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The Browns and Garoppolo

Seth Wickersham’s excellent piece about the building feud between Patriots owner Robert Kraft, coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady is one of the hotter things on the Internet now, for good reason. It offers great insight into how people wear on each other — it’s like one of those great VH1 “Behind the Music” Documentaries that way — and also how success blows up ego.

Of course, the only takeaway I got out of it was: “Oh, so THAT is why the Browns didn’t get Jimmy Garoppolo.”

The Browns coveted Garoppolo, or at least it was reported that they did. It’s always hard to tell with the Browns because they have nineteen different decision makers, all of whom seem to have the same level of authority, and so it is never entirely clear who wants what. But it was reported that the Browns tried very hard during the offseason to get Garoppolo and were rebuffed by Belichick. At the time the best guess was that the Browns probably were just not offering enough because, as you can see in every aspect of the team, they lack commitment.

But Seth’s story suggests — and I tend to believe this — that the Browns couldn’t get Garoppolo then because Belichick wasn’t going to trade him; he had already decided in his mind that the kid was the Patriots’ next quarterback. Belichick is a famously unsentimental man. He made his first big splash as a head coach by dumping Bernie Kosar in Cleveland, this at a time when Kosar was basically the city’s patron saint. And the most critical decision he made in his early days with the Patriots was telling Drew Bledsoe that during the time that he was out with an injury he had lost his job to Tom Brady, a famous no-no in NFL. You’re not supposed to lose your job when injured. Belichick doesn’t care about such etiquette.

So, I tend to believe that while Tom Brady was — and still is — yapping about playing until he was 45, Belichick was going to have his succession plan in place. And knowing Belichick: Succession was going to come sooner rather than later. Brady would begin to show a little wear and tear and, blammo, in comes Super Jimmy.

Kraft wasn’t having it. As the story says, Kraft told Belichick to trade Garoppolo — he apparently wanted to clear the decks for Brady, who has played with typical brilliance at age 40. Kraft buys that Brady’s greatness will never end, a trap that people of all kinds have fallen into since the dawn of time.

But that’s the Patriots problem. I don’t care about them.

What I do care about is that Garoppolo is clearly a star in the making, and the Browns loved the guy in the offseason, and so why didn’t the Browns get him after Kraft’s order? The Browns certainly could have made the best offer; they have 10 trillion draft picks. The Browns had, just a year earlier, made a deal with Belichick for linebacker Jamie Collins. So why not Cleveland?

This is the part of Seth’s story that gets me.

1. The Patriots obviously think that the Browns are a joke. This puts them in crowded company, yes, but there is a specific mention of the Browns in the story — it is a quote from an unnamed Patriots employee about trading Garoppolo. “If we trade Jimmy,” this person said, “we’re the Cleveland Browns, with no succession plan.”

This is what the Browns have done to themselves; they have become a punch-line all across the NFL not just because of their unprecedented losing but because of how stupidly they run things. This has multiple effects, some that go unseen. In this case, it probably meant that the Patriots would view trading a player to Cleveland as a PUNISHMENT. That would explain why Belichick traded linebacker Collins to Cleveland last year; it seems he and the coaches were sick of Collins just doing whatever he wanted on the field. What to do? Send him to Cleveland. It is the NFL’s version of Siberia.

Belichick had no interest in PUNISHING Garoppolo. Hell, Belichick wanted to keep him. He was irritated at the least, outraged at the most (and probably outraged) that his owner was making him deal a young quarterback who Belichick knew could be a star. There was no way he was going to burden Garoppolo with the Cleveland experience.

And this led to:

2. Belichick didn’t put Garoppolo on the market. Instead, he very specifically called 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan — at least in part because of his admiration for Kyle’s father Mike — and basically said: “Hey, you want Garoppolo? I’ll give him to you for a second-round pick.”

And that’s how the 49ers got the guy who looks like a franchise quarterback while the Browns clowned around in their now-legendary failed effort to trade for Bengals backup A.J. McCarron.

So the biggest loser in Seth’s villain-filled story about the Patriots? Right. The Cleveland Browns.


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28 Responses to The Browns and Garoppolo

  1. Rob Smith says:

    If Belichick is so unsentimental that he would dump Brady at the first sign of decline, why would he not trade Garoppolo to the Browns if he got extra picks out of the deal? The Browns are really bad, but we’re now into conspiracy theory territory.

    • Brian says:

      Belicheck wanted to keep Garoppolo because he thought he would be a star. Kraft overruled. Naturally Belicheck wanted Garoppolo to go to a situation where he could succeed in order to prove his point.

      When Brady and Belicheck are gone and Garoppolo is a top 5 QB, Belicheck can throw that in Kraft’s face.

      • Rob Smith says:

        I get it that if the Browns were offering something similar, like the 2nd round draft choice that they ultimately got from the 49ers, that a little bit of ego gratification wouldn’t be too damaging. But if the Browns were offering significantly more, I’d find it hard to believe that Belichick would be putting ego over gathering high picks. If this is true, Belichick is actually picking ego over making the team better. And, if it’s true, I think that means Belichick is going against what made the Patriots a dynasty. At best, he’s damaging next year’s team. At worst, his ego is becoming a problem that could cause a decline in the franchise. I still find this very hard to buy. This is how teams like the Browns (and their terrible GMs & owner) act not the Patriots with Bill Belichick. Hubris will kill an organization faster than just about anything.

        • Marc Schneider says:

          Well, let’s fact it, the Patriots’ run isn’t going to last forever and it sounds like Belichick wants to ride off into the sunset, perhaps sooner than we believe. Maybe if they win this year, he says, see ya. At any rate, even if they kept Garropolo, there’s no guarantee that they would keep winning, at least at this level. I understand Belichick wanted his legacy to live on by keeping the Pats on top after he is gone. But, maybe after Kraft told him to trade Garaffolo, Belichick said, screw this. I will give him away and laugh in retirement while the Patriots go down the tubes. Really, if this I show Kraft (and Brady) are treating Belichick, why should he give a damn what happens after he leaves? Let the Pats stay with Brady when he’s 43 and see how that works.

          I’m no great Belichick lover but it seems to me that it’s Kraft who is tearing the edifice down. He can’t seriously believe that Brady can be a top-level QB at 45, can he? This seems to be more about Kraft delivering a message to Belichick: yes, you’re a great coach and have won a lot, but I still own this team and Brady is my guy, so screw you Bill. Yes, it probably will end up bringing the Patriots down and, as Rob said, hubris will do that.

          Plus, it’s one thing to say that Belichick is unsentimental about dumping players (which, to be fair, he should be), another thing to say he doesn’t give a shit about what happens to players he likes. I think he wants Garappolo to succeed for both selfish and unselfish reasons.

          • Rob Smith says:

            I’m always on board the “nothing lasts forever” bandwagon. Brady is 40 and Belichick is 65. Both are far closer to the end, than the beginning. That says it all to me. But I still find it hard to believe that Belichick gave away picks.

            It totally makes sense that the Patriots couldn’t keep and pay both Brady & Garoppolo and possibly that caused some dissent when the team had to pick a horse. The rest doesn’t make any sense and there are plenty of better reasons why the Browns may not have completed the trade for Garoppolo. Their own incompetence is unquestioned. If you give me a choice between Bill Belichick exercising his ego and harming his team vs. Browns incompetence, I’ll choose the latter.

        • MikeN says:

          More likely Cleveland never offered that much. They should have. I guarantee you if Mike Lombardi were still the GM, they would have gotten Garoppolo(assuming he wasn’t still toying around with Hoyer).

          Brock Osweiler got a big contract for a few games of work, and his collapse probably hurt Garoppolo’s trade value. I was hoping the drop would be so much the Pats could keep him.

          It isn’t the numbers, but his pocket presence. You won’t see panic interceptions from Jimmy.

          • Marc Schneider says:

            Even if Cleveland was incompetent, they surely weren’t the only team looking for a QB. I agree, though, that teams might be leery about paying much for potential. Aside from Osweiler, a previous Patriot QB, Matt Cassell got a big contract after having a very good year when Brady got hurt. He never amounted to much after leaving New England. Teams might have been suspicious that Belichick knew something negative about Garroppolo. It still seems like he could have gotten more than a second round pick, though.

          • MikeN says:

            He only got a third round pick for Drew Bledsoe(surprisingly then only four years older than Garoppolo is now).
            A second round pick for what is essentially two good but not spectacular games, one against Miami and the other at a good Arizona team that was the season opener, is a decent haul. To get more, they needed a team to believe.

      • Jay says:

        Thanks for that inside scoop Brian! Where is your locker at Gilette?

  2. hardy callcott says:

    Joe – you’re a kind and decent person and one of my favorite internet reads. But the Browns are making you crazy. You should consider just giving them up.

    I know it’s hard to give up one of your childhood teams. I grew up as a rabid Orioles fan – in great years (the Brooks/Frank Robinson years, followed later by the Cal Ripken/Eddie Murray years). But they got a terrible owner, who fielded mostly terrible teams. And they didn’t deserve my continued loyalty, and I have (mostly) switched to my current home town team.

    The Browns have a terrible owner. They have fielded terrible teams. You admit you’re not even much of an NFL fan any more. You don’t live in Cleveland. You don’t owe them your loyalty. And they’re driving you crazy. You should just give them up.

  3. Ura Doofus says:

    “Excellent piece,” or just another Wickersham Patriots hit job? ESPN’s record of blatant attempts to get pageviews and viewers from envious fans strongly suggests it is the latter.

    • Rob Smith says:

      That’s where I’m at too. Of course, history is littered with way dumber things than this. But it’s not in line with anything we’ve ever heard about the Patriots. This is a team that spied on other teams and deflated footballs to win. So we’re to believe that a team with leadership that would sell their souls to win would suddenly toss draft choices in the toilet because of ego? If it’s true, the Patriots are suddenly a different franchise where winning doesn’t matter so much anymore.

      • MikeN says:

        They didn’t deflate any footballs to win. A careful reading of the Wells Report actually shows this(Jastremski inflated footballs after gloving so Belichick was right in his press conference), but it was generally missed at the time.

  4. Bryan says:
    Garoppolo was traded for a 2nd round pick and a competent backup QB. The Browns had far more to offer in draft picks but did not have a backup QB for a team headed to the playoffs.

  5. Mark Daniel says:

    So, you think Belichick should have traded Brady? Or he should have released him? They couldn’t keep them both. Not enough cap space. Brady’s cap hit in 2018 is $22 million. Franchising Garoppolo would have cost $22-23M. That puts the Patriots over the cap.

    So the option is to dump Brady during an MVP caliber season, at a time when you are a valid shot at another Super Bowl, or you trade your MVP candidate in favor of Jimmy G, who only has 2 starts under his belt.

    I have no doubt you are right that Belichick had a transition plan, and it was brilliantly executed because he had won a SB and the followimg season he had a promising guy to take over the reins. It was perfect, except that the 40 year old QB who was supposed to be rapidly declining was instead having an MVP season.

    Brady brought the Patriots back from 28-3 in the Super Bowl at age 39. No other QB can do that. Not even Jimmy G.

    • Rob Smith says:

      This is no different than the Brett Favre / Aaron Rodgers transition. Green Bay decided to move on to the next guy a couple of years before Favre was truly done. But nobody can say that was the wrong decision. Clearly it was the absolute RIGHT decision that’s made the Packers competitive for another decade, plus & has netted them at least one more Super Bowl win. Of course, it created all kinds of havoc and bad feelings between Favre, the team, and the fans. Favre then rubbed it in their faces by going to the Vikings and winning.

      So, if you play out the same scenario with Brady and Garoppolo, had they parted ways with Brady after this season, it would have been a PR nightmare. That’s something that Kraft cares about, but Belichik doesn’t care about at all. So, I could definitely see this being an issue between the two of them and Brady. Just imagine Brady pulling a Favre and signing with the Bills, Jets or Dolphins and winning the Division next year. If only, right? Wouldn’t that be awesome! Nonetheless, if Garappolo turned out to be the real deal, and the Patriots kept him, the Patriots wouldn’t be looking at a rebuild that might take years. They’d be looking at another decade of winning. But like I said before, that has nothing to do with whether & why the Browns got Garappolo, or not.

      • Mark Daniel says:

        Interesting point. But they are only similar situations on the surface. Parting ways with Brady is not just a PR nightmare, it’s also a financial problem. Brady has $14M in dead money associated with his contract. So, even if they trade him, the cap in 2018 still takes a $14M hit. In such a case, the Patriots cap space would be ~$25M, and that would be without a contract for the free agent Jimmy Garoppolo. That is another difference, at the time Favre went to the Jets, Rodgers was under contract with GB for that year and the next year.
        The only way it works is if the Patriots decided to sign Garoppolo and then field a significantly less competitive team in order to meet cap obligations. But that’s not desirable, since they are a highly competitive and relatively young team right now, and this deal would essentially break that up for long term purposes. I suppose they could do that, but Belichick has never taken such actions as far as I know.

        • MikeN says:

          Plus there’s that adjustment that was made to Brady’s contract last season. It was reported as Brady sacrificing for the team, but in reality it gave him options in case of a trade and more money.

        • Rob Smith says:

          So what you’re saying is that Brady’s contract has made it essentially impossible for them to keep Garappolo. They can’t keep both b/c Garappolo will command significant cash on the FA market. And they can’t release Brady at the end of the season because of the cap hit. So, if that’s the case, why the drama? Logically speaking, there is no choice unless the Patriots are willing to sacrifice next season. Something doesn’t add up. If the contract forces the decision, then it’s not really a decision. Are you saying that Belichick wanted to take the hit in 2019 and go with a largely untested QB going forward?

          • Mr Fresh says:

            And why did they do it now, instead of waiting until the playoffs were over? Brady could get hurt and if it does.. the Pats Super Bowl dreams are kaput.

          • MikeN says:

            Belichick saw that there was a problem having both on the team NOW. As in, Brady was unhappy with the competition. He was not willing to cut Brady to move to Jimmy, so he got rid of Jimmy.

  6. David says:

    If Wickersham’s article is accurate, then I think this is Belichick’s last year in New England.

    I don’t believe that Belichick would have traded Garoppolo on Kraft’s orders. It is not consistent with what we’ve seen from him in the last twenty years. As Joe points out, he is famously unsentimental and he also doesn’t let Kraft manage the football operations.

    However, that observation can be flipped if you believe the article. If he is unsentimental in general, then he can be unsentimental about the Patriots as well. If he feels Brady and Kraft are pressuring him to trade Garoppolo, then he can either stand up for what he believes and refuse to trade him or he can simply say, “All right, I’ll trade him, because I’m not coaching New England anyway after this year. Why should I care about New England’s future?”

    If he quits, I think the article is accurate. If he doesn’t then I’m skeptical.

  7. MikeN says:

    Either Wickersham is making stuff up, or using sketchy sources, or Belichick is his source.

  8. DickB says:

    A lot of smart football people have lost a lot of games trying to figure out what is going on in Bill Belichick’s mind. Part of Patriots Way is to do the unexpected, so if everyone is suggesting that these guys are breaking up the band, I’m guessing that’s a bunch of hooey.

  9. Mort says:

    Some people love the Patriots. Some people hate them. Joe Posnanski doesn’t care about them. Praise heaven, I thought I was the only one.

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