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.