By: Bob George
FOXBOROUGH – Chapter 237 of In Bill We Trust has begun, bringing to New England The Injured and The Anointed.
It wasn’t like the Patriots were going to trade up to get Jadeveon Clowney or something outlandish like that. What Patriots fans usually expect on Draft Day is for Bill Belichick to trade down and stockpile for future drafts. Sometimes it seems like the Patriots are always interested in the next draft rather than the current one.
But in the first two rounds of the 2014 NFL Draft, the Patriots did indeed make two selections, and traded out of the third round. On Thursday night, while most of New England was transfixed on this hockey game up in Montreal, the Patriots stayed put at 29 and selected Florida defensive lineman Dominique Easley. Then on Friday night, the Patriots selected Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo with the 62nd pick overall and 30th of the second round. The Patriots would later trade their third round pick (93rd overall) to the Jacksonville Jaguars for a fourth-round pick (105th) and a sixth round pick (179th).
That the Patriots kept their first two picks without trading down was somewhat satisfying to the fan base. It was more or less who the Patriots took that seemed to make everyone stop and wonder if In Bill We Trust is still the way to go. It is still awfully hard to argue with the best head coach in the business, but the selections of Easley and Garoppolo are deserving of at least some discussion.
Easley comes from Florida, which immediately conjures memories of an alleged miscreant named Aaron Hernandez. Anyone from Gainesville is going to scare most of Patriots Nation after seeing Hernandez hauled away in handcuffs back in June of last year. Jermaine Cunningham wasn’t exactly a Boy Scout either, but not to the degree of Hernandez.
The biggest problem with Easley is his health. Easley blew out both of his knees at Florida, not just one, but both. This injury situation is what caused Easley to drop down most every draft board. Some experts have opined that, absent of knee issues, Easley was somewhat in the same company as Clowney, the top pick of the draft by Houston out of South Carolina. Easley is an inside defender who is expected to provide extra pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Given the upgrade at cornerback with Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, if Easley can remain healthy, this is a good get as a compliment to Chandler Jones.
Then again, there are those knees. One might think of Danny Amendola when referencing the Patriots taking chances on guys with injury histories.
Even more intriguing was the second round selection of the Patriots. Is Garoppolo The Guy?
In terms of male-female relationships, The Guy is whom the woman expects will drop to a knee and slip a ring on her finger, asking her some question about life partnership. But in Patriots Nation, The Guy refers to the man who will ascend to the highest throne in the NFL not held by Roger Goodell. Of all the positions possible in the NFL, it is not that far fetched that quarterback of the New England Patriots is the most heralded in the league. Of course, it was Tom Brady that made it so, not something that has been the case since the NFL was formed in 1920.
Eastern Illinois QB Jimmy Garoppolo was chosen in the second round by the Patriots. Is this guy Tom Brady’s eventual replacement?(USA TODAY Images)
But Brady turns 37 in August, and at some point, the Patriots have to plan for the day that he is done. It may be somewhat akin to planning a burial plot for you and your spouse, in that you don’t want to do it but someday you have to. Brady will retire some day. They all do.
But is Garoppolo The Guy? Or, is taking The Guy in the second round prudent or imprudent drafting?
If the Patriots were going to use the 2014 Draft to take The Guy, many observers and experts thought that The Guy might be Alabama’s A.J. McCarron. McCarron is on record as wanting to play for the Patriots. McCarron has championship pedigree with the Crimson Tide, so he would bring that element to Foxborough with him and eventually replace a quarterback with one more career championship than him.
As of the end of the third round, McCarron was still out there, unclaimed. The Patriots took Garoppolo instead, a relative unknown who put up numbers similar to Fresno State’s Derek Carr and won the Walter Payton Award as the best player in the FCS.
The first thing that NFL Network’s Mike Mayock commented on was Garoppolo’s feet and release. He is a much more mobile quarterback than Brady, and his combine footage proves his quick release and his ability to “flick” the ball to his receivers. Garoppolo knows well that he is looking at an apprenticeship behind Brady.
Of course, like Carr, one must consider what kind of defenses Garoppolo put up all those passing numbers against. Garoppolo played in the Ohio Valley Conference, which is not exactly a power conference. Garoppolo will have to learn to make quicker decisions and deal with players that are faster and stronger than what he dealt with in college.
The overall philosophy behind drafting Garoppolo is clear. The Patriots would love to treat him like Steve Young interning behind Joe Montana, or Aaron Rodgers interning behind Brett Favre. Both men eventually replaced their iconic first stringers, and both men have won one Super Bowl in their own right. Young and Rodgers did multi-year bench duty before becoming the starter, and Garoppolo will have to do the same in New England.
The problem is, were the Patriots smart in spending a second round pick on a 4-5 year project? By spending this high a pick on Brady’s replacement, it means that the Ryan Mallett era in Foxborough is over. It also means that the Patriots are very high on this guy, unlike other lower picks in past years like Rohan Davey, Kliff Kingsbury or Kevin O’Connell. But a second round pick for the next Brady?
Again, consider Brady’s stature in the league and his importance to the Patriots. This is probably one of a palmful of players whom you draft a project to replace him this high in the draft. This pick becomes a bad one if Garoppolo isn’t The Guy. It could be that there isn’t anyone alive on Planet Earth who is worthy of replacing Brady. If Garoppolo represents the best projection the Patriots can make as to their quarterback beyond Brady, maybe spending a second round pick is the way to go.
The man who told Belichick to draft Brady in 2000 is unfortunately no longer with us. Dick Rehbein passed away in 2001, but the late quarterback coach saw the greatness in Brady when he was at Michigan and persuaded Belichick to take Brady in the sixth round. This won’t happen ever again to the Patriots. There will never be this monumental a sixth round pick in your lifetimes.
So there you have it. Easley and Garoppolo, The Injured and The Anointed. Let the dreams begin.