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The Patriots Didn't Lose All That Much In Jimmy Garoppolo

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) -- Montana to Young. Favre to Rodgers. Brady to Garoppolo.

That was the way that many in New England fantasized about the direction of the franchise in the mid-2010s, anyway, a seamless transition from one all-time great quarterback to another all-time great quarterback, ensuring the long-term health of the franchise without missing a beat.

Reality, obviously, never matched up with the dream, as Tom Brady won his battle against Father Time and continued playing at MVP and championship levels, ultimately leading to the trading away of Garoppolo in 2017.

And now that Brady has retired from the sport, it's probably the right time to look back upon that situation with some perspective. And if we do, we must conclude that the Montana-Young and Favre-Rodgers comparisons were always a fairy tale, one with little chance of ever actually happening. It makes the obvious decision by the Patriots to stick with Brady look even better in retrospect.

Of course, we must admit that we don't actually know what the exact details of the 2017 season, but the rumors and reports and behind-the-scenes type of information suggests that ownership made the call to stick with Brady, thus necessitating the midseason trade of Garoppolo, thus leading to Bill Belichick being "furious and demoralized." Belichick dismissed that report, though, calling it "inaccurate and un-attributable." So the exact facts surrounding the Patriots' intentions at quarterback in 2017 and beyond remain fuzzy.

Jimmy Garoppolo, Bill Belichick, Tom Brady
Jimmy Garoppolo, Bill Belichick, Tom Brady during practice in 2017. (Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

But actions, as always, speak louder than words. And the fact that the Patriots kept Garoppolo after the 2016 offseason, leading up to the 2017 draft, through training camp and the preseason, and through the first eight weeks of the season shows that at the very least they were skeptical of a post-40 Tom Brady. By keeping Garoppolo for so long, they severely limited the return package in a trade. But they also maintained an insurance plan for their 40-year-old quarterback. It was a pragmatic reason to keep Garoppolo around, even if it limited the trade return to just being a second-round pick. (Not a bad haul for a quarterback who was a half-season away from free agency.)

Regardless, no matter what Belichick did or did not feel about Garoppolo, we can say with full confidence now that the Patriots did not have the next Steve Young or Aaron Rodgers under their employ in Garoppolo.

While Garoppolo's win-loss record as a starter remains borderline unbelievable (33-14 regular season, 4-2 postseason), his performances on the whole remain ... mediocre.

Outside of a small handful of games where he popped (424 yards vs. Arizona in 2019, four TDs and no picks at Arizona that same year, a sextet of games with at least three touchdowns), Garoppolo has largely performed at a league average level, all while struggling to stay healthy, during his four and a half years in San Francisco.

His completion rate was high (67.7 percent), and his efficiency was great (8.4 yards per attempt), but his total output left a lot to be desired. He threw 66 touchdowns and 38 interceptions in 46 games (45 starts), averaging 1.4 TDs and 0.8 picks per game while carrying an average cap hit around $27 million.

He lasted a whole season just once (in 2019), playing just three games in 2018 due to a torn knee and six games in 2020 due to an ankle injury.

He ranked 12th in passing yards and 17th in passing touchdowns in 2021. In 2019, his only other season with at least 15 starts, he ranked 12th in passing yards and tied for fifth in touchdown passes. Among those QBs with 27 or more touchdowns that year, he had the second-most interceptions, fewer than only Jameis Winston.

In the playoffs, with the stakes raised, Garoppolo's production was much worse. He started six games, throwing eight passes in one win and 19 passes in two others. The 49ers were 4-0 when Garoppolo threw fewer than 30 passes, and 0-2 when he threw 30 or more.

He averaged just 160.3 yards per game in the playoffs, throwing four touchdowns and six interceptions for a 74.1 rating.

In the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIV, Garoppolo went 3-for-11 for 36 yards with an interception and a fourth-down sack. The Niners lost a 10-point lead in that fourth quarter, handing the Chiefs the Lombardi.

Jimmy Garoppolo
Jimmy Garoppolo (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

In the fourth quarter of this year's NFC Championship Game, Garoppolo was 3-for-9 for 51 yards with an interception and a delay of game penalty. San Francisco watched a 10-point lead evaporate in that fourth quarter as well.

When the stakes have been at the highest, when the lights have been brightest, and when his team has looked to him to lead them, Garoppolo has unfortunately been at his worst.

That's likely why the 49ers traded a massive haul for the right to move up and draft Trey Lance at No. 3 last year, and it's likely why the team and the veteran quarterback are now due to go their separate ways this winter.

While matters of sport are always open for debate, it's fair to say that when the Patriots had Jimmy Garoppolo in Foxboro, they did not have "the next guy."

Suggesting that they did was a bit pie-in-the-sky at the time, but there was at least some reason for speculative hope that he could be. Steve Young had two years of USFL experience and two miserable years with the Bucs (11 touchdowns, 21 interceptions, a 3-16 record) before proving himself to be a better option for the 49ers than a 36-year-old Montana in 1992.

Aaron Rodgers was pretty good in college but had even less NFL experience when he became the Packers' starter in 2008 than Garoppolo had in New England.

If those guys seamlessly replaced Hall of Famers, then Garoppolo theoretically could do it too. Or so the hope went.

And while it's possible that Garoppolo might have performed better in the Patriots' offensive system than he did for Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco, the reality is that the performance speaks for itself. The fact that the Niners are moving on from him at this point in time -- with Brady maintaining an elite level of play for the entirety of Garoppolo's tenure in San Francisco -- helps deliver the message that Garoppolo just wasn't cut out to be "The Guy" -- not in New England, and not even in San Francisco.

Jimmy Garoppolo is an NFL starter, and not a whole lot more. Some people tried to paint his departure as a massive loss for the the Patriots, if not in the short term then definitely in the long term. But they really didn't didn't lose that much.

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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