For now, it’s all about Jimmy Garoppolo. Or, at least, it needs to be.
Thanks to the absurdity that was Deflategate, Tom Brady will serve a four-game suspension to begin the regular season. Brady won’t be allowed at Gillette Stadium, and he can’t have any contact with teammates or coaches during those four weeks. However, he can fully participate in preseason games and training camp, which begins this week.
That doesn’t mean Brady should be the top dog though.
At first, that statement seems blasphemous. As if to ask, “What do you mean one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time shouldn’t roll with the ‘1s’ throughout training camp and preseason?”
Look, let’s get something out of the way now. Brady is not going to lose his job to Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett, or any other veteran quarterback that the Patriots might bring in to camp. Garoppolo could go 4-0 and look like an absolute stud, but he won’t steal Brady’s job.
At the same time, the Patriots need to do everything in their power to make sure Garoppolo is prepared enough to at least believe he can win every game he starts. The better they start, the easier it will be for Brady to work his way back into the fold in Week 5 in Cleveland, without having to try and dig the team out of an insurmountable hole.
And for any talk about Brady’s ego possibly taking over and demanding he practices and plays with the first-team offense right now, I’m willing to bet he understands the situation at hand, which is simple: barring something unforeseen, Garoppolo will be the Patriots’ starting quarterback in the first four weeks of the regular season.
So how do you manage your quarterbacks leading into Week 1 in Arizona on Sept. 11? That answer is also also simple: the Patriots need to treat Garoppolo as the top dog throughout training camp and the preseason.
The most common response to that is, “Brady won’t want to practice as the backup.” In a vacuum, you’re right. Brady has earned the right to get his regular reps in with the ones, because, after all, when he returns in Week 5, he’ll be the guy who the Patriots once again ask to take them to the Super Bowl.
Brady knows just how important those first four games are, given that three of them are at home. Does he have an ego? Sure. Who doesn’t? But Brady has never let his ego get in the way of winning. And if the Patriots want to get to the playoffs and win a championship again this year, then even Brady has to understand that Garoppolo’s preparation is the most important thing for the team between now and Week 1.
That preparation for Garoppolo needs to be with the first-team offense, which would certainly take away from Brady’s training camp reps. But that’s just the way it has to be.
Will Brady have some rust when he returns? I assume so. That would seem to be nothing more than human nature. But would you rather see a rusty Brady in Week 5, or an unprepared Garoppolo in Weeks 1-4?
That answer, too, is simple. I’d take a rusty Brady over most starting NFL quarterbacks when they’re at their best. And I’m willing to bet Bill Belichick would too.
Now, I’m not saying Brady should just sit on the sideline and do nothing. He’ll get some work in. But he can’t be the priority. Not right now. That has to be Garoppolo. If anything, it’s a vote of confidence in Brady, that, he’s been so good for so long, he’ll be able to jump right back into the swing of things and lead the Patriots offense to regular-season and playoff wins, even without much work in camp.
Brady is still the top dog in New England. But for right now, training camp needs to be all about Garoppolo.