History on Patriots’ side when it comes to trading backup QBs


Photo courtesy of Primero y Diez

Jimmy Garoppolo is a San Francisco 49er, and the New England Patriots are idiots.

At least, that’s what some columnists and websites want you to believe after the Patriots dealt their backup quarterback this week, calling the move everything from “a blunder” … to “a shocker” … to a “dumb move.”

And maybe it is. But probably it’s not. And here’s why: Because it’s the New England Patriots, and their history of trading away Tom Brady’s backups is as consistent as it is bulletproof.

“I don’t know what that means,” Brady said after news of the trade broke.

Well, then, let me tell you. It doesn’t matter if it’s Drew Bledsoe … or Matt Cassel … or Ryan Mallett … or Jimmy Garoppolo.. when the Patriots give up on a backup quarterback it’s not a blunder, and it’s not a dumb move. It’s just another means of gaining high draft picks in return for a quarterback that’s going to make a lot of money and who doesn’t play because Brady does.

Period.

You think I’m kidding? Of the three backups they traded away since Brady took over for Bledsoe in 2001, none produced a winning record — with only Bledsoe (35-35) close. Their combined record is 64-80. Their combined passer rating is 77.2, with 175 touchdowns and 145 interceptions, and that would rank 27th among today’s quarterbacks with 50 or more attempts. And their combined completion percentage? Try 58.2, or 32nd among this year’s quarterbacks with 50 or more attempts.

Now the clincher: Only one, Matt Cassel, went to the playoffs, and he did it once. Not only that, but he and the Chiefs fizzled in their lone 2010 postseason appearance, with Cassel completing 9 of 18 for 70 yards, with no touchdowns, three interceptions and a rating of 20.4.

Yet now we’re to believe that the Patriots bungled the Garoppolo deal because they lost a promising young quarterback for a high second-round draft pick? C’mon, people. This is a guy who’s thrown 94 career passes, started two games in three years and may command $20 million per for the privilege of finding out if he’s the real deal.

Look, maybe he’s the next Brett Favre, and maybe he’s the next Scott Mitchell. All I know is the Patriots gain the benefit of the doubt because of their record … and their record says what columnists will not: They know what they’re doing when it comes to trading backup quarterbacks.

“I know Bill (Belichick) well,” said former head coach Jim Fassel on this week’s Talk of Fame Network broadcast, “and I’ve known him for years. He’s a calculator … (and) I’m betting on him.”

Me, too, because history says you must. Let’s take a look:

DREW BLEDSOE (Buffalo/Dallas)

Photo courtesy of New England Patriots

Traded: To Buffalo, April, 2002

Acquired: First-round draft pick (DT Ty Warren)

Post-Pats’ Career: G/W-L/ATT/COMP/PCT/YARDS/TD/INT

70/35-35/2,199/1,295/58.9/14,954/85/68

Bledsoe was the Patriots’ starter until he was hurt in the second game of the 2001 season. Then he didn’t start for them again. Instead, he was traded the following April to Buffalo for the Bills’ first-round draft pick in 2003. Some fans were outraged, and it’s easy to see why. In nine seasons with the Patriots, Bledsoe rewrote the team’s record book — the youngest quarterback in NFL history to play in the Pro Bowl and to reach the career 10,000-yard mark. What’s more, he led the Patriots to the 1996 Super Bowl. But Brady made him expendable when he won Super Bowl XXXVI, and the Patriots were only to willing to move Bledsoe when they received an offer they couldn’t refuse. “We all knew what the situation was,” coach Bill Belichick said then. “A football team can have only one starting quarterback.” Sound familiar?

MATT CASSEL (KC/Minnesota/Buffalo/Dallas/Tennessee)

Photo courtesy of Kansas City Chiefs

Traded: To Kansas City, February, 2009, with LB Mike Vrabel

Acquired: Second-round draft pick (Safety Patrick Chung)

Post-Pats’ Career: G/W-L/ATT/COMP/PCT/YARDS/TD/INT

77/26-40/2,111/1,222/57.9/13,503/81/68

When Brady was hurt in the first game of the 2008 season, the sky fell in New England. The defending Super Bowl champs had just lost the league MVP, a guy who set the league record for touchdown passes (50, since broken) and led the Patriots to a 16-0 regular-season finish, and they were doomed. Except they weren’t. Cassel, who had thrown exactly 32 passes the preceding three seasons, was thrust into the starting lineup and responded by winning 10 of 15 starts. It wasn’t enough to put the Patriots into the playoffs, but it was enough to convince quarterback-needy teams they had to have him. When the bidding stopped, it was former New England executive Scott Pioli — then Kansas City’s GM — who won Cassel, gaining the quarterback and linebacker Mike Vrabel in exchange for a second-round draft pick. “As much as we would have liked to continue working with Matt,” Belichick said then, “we wish him nothing but the best as he continues his career.” Cassel had an immediate impact, leading the Chiefs to a division championship in his second season with them (2010). But then … nothing. He’s been a career backup after Kansas City released him in March, 2013.

RYAN MALLETT (Houston/Baltimore)

Traded: To Houston, August, 2014

Acquired: Seventh-round draft pick (traded to Cleveland)

Post-Pats’ Career: G/W-L/ATT/COMP/PCT.YARDS/TD/INT

17/3-5/342/189/55.4/1,818/9/9

Stop if you’ve heard this before: The 2011 third-round draft pick was entering the final year of his contract, so the Patriots decided to move him in 2014 rather than pay him a year later — and they found no shortage of suitors, with Houston and Dallas interested. In the end, it was the Texans that landed Mallett — in exchange for a conditional seventh-round draft pick that could’ve become a sixth-rounder had Mallett played 40 percent of the snaps with Houston … which he did not. The move was not unlike the Cassel trade to Kansas City — with New England dealing Mallett to a club with Patriots’ ties (Texans’ coach Bill O’Brien was New England’s offensive coordinator). After taking over for then-starter Ryan Fitzpatrick in early November, 2014, Mallett tore his pectoral muscle, ending his season after only two starts. A year later he was gone, released in October, 2015, after first losing the starting job to Brian Hoyer, then missing a team flight. He has since served as Joe Flacco’s backup in Baltimore.

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