When does a team's stance regarding the availability of a single player tell us so much regarding how the franchise feels about three separate individuals, one of whom is the best quarterback to ever play the game?
The answer is when you are the Patriots regarding Tom Brady and backups Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett.
Despite continued talk in Cleveland and elsewhere about a trade for Garoppolo, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract, multiple NFL insiders, including Adam Schefter, insist Garoppolo is staying.
ICYMI (in February): Jimmy Garappolo isn't going anywhere. His name continues to surface in trade rumors and speculation - not happening.- Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 23, 2017
That is about as unequivocal as Schefter gets and the authority with which he has written and talked about the situation tells us that the former second-round pick out of Eastern Illinois will be spending at least one more year in New England.
It also tells us that the Patriots value Garoppolo highly, simply because they could get a king's ransom in return for him in terms of picks from a quarterback-needy team like the Browns -- but at this point they don't care.
The question is, why? Brady is still playing at an elite level, as evidenced by his epic second half comeback in the Super Bowl that delivered the franchise a second Lombardi Trophy in the past three years. He has consistently said he hopes to play until his mid-40s or "3-5 more years" every time he's been asked.
Evidently, the Patriots aren't as confident about Brady's ability to keep playing at a high level as Brady is. Or at the very least, they want to give it one more year to see how things are going for him before they make a decision. There really isn't any other explanation.
"The reality is we don't know what's going to happen," former Eagles and Browns team president Joe Banner told me in an interview for Tuckheads.com. "He might play five more years, but that would be remarkable. If they were trying to maximize the value of Garoppolo, the time would be now with all these needy teams. I think there's a very real possibility there's going to be a transition and he's going to be their long-term quarterback."
A transition to Garoppolo as the long-term quarterback in New England? That would be news to Brady, considering his public proclamations and the fact that Garoppolo only has one year left on his deal. At that point, the Patriots' only options would be to give Garoppolo a market value long-term deal, franchise tag him for over $20 million per year, or just let him walk in free agency, which seems highly unlikely. If they aren't ready to move on from Brady, they might try to tag and trade him, which is very rare but not unprecedented as evidenced by the Pats trading QB Matt Cassel to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2009.
"You need a situation where the tag is a number you can justify for that dollar amount because there is a risk you could get stuck with the player," Banner told me, adding, "More teams should do this. Only can be a really desirable player."
Garoppolo would also have a great deal of control at that point, since he would have to agree to sign the tag and be traded to a specific team for any deal to be worked out. Check out the Pats' issues with Malcolm Butler and the Saints thus far this offseason if you think that is an easy process, although deals like that typically get worked out during the NFL Draft anyway (so we may have an answer soon).
New England's reluctance to move Garoppolo also speaks to the team's feeling regarding last year's third-round pick, Brissett. If the Pats felt comfortable with Brissett as their backup and potential replacement for Brady, they would be motivated to trade Garoppolo now while they have the most leverage. Evidently they don't.
Put all of that together and go back to Banner's comment regarding a potential "transition" with the Patriots, and you realize that Brady may in fact be playing for his job in New England this year.
It sounds crazy, especially given how well Brady is still playing, but I've often felt that Brady would end his career elsewhere given his stubborn belief in his abilities and Bill Belichick's focus on doing what is right for the team. Brady's stated desire is to play 3-5 more years. The Patriots have a responsibility to do what is in the best long-term interests of the franchise. Those two things may be at odds with each other and may come to a head next February.
And don't just take my word for it. The Patriots decision not to trade Garoppolo tells us everything we need to know.