Tom Brady is expected to not miss a beat in his return to the New England Patriots from his four-game suspension, tearing into the NFL with an MVP-caliber performance.
That’s the most likely scenario. Brady’s numbers actually went up across the board last season compared to 2014, when he completed 0.3 percent more passes, threw for 661 more yards, three more touchdowns, two fewer interceptions and had a passer rating almost five points higher. Brady’s numbers also went up from 2013 to 2014. So, despite being 39 years old, Brady doesn’t appear to be declining in the least. If anything, remarkably, he’s on another rise.
And if Brady maintains his high level of performance, it actually makes the Patriots’ future decision at quarterback, when they must eventually pick between Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo, even more difficult.
Garoppolo, 24, showed signs of being a franchise quarterback himself in Brady’s stead before injuring his right shoulder in the second week of the season. Garoppolo currently is second in the NFL in completion percentage and passer rating, and first in ESPN’s QBR metric through five-plus quarters of play.
Brady’s new contract expires in 2019, but the Patriots could pretty easily move him without taking a giant cap hit after 2017. Garoppolo is set to hit free agency after the 2017 season.
So, what are the Patriots’ options?
- Commit to Brady long term, trade Garoppolo this offseason
- Commit to Brady long term while giving themselves an out by franchising Garoppolo after the 2017 season. Trade Garoppolo or Brady during 2017 offseason
- Start Brady in 2016, reach a long-term deal with Garoppolo and trade or release Brady after the 2016 season
- Start Brady in 2016 and 2017, reach a long-term deal with Garoppolo and trade or release Brady after the 2017 season
- Commit to Brady long term, franchise Garoppolo after the 2017 season, don’t trade or release either and buy an extra year to see if Brady will remain at the top of his game in 2018
Option 5 is the most ideal, because it gives the Patriots an elite starting quarterback now and buys them almost three more seasons to see if Brady can stay at his current level of play. On the down side, Garoppolo also could be 27 years old by the time he becomes a starter in 2019. He would understandably be fed up by that point. The Patriots also would have to pay two quarterbacks starting salaries for one season.
The most likely scenario might be No. 4. While Patriots fans certainly have an emotional attachment to Brady, it makes much more sense, though it’s admittedly cold, to want to move onto the younger player. No NFL player can stay at a high level forever, no matter how few nightshades they eat. Garoppolo would be 26 when he finally becomes a starter, which is only two years older than Aaron Rodgers was when he took over the Green Bay Packers.
No. 1 is what many expected the Patriots to do prior to Brady’s suspension and possibly what many still expect. No one reasonably expected Garoppolo to be so good that trading him became a risk. No one wants to let a franchise quarterback go, even for a haul of picks, which is why the Patriots might hesitate to trade Garoppolo.
Option 2 is the greatest compromise and likely what the Patriots currently are thinking. They don’t know where Brady will be after the 2016 and 2017 seasons, and by that time it might be obvious to pick Garoppolo over the older QB. If Brady is still at the top of his game, and Jacoby Brissett continues to make strides, the Patriots could trade Garoppolo after franchising him.
Option 3 is the least likely scenario and one Patriots fans probably don’t want to consider. The Patriots would take a cap hit by trading Brady, but it would eliminate any potential quarterback controversy.
What would I do? Option 4. But there’s a reason I have yet to be hired as an NFL general manager.
Regardless, Patriots fans should enjoy the next two seasons of Brady in a Patriots uniform. They could be his last.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townso/USA TODAY Sports Images