After a few strong preseason performances, New England Patriots rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo had begun to earn the nickname "Jimmy Gameday." After struggling in the Patriots' 16-13 loss to the New York Giants, perhaps we should just stick with "rookie" for the time being.
Garoppolo looked promising for a stretch, but it is simply too early to trust him with the keys to the car in the event that Tom Brady should miss any amount of time.
The rookie quarterback struggled in practices throughout the first two weeks of training camp, but he turned it around and turned heads in the Patriots' preseason opener against the Washington Redskins. He carried that strong performance over into practices and the following two games and was given a test as the starter against the Giants.
While he didn't flunk it outright, he also didn't pass with flying colors. We may just want to give him an "incomplete" for now.
Garoppolo went 22-for-42 (52.4 percent) for 284 yards (6.8 yards per attempt), a touchdown, an interception and a 71.9 passer rating.
There were some flashes of "Gameday" brilliance, but there were also some all-too-familiar sights bringing back memories of Garoppolo's bad practices, with misfired passes falling well off their intended mark and bad reads that led to throws falling right into the waiting hands of a defender.
The Patriots would probably rather not carry three quarterbacks—they have done so in the past, but they have had only two on the roster in each of the past two seasons and four of the past five seasons. The last time they carried three quarterbacks was Ryan Mallett's rookie year. Carrying three quarterbacks that year allowed Mallett an opportunity to study the offense and the game with as little pressure as possible.
The Patriots should afford Garoppolo the same comfort. Quite simply, there's no reason not to.
Minimal Salary Implications
Teams don't typically spend a lot of money on backup quarterbacks, but the Patriots are particularly frugal at quarterback, given Brady's large contract already on the books.
According to OverTheCap.com, Mallett only counts for $937,945 against the salary cap this season, and the Patriots would save only $776,976 by cutting him. On cap hit alone, Mallett is the league's 52nd-highest paid quarterback in the NFL in 2014, according to Spotrac.com.
The Patriots aren't exactly hurting for cap space either, especially after trading left guard Logan Mankins to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
NFLPA salary cap report has updated the Pats post-Mankins. They have $13.2 million in cap space as of 8 a.m.— Jeff Howe (@jeffphowe) August 28, 2014
If it comes down to whether a third quarterback is more valuable than a seventh wide receiver, sixth cornerback or fifth running back, the decision should be a no-brainer. The Patriots should keep their experienced quarterback. They have more than enough in emergency funds to make a signing if an injury dictates they need to.
Knowledge of the Offense as a Stop-Gap
Garoppolo's in-game performances have been impressive, but his knowledge of the offense is nowhere near Mallett's given their relative experience in the system.
If Brady goes down for the season, it doesn't matter who is at quarterback or how well they know the offense—the Patriots may win more than 10 games, but they will not be a serious threat to a Super Bowl trophy. By that logic, it doesn't matter who is the backup quarterback.
That being said, a season-ending injury to Brady is by far the worst-case scenario. Any injury may not necessarily be the kind of injury that puts him on injured reserve. Last year, the Green Bay Packers lost quarterback Aaron Rodgers for seven games to a broken collarbone, but they got caught with their pants down with a total lack of options for a backup.
A revolving door that included Seneca Wallace and Matt Flynn finally came to an end when Rodgers returned in the final week of the regular season. By that point, the Packers had gone 2-4-1 in his absence and were in a must-win situation in Week 17. The Packers still made the playoffs, but losing Rodgers for that period very nearly cost them their spot in the tournament.
If the Patriots need only a stop-gap quarterback who can go in and hold things together to win a few games while Brady recovers from a short-term injury, they may want to go with the player who has more experience in the offense.
Players Who Suffer
As mentioned earlier, the decision to keep a third quarterback could affect a decision at another position. There are players firmly on the bubble who could feel the pinch as a result of the presence of both Garoppolo and Mallett on the depth chart.
Wide receiver Josh Boyce is one player in particular who is on the outside looking in. The receiver caught just two of the nine passes thrown his way Thursday night, and while some of those incomplete passes were bad throws by Garoppolo, it has been an underwhelming preseason as a whole for Boyce. One of his two catches, and his longest of the night, was an 18-yard screen pass on the very last play of the game.
There's also a battle for roster spots at running back. Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden, James White, Roy Finch and Jonas Gray are vying for four or five roster spots. Three quarterbacks would be bad news for Bolden, Finch and Gray, who are likely to make up two of the last three players to make the roster at the position.
Building the 53-man roster is a balancing act. If you add in at one spot, you have to take away at another. That being said, the value of the quarterback position is great enough—relative to the other positions on the roster—that the extra depth could be incredibly valuable in a worst-case scenario, or even in a less-than-worst case scenario.