their litany of key free agents.
The former longtime NFL executive and Patriots assistant to the coaching staff joined 98.5 The Sports Hub's Zolak & Bertrand on Wednesday to talk about the Patriots' plans for Garoppolo, as well as pending free agents like Dont'a Hightower (unrestricted) and Malcolm Butler (restricted). On Garoppolo, who is only signed with the Patriots through 2017, Lombardi doesn't believe the Patriots are comfortable quite yet with Jacoby Brissett in the No. 2 quarterback role. He sees Garoppolo's presence on the team next season, at the very least, as insurance for the soon-to-be 40-year-old Tom Brady.
"I think the Patriots realize that they have a talented young quarterback. The operative word here is 'young' quarterback," said Lombardi. "Look, Tom Brady is the G.O.A.T. ... He is [going to be] 40. There's no precedent that you can look at in the NFL that guys play past 40. Tom's probably going to beat that, but I think it's a smart play for the Patriots to make sure they have two really good quarterbacks so they don't take a step back."
The Patriots have over $60 million in cap space, among the most in the NFL, so they should be able to sign at least one of their big-name free agents. Lombardi knows that the money needs to go somewhere, and he believes it could be for Butler.
"They're going to have to pay somebody. I mean, [Butler's] going to get paid," said Lombardi. "It's hard to find good corners that can cover and tackle. Malcolm does all three things: he covers, he run-supports, he makes plays on the ball down the field. ... His level of wanting to be the best never rides away."
On Hightower, Lombardi believes it was in Patriots' best interests to avoid franchising Hightower to keep him from getting too expensive in a potential extension. Hightower is expected to test the free-agent market, but if there's anything that will give teams pause in giving him a top-of-the-market long-term deal, it would be his persistent health issues.
"Durability is critical. You've got to be able to be on the field to earn your money, and if you're not durable you're not on the field," said Lombardi. "I think Dont'a would say, for a guy who's a big, physical man, the physicality does take effect on him.
"You don't want to overpay for a guy that's not going to be on the field all the time."
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