Michael Lombardi was already very familiar with Jimmy Garoppolo as a prospect upon returning to the New England Patriots as an assistant to Bill Belichick in February 2014. He had led the Cleveland Browns’ search for a quarterback until being fired 10 days prior.
So, Lombardi shared his wealth of knowledge with the Patriots, who ultimately selected Garoppolo three months later in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
“When I left Cleveland, I had all that information with me about Jimmy and what he was like and his background, his family, his toughness,” Lombardi recently told The Athletic. “More than anything, Jimmy came in (to New England) the same day as (Johnny) Manziel. They went through the same testing. He shined brightly. (Patriots offensive coordinator) Josh McDaniels and Bill (Belichick) and everybody felt very comfortable around him.”
The Browns settled on Manziel, choosing the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner with the 22nd pick in the first round. He wound up flaming out in a tumultuous stint with Cleveland, while Garoppolo showed immense potential on and off the field after being selected 62nd overall by New England.
The Patriots eventually traded Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers in October 2017 after two-plus seasons as Tom Brady’s backup. Still, it was obvious from his time in New England that the Eastern Illinois product had a certain intangible ingredient few players possess.
“Jimmy’s greatest strength besides talent was his ability to not be overwhelmed by the situation,” Lombardi told The Athletic. “Being in the same room (and) competing with Tom Brady really didn’t intimidate him. He wasn’t trying to be a know-it-all and say, ‘I’m great.’ He did it in a humble way and endeared himself.
“He wasn’t in New England for more than a month and he was having breakfast with the veteran offensive linemen. They loved him. He had that ability to cultivate as a leader in his own way without diminishing what Tom was doing.”
Garoppolo has shined since joining the 49ers and now has a chance to win his first championship ring as a starting quarterback this Sunday when San Francisco faces the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV. That success certainly doesn’t come as a shock to many of those who became familiar with Jimmy G during his tenure in New England.