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Jimmy Garoppolo: ‘Eager to Play . . . I Want to Be a Starter’

Had the Patriots traded Jimmy Garoppolo, it would have been the story of the offseason. The fact that he’s still in New England is an even bigger one. What does the future hold for the 25-year-old quarterback looking over Tom Brady’s shoulder?

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Jimmy Garoppolo awoke on March 10 the same way a lot of us did: to an Instagram post indicating that his time had come. And while mix-ups do happen in this age of social-media saturation, what went up on the official @jimmypolo10 page wasn’t exactly vague.

So grateful for my time in New England. Peace out, Boston.

“I had 50 text messages,” Garoppolo explained last Friday, laughing. “I thought I was traded. So yeah, it was shocking . . . my agent was calling. It was 7:30 in the morning. Woke up. Didn’t know what was going on. He was asking me if I did it. And I said, ‘What are you talking about?’  We took care of it, changed the password and everything. We’ve got some more security on it now.”

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If this had actually gone down, Garoppolo’s leaving New England would’ve been one of the biggest stories of a wild NFL offseason. Four months later, I’d argue that him still being a Patriot is an even bigger one.

Bill Belichick could’ve sold high on Garoppolo. He had played, and played well, months earlier, was carrying a base salary of $820,077 into 2017, and the supply of quarterback talent in the draft and free agency lagged behind the demand. If the Patriots move him next year, it will be on a $22 million franchise tag, in a QB market forecast to be much richer, and, if things go according to plan for Tom Brady, that’ll all come after Garoppolo spends a full season on the bench.

And yet, teams inquiring about him a few months back were summarily shut down. Why?

New England Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

New England Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

Well, maybe the Patriots just want some more data on a 40-something Tom Brady’s future before dealing a talented 25-year-old at the game’s most important position. Or maybe Garoppolo isn’t a trade asset, but the team’s future. Either way, this is the strongest sign—implicit as it might be—of preparation for the post-Brady Era.

The Patriots have enjoyed virtually unmatched QB stability since an unknown sixth-rounder confidently took the huddle over from Drew Bledsoe 16 years ago, which makes this an absolutely massive—and massively interesting—story to watch over the next six months. And Garoppolo is right in the middle of it, his future uncertain and, because of these circumstances, his play being scrutinized as closely as Brady’s. Is he headed elsewhere in 2018? Is he Brady’s heir? Are the Patriots playing wait-and-see?

“We’re in training camp right now, so we’ve got a lot on our plate,” he told me after Friday’s session. “There’s not much free time to think about that stuff. But when that day comes, we’ll approach it then.”

That doesn’t mean he hasn’t thought about it.

It’d be almost impossible not to. One 2014 draft classmate of his, Derek Carr (47 starts), just signed a five-year, $125 million deal. Blake Bortles (45 starts) is getting a shot at winning over the new Jags’ brass after a rough 2016, and Teddy Bridgewater (28 starts) is being paced back from injury. Johnny Manziel (eight starts) and Zach Mettenberger (10 starts) got their chances, and even Tom Savage (two starts) is getting his.

Eight quarterbacks drafted that year have combined for 145 NFL starts. Three years in, just two of those belong to Garoppolo.

“I wouldn’t say frustrated is the word,” Garoppolo responded, when I brought it up. “I’m happy. I think everything that happens, happens for a reason. I’m happy being here, I’ve gotten two Super Bowl rings. So I wouldn’t say I’m frustrated. Eager to play is probably a better way to put it. I’m just not used to being a backup. I want to be a starter, and compete to be a starter. That’s how I look at it.”

To his credit, Garoppolo did look like a starter in his cameo during Brady’s four-game suspension last fall. He posted a 106.1 rating in beating Arizona in the Sept. 11 opener, then came out of the gate like Secretariat against Miami in Week 2, before a separated shoulder ended his run as the No. 1 two weeks early. (In his words, “That sucked. … But it’s football, so s--- is gonna happen.”)

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For now, that’s all there is to his regular-season résumé.

But that hasn’t stopped all of us on the outside from speculating on what could happen if he did get his shot, and whether the flashes from that Dolphins game (18 for 26, 232 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs, 135.4 rating) can project over the long haul. Other teams, too, made their own curiosity clear to the Patriots over the course of the offseason.

“I tried to shut myself out from it,” Garoppolo says. “But just naturally, friends, family, would say, ‘Hey, did you hear this? Did you see this?’ It was that type of thing. I’d end up hearing about it one way or the other. A lot of it was rumor. Then it started to get serious for a while. And the whole Instagram hacking thing, that was something else. I try not to think about it much, but it’s always in the back of my mind.”

The best way to illustrate how Garoppolo is perceived now was easy to see during the first two days of New England’s training camp. While he was solid overall, he threw a pair of picks on Thursday, and two more on Friday, and that’s where the discussion was when he addressed the press before he and I talked off to the side. The level of attention here isn’t what a backup quarterback normally faces, and that makes sense.

That’s because most people—his teammates included— assume this will be his last year as a backup. In fact, Garoppolo said, “We were just talking about this in the locker room. Tom Brady is the only quarterback I’ve ever backed up.”

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For his part, Garoppolo concedes he misses being a starter. Primarily, it’s the excitement of game day—“you want to be The Guy, that’s part of being a quarterback”—and knowing teammates are relying on you. He got a taste of it last year, going through not just the games but also the weekdays of preparation, in that spot.

He sure wants more, and he didn’t hesitate when I asked him if he sees himself as a starter.

“Yeah,” he responded, smiling. “One day.”

That day is coming.

But that’s not the story here. The story here is that it hasn’t already happened.

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