Patriots: How Colin Kaepernick could end up in New England

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 24: Colin Kaepernick
LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 24: Colin Kaepernick /

With all the crazy roster moves New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has made over the years, signing Colin Kaepernick would be the most head-scratching move.

Please indulge me for just a moment. I know you read the headline and immediately thought “what’s the writer smoking?” And I don’t blame you. As of this writing, the New England Patriots are pretty stacked at quarterback for the coming season.

The starter, Tom Brady, is a sure-fire Hall of Famer and, arguably, GOAT. His backup, Jimmy Garoppolo, will play most of the coming season at age 26. He staked his claim as Brady’s heir apparent by opening last season completing nearly 70 percent of his passing attempts, with four touchdowns and zero interceptions, in wins over Arizona and Miami.

The third stringer, Jacoby Brissett, split his two starts last season and, while not as flawless as Garoppolo, played well enough to suggest he belongs among the ranks of NFL quarterbacks.

So why on Earth would the Patriots need another quarterback taking up a valuable roster spot?

Tom Brady’s Age

Well, a couple of reasons. The first is, even though Brady is a freak of nature whose training program, preparation and competitiveness are already the stuff of legends, he’s still a human being. One who has logged 271 NFL games entering the season and who just turned 40 years of age. Yes, Brady has been incredibly durable, his 2008 knee injury notwithstanding. But Brady, in spite of his stated desire, will not play forever. And the track record of 40 and over NFL quarterbacks is, to be kind, spotty at best.

HOUSTON, TX – AUGUST 19: Tom Brady
HOUSTON, TX – AUGUST 19: Tom Brady /

In his 12 regular season games last year, at the age of 39, Brady threw for 3,554 yards, which would average out to about 4,739 yards over a full 16 game season. But the next quarterback to exceed 4,500 yards passing at the age of 40 or older will also be the first.

Sure, there have been plenty of stellar performances in recent seasons by quarterbacks in their late 30’s. Peyton Manning’s NFL record 5,477 yards at age 37 is, perhaps, among the most stellar. But Manning also stands as a cautionary tale. He completely fell apart just two seasons later, retiring after the 2015 season at age 39.

The best season by a 40+ year old quarterback probably belongs to Brett Favre, who started all 16 games and threw for 4,202 yards and a 33-7 TD-INT ratio while leading the Minnesota Vikings to a 12-4 record and the NFC Conference Championship in 2009, the same year he turned 40. The following season, however, Favre started just 13 games, passing for 2,509 yards and an ugly 11-19 TD-INT ratio. The Vikings’ fortunes similarly plummeted, finishing the season in the basement of the NFC North Division at 6-10.

Bill Belichick is as much a student of NFL history as any coach and, while he clearly trusts his starting quarterback to be the exception, he undoubtedly knows quite well the rule.

Jimmy Garoppolo’s Trade Value

Which is probably the biggest reason why Garoppolo remains property of the New England Patriots and not, say, the Cleveland Browns. Over the years, Bill Belichick has had a few solid NFL quarterbacks backing up Brady, and while many have gone on to become starters for other teams, including Matt Cassel, Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallet, none of them have ever come close to Garoppolo’s performance to open last season.

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In other words, Garoppolo isn’t on the roster just because Belichick needs a competent backup. No, what Belichick needs is a competent, or better, potential replacement for Brady. And Garoppolo, with all due respect to Cassel, Hoyer and Mallet etc, is the closest they’ve been to having one.

That potential is also why Garoppolo was a coveted player this past offseason and why quarterback needy teams such as the Browns, Houston Texans and others may have been lining up to trade for him.

Colin Kaepernick’s Talent

And that, finally, brings us to Kaepernick. In spite of the fact that, based purely on past performance, he’s, arguably, a better player than quite a lot of both expected starters (Blake Bortles, Josh McCown, Hoyer etc) and backups currently filling out NFL rosters, he remains unsigned.

But whether it’s because of his salary demands, his desire to start or, ahem, other reasons, Kaepernick, the 17th ranked player all-time in passer rating, remains without an NFL team to call home. And, at just 29 years old (he turns 30 in November) and coming off a strong individual performance last season, boasting a 16-4 TD-INT ratio, on a very bad San Francisco 49ers team, it could be argued that Kaepernick’s best seasons may be yet to come.

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So here’s the question: if a quarterback needy team suddenly becomes a quarterback desperate team, whether due to injury or poor performance (looking at you, Jacksonville), would they be so bold as to make a preseason, godfather trade offer to Belichick for Garoppolo? Knowing Belichick’s desire to maximize his assets, would he roll with Kaepernick as his quarterback of the near-future to add a couple of early round draft picks?

Further, with the New England Patriots likely to have to franchise Garoppolo, with a cap hit of over $20 million, to keep him for 2018 and beyond, does Belichick cash in his chips while they are still at their highest value? Or hope that he can talk Garoppolo into waiting, a la Steve Young, an undetermined length of time to become The Man?

And what about Kaepernick? If it’s a starting job or bust, or if he’s already moved on and no longer harbors a desire to play football, then this whole exercise is for naught. But Kaepernick, perhaps undeservedly, has been a backup before.

Maybe a year in a shadows as Brady’s backup, along with the possibility of a Super Bowl ring, might appeal. And if he’s willing to sign a longer term deal, say three or four years at maybe half a franchised quarterback’s annual salary, does that tempt Belichick into going to Plan B?

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At the end of the day, no one can claim to know what Bill Belichick is thinking. But he has the tendency to zig when others zag and to exploit inefficiencies in the player market.

Nabbing the best unsigned quarterback in the league at below market value, and then trading your starting quarterback’s heir apparent seems exactly the kind of unexpected, outside-the-box move a maverick like Belichick just might make.