With Jimmy Garoppolo still in the playoffs and Mac Jones back home trying to keep his kitchen from burning down, some are trying to create a Patriots quarterback debate, when the conversation should be about New England’s over-the-hill defense.
Basically, people are wondering whether the Patriots would’ve been better in 2021 — and, potentially, beyond — with Garoppolo at quarterback instead of Jones. Ultimately, such a debate is pointless.
First of all, suggesting the Patriots chose Jones over Garoppolo is a mischaracterization of the situation, at least based on the reporting. All indications are that New England had an interest in a Garoppolo trade ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft, but that the San Francisco 49ers either negotiated in bad faith or were flat-out unreasonable with their asking price. Either way, with Garoppolo seemingly unwilling to renegotiate his large contract, the Patriots moved on from the situation and from a player who isn’t exactly Aaron Rodgers. New England wound up selecting Jones with the 15th pick in the draft but, had it not, probably would’ve picked someone like Davis Mills in the middle rounds and rolled with Cam Newton as its starter in 2021.
Also, the Patriots would’ve looked much different this season had Garoppolo been acquired. Even if Garoppolo agreed to a reworked contract, including a reduction of his $26.4 million salary cap hit, he still would’ve cost a lot more than Jones — or any rookie, for that matter. For better or for worse, New England would not have built the same kind of roster.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Patriots did not draft Jones because of a heightened emphasis on 2021 results. It’s all about the future. Whether they would’ve been better in 2021 with Garoppolo is irrelevant, because no team expects a rookie quarterback to take it to a Super Bowl.
With all that said, we already might’ve seen enough to know that Jones is a better long-term option than Garoppolo.
We can debate both players’ respective ceilings and talent levels, but the reality for Garoppolo is that, at this point, he’s viewed as a player who doesn’t fight through injuries and plays poorly in big moments. That’s where the conversation starts and ends with him, and is why it’s hard to blame Belichick for not doing whatever was necessary to trade for the former Patriot last spring.
Garoppolo nearly blew it in San Fran’s wild-card win over the Dallas Cowboys, continuing a troubling trend for the 30-year-old.
Garoppolo has made four postseason starts, including one in a Super Bowl. In the second half of those games, he completed 53.8% of his passes for 224 yards and zero touchdowns to go along with two interceptions and a 49.5 passer rating, according to SportRadar 360. In the fourth quarter of playoff games, Garoppolo is 9-for-20 with two picks and a 19.4 rating. Moreover, when trailing in the fourth quarter in both regular and postseason games, Garoppolo has thrown 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions with a 92.0 passer rating.
At best, Garoppolo routinely has failed to take his game to a higher level in crucial situations. At worst, he’s been legitimately bad in those spots.
Using rookie-year stats is unfair to everyone, but let’s do it anyway. This season, when trailing in the fourth quarter (including the wild-card loss), Jones threw eight TDs and two picks with a 98.4 passer rating. In the fourth quarter last Saturday, Jones went 7-for-11 with one touchdown, zero picks and a 104.7 rating. Overall in the second half, he completed 63.6% of his passes for 126 yards and two TDs to go along with one interception and a 90.3 rating against the Bills.
In other words: Jones wins.
But the real takeaway from his performance against the Bills was how, despite the cold weather and the demoralizingly lopsided score, Jones kept fighting and played one of his best games of the season. He rose to the occasion, something Garoppolo rarely does.
As for the toughness, it’s not even close. Over the course of his rookie campaign, in which he played a total of 21 games (including preseason and playoffs) after playing 13 his final season at Alabama, Jones earned the respect of his teammates and coaches for his impressive toughness and poise. The 23-year-old took a beating early in the season but always bounced back and, through it all, enjoyed one of the best rookie quarterback campaigns in NFL history. Questions’ about Jones’ arm talent are fair, but his toughness and moxie can’t be debated.
Garoppolo, on the other hand, has missed 26 starts during his career due to injuries and has battled allegations of being soft since not playing through a shoulder injury with the Patriots in 2016. That, along with his postseason shortcomings, seemingly explains San Fran’s willingness to move on from him this offseason.
Of course, Garoppolo has time to change his career narrative. He still is young and likely will be starting for an NFL team next season. But, currently, it’s reasonable to doubt whether Garoppolo is a franchise quarterback.
Conversely, Jones, for all his late-season rookie mistakes, displayed qualities that make it easy to envision him as the leader of the Patriots offense for years to come. And, depending on how much you value accuracy in high-pressure situations, Jones already might be a better quarterback than Garoppolo.