Commentary

Drafting Garoppolo is good business

Best teams like Patriots, Broncos know value of maintaining viable stable of QBs

Updated: May 11, 2014, 2:19 AM ET
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots made nine selections in the 2014 NFL draft. When it comes to stirring debate and the passions of fans, one stands out above the rest:

Second round, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, 62nd overall.

By investing such a high draft choice at the position, the Patriots protect themselves in the event No. 2 signal-caller Ryan Mallett leaves as a free agent after the season. They also set up a possible succession plan at some point with soon-to-be 37-year-old Tom Brady, which is a tough thought for Patriots followers to digest.

It's good business, the same thing the Denver Broncos did with quarterback Brock Osweiler in the second round of the 2012 draft (57th overall), but Garoppolo's selection didn't seem to be received that way in some New England circles.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Garoppolo
AP Photo/Stephen HaasJimmy Garoppolo might not get a chance to prove his on-field worth for a while, but the Patriots will be happy if that's the case.

The question many have been asking: Why would they take a player who can't help win a Super Bowl this season?

Well, coach Bill Belichick provided some insight on his thinking Saturday night at the conclusion of the three-day draft.

"In our organization, I don't think we would put together a team the way Indianapolis did it when they lost [Peyton] Manning and they go [2-14]. I don't think that's really what we're looking for," he said of the 2011 Colts season that went down the chutes because they didn't have a viable backup.

"Unfortunately, when we lost Tom in 2008, we had a player [Matt Cassel] that could step in, and we won 11 games. We want to be competitive even if something happens to a player at any position. I think depth is always important. You never know when you're going to need it.

"But I don't think we'd be happy going [2-14] if we had an injury at one position. Other people have different philosophies. I'm just saying that the contrast to that example, I don't think that's really what we're trying to do."

It seems fair to say that the Patriots' decision with Garoppolo was made more with that in mind, the focus on depth at the No. 2 spot. It's really the same thing the team did with Mallett in 2011, when they picked him 12 slots later than they did Garoppolo this year, which made it an early third-round pick (74th) instead of a late second-rounder.

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The other difference -- Brady was 32, going on 33, at that time. He's 36, going on 37, now, which has sparked talk of succession plans.

In fairness, Belichick himself mentioned Brady's age and contract status (signed through 2017) as well. But to say that's the main reason for the Garoppolo pick doesn't seem like it hits the mark. If so, why weren't we talking about succession plans with Mallett at basically the same level pick in 2011?

Here's what it basically comes down to: Belichick has said in the past that if a team doesn't have a quarterback ready to go, it puts the whole team at risk. It's really the only position on the field that qualifies, and it's why quarterback ranks No. 1 on every team's list of positional value.

And if it means investing in the position one year early, it's worth it to Belichick, especially if there is conviction that the prospect is deemed worthy of the pick. It turns out that this was a deep year for quarterbacks. There's no guarantee next year will be that way.

The most interesting part about the Garoppolo pick will be monitoring some of the players drafted after him and whether they become stars. Maybe then the Patriots might second-guess not waiting a little bit longer, taking a player who had a better chance to see the field regardless of injury (i.e., tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz) and then picking up a quarterback like Tom Savage in the fourth round.

But that's a what-if game, and we can go in circles on that. What if Brady gets injured in 2015 like he did in 2008 and the team doesn't have a capable backup because Mallett, seeking the chance to compete for a starting job at the end of his rookie contract, signed elsewhere as a free agent? At that point, the Patriots would have had a year to work with Garoppolo and get him ready.

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Is that as valuable as the third tight end or developmental offensive lineman they could have drafted at the slot? To Belichick, and other smart football minds, it is.

With the buzz surrounding the Garoppolo pick in the region, I reached out to ESPN.com Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold in Denver to gauge if the reaction there was the same in 2012 when Osweiler was the Broncos' second-round pick.

What I learned is that football czar John Elway, as a former quarterback, believes a team should strongly consider taking a quarterback every year. It's the thinking that former Green Bay Packers general manager Ron Wolf once made famous and how the Packers, for a time, became a quarterback development factory (i.e., Matt Hasselbeck, Mark Brunell).

In Osweiler, the Broncos saw Manning insurance in the event of injury, and they also projected ahead and didn't think they'd like the prospects in the 2013 draft as much. So they went ahead and took the plunge, adopting Belichick's "better a year early than late" quarterback mantra.

Another thing the Broncos liked about Osweiler was how young he was, so even if Manning played three or four seasons, Osweiler still be only 24 or 25 by the time the team was ready to give the reins over to him. As it turns out, Elway turned around and drafted another quarterback in 2013 in the seventh round, Zac Dysert, who spent all last season on the 53-man roster alongside Osweiler.

So take it for what it's worth when considering the Patriots' debate-generating second-round pick of Garoppolo this year. Talk of succession plans no doubt generates a buzz that produces Internet clicks and ratings, but I believe this is more about smart business.

The Broncos did it two years ago. Now the Patriots have, too.

They just so happen to be the best teams in the AFC.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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