They were “the three best friends that anyone could have,” but sometimes, members of a wolf pack need to branch off and find other wolves to hang out with.
That’s exactly what happened to Tom Brady’s wolf pack a few years ago, when both Jacoby Brissett and Jimmy Garoppolo were traded in 2017 to the Colts and 49ers, respectively. The pack was disbanded, but it looks like their time together is about to pay off following the news of Andrew Luck’s retirement.
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After the Colts’ franchise quarterback announced his departure from the league Saturday night, the wheels began to turn for those following Brissett, the team’s backup quarterback, and his journey since he left New England: each of the team’s three quarterbacks from 2014 until the fall of 2017 now hold starting quarterback positions across the NFL.
Brissett’s job isn’t set in stone like Brady’s or Garoppolo’s, and the Colts could easily decide to make a deal for a star to fill the void left by Luck’s retirement. But, for now, the assumption must be made that the 26-year-old is their new go-to guy under center.
All three quarterbacks have had very different career paths, and will each have incredibly varied experiences as the 2019 season gets started. But, you can look at each situation and spot the potential for real success in Foxborough, Indianapolis and San Francisco.
Tom Brady and the New England Patriots
It’s only fitting when you’re talking about the wolf pack that you start with its leader: Tom Brady. The 42-year-old is set to begin his second decade in the league, looking to take home his seventh Super Bowl title to further fill his second hand with championship rings.
It’s not crazy to think Brady and his Patriots will be back in the Super Bowl for the fourth straight year, but it’s crazy to think that the quarterback could realistically do it at 42 years old.
He has some of the best offensive weapons that he’s had in his career with Julian Edelman, Demaryius Thomas, Josh Gordon, N’Keal Harry and whoever his fifth wide receiver ends up being, all going alongside a wrecking crew at running back with Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead and many more options to work with.
Even when he was 41, Brady was chucking touchdowns left and right and putting together some solid statistics, even if it was considered a down year if you compare it to previous seasons. He threw 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, with 4,355 passing yards and a 65.8% completion rate.
You can argue that he’s missing out on Rob Gronkowski this season, and he’s getting older versions of Edelman and Thomas as his wideouts. But, his decision-making still looks great, his arm is still in good shape and he seems faster than ever before (somehow).
The leader of the wolf pack will undoubtedly succeed this year, it’s just a matter of how far his team goes. His former teammates? That’s where the real debate starts.
Jacoby Brissett and the Indianapolis Colts
The news of Andrew Luck’s retirement sent shockwaves throughout the league, whether you’re looking at the impact on the franchise, other teams in the league, or fans in general. The man who may have been most impacted by Luck’s departure? Jacoby Brissett.
Brissett has experience as a starting quarterback, both in his time with the Patriots and after he was traded to the Colts. He stepped in for a big Thursday night win against the Texans on Thursday Night Football for the Patriots during Tom Brady’s Deflategate suspension in 2016, and was at the helm when Luck was recovering from a shoulder injury for the Colts in 2017.
“He’s a great young player,” Brady said about Brissett during a press conference in 2017. “I loved my time with him. He’s a great person, friend, teammate. He always will be. I want nothing but the very best for him.”
But, taking over the reins fully is a lot different than coming in for some temporary relief until the stars come back into the equation. Brissett’s joining the big leagues with just a few weeks to go until the start of the 2019 season, but you could argue that he couldn’t be in a better situation to succeed quickly in his new role.
The Colts were a playoff team last season with Luck under center, and were viewed as a real contender for the 2019 season with the talent level they possess. Obviously Brissett is not the same as Luck, but that’s the only thing that’s changed in the last week for that roster.
With a great offensive line in front of him, a young star behind him at running back in Marlon Mack and a talented receiving corps led by T.Y. Hilton, it could be a year for the Colts to shock some people.
“You do what you can with the opportunities you get,” Brady said about Patriots quarterbacks following Jimmy Garoppolo’s trade to San Francisco in 2017. “I think it is great for any player and anyone who has been in the Patriots system to watch how the coaches prepare the players. There is obviously a high standard and high expectations for us every time we take the field. Anytime you’re in a winning environment, that definitely helps and I think guys really enjoy that. You take what you can and use that in other places if that is where you go.”
The Colts could be the perfect place for Brissett to use that experience, especially since they’re in such a weak division. Many other teams in the division are also in flux, whether it has to deal with issues regarding specific talent, or overall depth.
- The Texans lost Lamar Miller to a torn ACL, have a weakened J.J. Watt on the defensive line and are dealing with issues surrounding Jadeveon Clowney that could led to a potential trade.
- The Jaguars are in rebuilding mode, having gotten rid of Blake Bortles in favor of Nick Foles. Much like the boys in baby blue in the same division, they took down Brissett’s former squad last year, and have the quarterback that defeated Brady in Super Bowl LII, but time will tell how they do in the AFC South.
- The Titans are in the midst of a quarterback battle as Marcus Mariota and Ryan Tannehill compete for the starting job in the preseason, and haven’t been able to keep Mariota healthy anyway. There’s potential for them to bounce back in 2019 and replicate the success they had in a big win against Brissett’s former team, but it’s not looking great.
The only real sample size for Brissett is his first season with the Colts in 2017 where he was thrown into the starting job after Luck’s injury. He started in 15 games and played 16 total, throwing for 3,098 yards with 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He had a 58.8% completion rate, and ran for 260 yards on 63 yards, as well. Sure, it all led to a 4-12 record, but there wasn’t much he could do in a new system with minimal time to learn.
Now, Brissett’s been around the Colts’ system for a few years, and has had the chance to learn from two great quarterbacks in Tom Brady and Andrew Luck. Add in the fact that he’s in a contract year and could be in line for some big money if he performs at a high level for the Colts in 2019, and that extra motivation could take him to new heights this season.
If he can even compete at half or two-thirds of the level that Luck would’ve in 2019, then the Colts will be just fine, and could slide right into a Wild Card spot in a historically weak list of AFC teams.
Jimmy Garoppolo and the San Francisco 49ers
Jimmy Garoppolo was deemed to be Tom Brady’s successor during his time in New England for a reason, and even caused a bit of a quarterback controversy at a few points: in 2014 as a reliever for TB12 in the Patriots’ devastating loss to the Chiefs early in the year, and in 2016 during the Deflategate suspension.
He was eventually shipped off to Brady’s home state of California to be groomed as the 49ers’ next starting quarterback, and will now have his first full season under center as a starter for the Bay Area boys, barring another season-ending injury after a torn ACL in Week 3 in 2018.
“I’m really happy for Jimmy,” Brady said after Garoppolo was traded in 2017. “He’s worked really hard and it shows up when he goes out there and plays really well.”
The former Patriots quarterback caught a lot of flack for his performance in his first preseason game back from his knee injury, as he completed just one of six passes for a total of 0 yards, adding in an interception, as well. But, he bounced back well in Week 3 against the same team he tore his ACL against, going 14-for-20 against the Chiefs for 188 yards and a touchdown.
A torn ACL can change a quarterback in many ways, whether it’s mentally or physically. But, if Garoppolo can get back to a similar level as he was at before his injury, he’ll be a top quarterback in the league in 2019.
In just three games in 2018, he had 53 completions on 89 attempts, stacking up 718 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions in the process. In six games in 2017 for the 49ers, he completed 120 of 178 passes, with 1,560 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions.
His decision-making needs to get better, but the skills are there, as was evident in his six appearances in 2016 where he completed 43 of 63 passes, and had 502 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.
Plus, if you’re worried about the number of interceptions through his tenure with the 49ers so far, look no further than Tom Brady’s 12 interceptions to go with his 18 touchdowns in the 2001 season where he took over for Drew Bledsoe. Much different circumstances and a larger sample size to work with when it comes to Brady’s first full season, but something to keep in mind ahead of the 2019 campaign.
Regardless of what’s gone on in previous seasons, the talent is building itself up in San Francisco, and Garoppolo is building up a rapport with his receivers, all possibly leading to the perfect equation for the new-era Niners.
It’ll take some time to regain confidence in his knee and ability to take a hit, and who knows if he’s even at full strength as he heads into the new season? But, for a unique sample size to evaluate, take a look at Tom Brady’s season after he tore his ACL in 2008.
He threw for 28 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 2009, reaching 4,398 yards with a 65.7% completion rate. While it’s unfair to compare Brady in the middle of his career to Garoppolo in his first few years in the league, it’s useful in the sense that Garoppolo could bounce back in a big way, even with a lack of full confidence in his knee.
As Garoppolo gets more reps, he’ll only continue to get better, and he could help the 49ers slip into a Wild Card slot in an NFC that’s very top-heavy in 2019.
You’ve got the Rams, Saints, Bears, and Eagles with arguably the best shots to win their respective divisions, leaving teams like the Vikings, Cowboys, Falcons and 49ers vying for the conference’s two Wild Card spots. Out of all of those divisions, the NFC North and NFC West may be the two weakest, giving Garoppolo and the 49ers a good shot to steal a few divisional games this year.
Is it “wild” to say that Garoppolo could lead a midseason/late-year push for one of the two Wild Card lots? Time will tell, but I’d give Garoppolo a good shot to get the job done if he’s back at full strength.
Long story short
There are a lot of things up in the air with Brissett and Garoppolo heading into the 2019 season, and a lot of pressure building up on all four of their shoulders for their first real big breaks in their respective NFL careers.
Can Garoppolo bounce back from a traumatic, season-ending injury that deprived him of 13 games worth of regular season experience as a starter for the 49ers? Can Brissett embrace the adversity that will come with being thrust into this starting position out of nowhere?
Neither have a wide sample size to work with to evaluate any trends, especially as their decision-making continues to evolve with more experience under center in numerous different systems. But, both have a ton of talent and a high ceiling, evident by the trust Patriots head coach Bill Belichick had in the duo as Brady went through his suspension in 2016, and that may be the most telling fact of them all.
Tom Brady doesn’t just let anyone into his wolf pack, and he has himself a full trio of starters in his squad that have learned from some of the best the game has ever seen. Now, it’s time to let the actions speak louder than any words, or Instagram posts, ever could, and it seems like things are looking good for all three as they head into the 2019 regular season.