In honor of Tom Brady's 39th birthday today, it's time to take a look at how the Patriots will prepare for life after he's gone. To be clear, I expect Brady to continue playing for the next three years (at least). This isn't right around the corner for the Pats. However, it is inevitable that the Greatest of All Time will eventually, well, decline and retire. For better or for worse, the Pats will get a preview of that life through the first four weeks of the season, when Brady is sidelined for the Deflategate fiasco. It could go well or it could go poorly, but eventually the Patriots will have to adjust. With that in mind, there's no time like the present to analyze the options and predict how it will go.
The most obvious option to succeed Tom Terrific is his current backup, Jimmy Garoppolo. The third-year player has the skills to follow in Brady's footsteps -- a lightning-quick release time (some have even compared him to Dan Marino in that regard), a strong and accurate arm, and movie-star looks. He does bring more to the table in the running game than Brady does, but he's nowhere near as savvy as the future Hall-of-Famer at breaking down defenses pre- and post-snap. While he's not a slouch by any means and will only improve with experience, it will be tough for him to follow Brady, the smartest QB ever to play.
However, don't think that Garoppolo is the heir apparent just because he's the current backup and has been in Foxboro the longest. With a strong showing through the first four weeks, when Brady is (wrongfully) suspended, Jimmy G could either play his way into a contract extension or onto a plane out of town. The Patriots have been good about keeping their quarterback signed to good deals (for both the player and the team) over the past decade, but Bill Belicheck is notoriously ruthless with cutting and trading players. If a team sees Garoppolo play lights out and offers a first-round pick or more for him in return, expect Belicheck to pull the trigger.
In that case, expect third-round pick Jacoby Brissett to step up to the plate as Brady's replacement. Brisket is bigger and stronger than Garoppolo, with an equally strong arm, but he's also got less experience in the complicated Pats system. To pass Garoppolo, he'd need to pick up the most complex O in the league in a matter of months--not impossible, considering Brissett's intelligence and dedication (many considered him one of the smartest QBs in the draft class), but definitely a difficult task. While he has the physical tools to be an NFL starter, he needs a year of seasoning in the Pats QB room before he could back up or take over for Brady. The main scenario for him starting would be Garoppolo getting traded, forcing him up on the depth chart and into the backup spot. Then, if Brady gets injured (God forbid) or retires, Brissett would be his heir.
While there's always the possibility of a splashy draft pick or big free-agent signing, as of now, it looks like Garoppolo and Brissett are the Patriots' main options at QB sans Brady. With their sharp performances in training camp so far, there doesn't appear to be any need for another option. While nobody could be as good as the Greatest of All Time, the two are both strong and smart, with plenty of potential to become great NFL QBs in their own right. It will be a shame to see Brady go, hopefully far in the future, but at least the team is prepared. Following the greatest QB ever with two very good QBs? It's a problem, but definitely a good problem to have.
Photos courtesy Boston Herald and ESPN
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