Jimmy G, Melodrama in New England, and the Beginning of the End of an NFL Dynasty, by Chuck Strom

For those who aren’t obsessive about sports, ESPN posted an article last Friday on the alleged circumstances behind the New England Patriots’ trade of Jimmy Garoppolo, now known to Bay Area fans as the return of Joe Montana, to the San Francisco 49ers last October. The article suggests that the trade, which happened suddenly and unexpectedly, was the result of an internal power struggle within the Patriots’ front office, with Patriot quarterback Tom Brady pushing owner Robert Kraft to order coach Bill Belichick to trade Jimmy G so that Brady would then be free to pursue his stated goal of playing another five years.

http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/page/hotread180105/beginning-end-new-england-patriots-robert-kraft-tom-brady-bill-belichick-internal-power-struggle

Various commentators have questioned parts of the story, such as whether Kraft would actually have given such an order, but regardless of the details, several aspects of it are plausible. There is nothing that brings conflict to an NFL team more than replacing a legendary quarterback, especially if a capable replacement is waiting in the locker room to get the call. The legend thinks he can play forever, never wants to leave and resents the presence of the successor. The coach, on the other hand, wants a seamless transition to ensure the future of the dynasty, even if it means that the legend gets his gold watch a year or two early. Substitute Bill Walsh, Joe Montana, and Eddie DeBartolo for Belichick, Brady, and Kraft, and you get an idea of what the 49er locker room was like in the late 80s and 90s when Steve Young was waiting his turn.

The decision turned out to be a little easier for the 49ers because of Montana’s injured elbow, which sidelined him for a year and a half and allowed Young to establish himself on the field as his replacement and precipitate the trade of Montana to Kansas City. Much as I’d enjoyed Montana for the previous decade, I thought at the time that it was the correct decision, and it was largely responsible for the extension of the 49er dynasty for several more years. The Patriots, on the other hand, may have just sealed their own fate, and if there was a way to wager on it, I would put serious money on the prospect of Brady either being out of the league within two years or a hobbled version of himself in the manner of Peyton Manning, whose retirement was, by any reasonable assessment, at least a year or two beyond his expiration date. Belichick, for his part, will either be retired or off to work his magic with another NFL franchise, thinking longingly in either case of once having Jimmy G in his grasp.

The glorious part of the story was that the Jimmy G trade was mostly an afterthought, with Belichick placing an unanticipated call to 49er coach Kyle Shanahan and offering the future of his dynasty for a token draft pick. Belichick had no thought of any return on the trade. His hand forced by either Brady or Kraft, he merely decided to do his friend and fellow coach a favor, while at the same time doing his best to ensure that Jimmy G would be in a good place, rather than exiling him to a Siberian enclave like Cleveland or Buffalo. In many ways, it was a very decent thing for Belichick to do. For the 49ers, it was like winning the lottery without having to buy a ticket. It’s still hard to accept that it all really happened.

Chuck Strom

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