Belichick doesn't see Garoppolo challenging Brady for starting spot

Published: 7/29/2016 2:12:33 PM

(AP photo)

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — What if Jimmy Garoppolo is a secret star? What if he plays four flawless games in September for an undefeated Patriots team that is leading the league in scoring? What if it becomes apparent to all of us that Garoppolo is not only doing his job, but is doing it better than Brady?   


“Jesus Christ.”


That’s what a visibly dispirited Bill Belichick said this morning when I asked him the hypothetical question of whether Garoppolo could win the starting job by outperforming Brady.


Of course when Belichick made the relatively obvious declaration earlier this week that Tom Brady would be the Patriots starting quarterback after his four-game suspension ends in October, everyone yawned. This is what any sane coach would do, right? It’s obvious. To ask any question to the contrary, is stupid, right?

Well, it turns out a stupid question can tell us two things. First, Brady has a measure of job security that is unprecedented in Belichick’s tenure. Second, for all that we don’t know about what we’re going to get from Garoppolo, it is clear that Belichick does not view him as capable of generating a quarterback controversy.


Consider that Belichick declared Brady his Week 5 starter in July. This is basically unprecedented for Belichick, who routinely advises us that every job on his roster is up for grabs.


Of course Brady isn’t any player. His resume is among a handful of the most impressive in NFL history. That said, a lot of impressive resumes have come through this organization and all of them have been subject to the rule that jobs are borrowed in Foxborough, not owned. It’s a testament to the quarterback’s legend that Belichick could comfortably name him the Week 5 starter before he’d thrown a single pass in camp.


If it seems achingly obvious that Belichick would name Brady his starter, consider how he built this organization. In David Halberstam’s Belichick biography, “The Education of a Coach,” he explains how the coach arrived in Foxborough to find a culture of entitlement and how breaking that culture was key to the team’s success.


“There had been an attitude among all too many players, (Belichick) had decided that I’m a starter, I own my job, and you can’t bench me or even rotate me,” Halberstam wrote. “In every sense, that went against Belichick’s concept of what a real team was like; on a real team, the kind of team he intended to create … To him everything had to be earned and earned again.”


This is the principal that New England’s success is predicated on. Everything has to be earned and earned again. Players are under continuous scrutiny. Consider how Brady got his job in the first place. With Drew Bledsoe, at the time the most accomplished quarterback in Pats history and easily the franchise player, injured, Brady got a chance to play and he played better.


This type of story has played out over and over in this organization. Players are evaluated from season to season, game to game, play to play. Kyle Arrington lost his position to Malcolm Butler in the second half of the Super Bowl.


Consider Belichick elaborating in this very topic, nearly one year ago:


“Around here, you earn your playing time,” Belichick said in August of 2015. “Nothing is really given to anybody. Players that perform well and earn time, if they do a good job, then they get an opportunity to earn more time. If they don’t, and other players outperform them, then we’re going to give the opportunity to the players who performed better. We’re not really in the gift-giving department here. This is a competitive situation; everybody knows that. In this league, you earn what you get.”


Apparently, Brady’s greatness places him above such evaluation.


Now, while Belichick is telling us that Garoppolo will not have the opportunity to steal Brady’s job, here’s what he’s really telling us: Garoppolo lacks the ability to create a quarterback controversy. Let’s say, hypothetically, that Garoppolo was an under-the-radar talent akin to Brady circa 2001. Belichick would know this. Just as he knew that Brady was on the verge of outplaying Bledsoe before Bledsoe’s injury.


If Belichick actually foresaw the possibility of Garoppolo challenging Brady’s status, he would already be managing our expectations with non-answers like, “We do what’s best for the team.” He’d most likely say, “We’re focused on training camp.” Or, “We’re focused on this week.” Those are the meaningless non-answers we’re accustomed to.


This time, however Belichick didn’t give a textbook non-answer. When he couldn’t turn to one of his classic, empty retorts, it turns out, “Jesus Christ,” was the answer.  


David Brown covers the Patriots for the Monitor. You can e-mail him at or follow him on Twitter @thatdavebrown


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