Since Brady replaced Drew Bledsoe as the Patriots quarterback in 2001, his primary backups have included Rohan Davey (2002-04), Matt Cassel (2005-08), Brian Hoyer (2009-11), Ryan Mallett (2011-13), Garoppolo (2014-17) and Jacoby Brissett (2016).
Only three of them ever started in New England because Brady has missed just 19 games since he took over the job. His replacements have a cumulative won-lost record of 13-6: Cassel was 10-5 in 2008 after Brady injured his knee in the season opener. During Brady’s Deflategate suspension last year, Garoppolo was 2-0 before getting hurt, and Brissett, who is now starting for the Indianapolis Colts in place of the injured Andrew Luck, was 1-1.
Of the six backups, five got N.F.L. jobs elsewhere. Davey, the exception, landed with minor league teams, taking two Super Bowl rings with him. The others have a cumulative record of 48-74 away from the New England nest and the command of Coach Bill Belichick: Cassel (26-40), Hoyer (16-22), Mallett (3-5), Brissett (3-7), Garoppolo (0-0).
Yet they have reaped financial rewards from being Brady-adjacent — especially Cassel. When the Patriots traded him to Kansas City in 2009, the Chiefs’ general manager was Scott Pioli, who had recently been Belichick’s vice president for player personnel. Pioli was so confident in Cassel that he signed the quarterback to a six-year, $63 million contract that included $28 million in guarantees.
Cassel wound up spending four seasons in Kansas City and was ineffective in three of them. He has since bounced around the N.F.L. and is currently the backup to Marcus Mariota in Tennessee. The website spotrac.com estimates Cassel’s total post-Patriots pay as just over $62.8 million, roughly $2.4 million per victory or $775,000 per touchdown pass.
Hoyer ended up making pretty good money in Cleveland ($3.3 million in 2014), Houston ($5.1 million in 2015) and San Francisco ($7.3 million this year). Mallett, who was traded to Houston in August 2014, has made mostly backup money since then, including $2 million as Joe Flacco’s insurance plan in Baltimore this year. Brissett is on a modest four-year contract (about $680,000 guaranteed) in Indianapolis.
Garoppolo is expected to outdo them all on the field, and in his bank account.
He arrived in New England as a second-round draft pick — the others were selected lower — and more than any of his predecessors, Garoppolo was welcomed as a true heir. He completed more than 70 percent of his pass attempts in the two Deflategate appearances, with four touchdowns and no interceptions. In 13 preseason games, including five starts, his passer rating was a shiny 96.6.
The succession did not materialize, though, because Brady refused to age. At 40, he leads the N.F.L. in passing yardage. When it became clear Garoppolo wanted to be paid like a starter in his next deal and perhaps get the kind of playing time that would have required nudging Brady aside, the Patriots traded him to San Francisco.
And make no mistake, he will be paid. Shanahan, showing rare candor for an N.F.L. coach, acknowledged on Monday that the team was likely to offer Garoppolo, 26, a franchise tender, which would mean a one-year deal worth an estimated $22 million to $25 million.
“I think it’s a starting point to do a contract,,” said Michael Lombardi, a writer for The Ringer who was a Patriots coaching assistant during Garoppolo’s first three years with the team. Lombardi added: “I don’t think he’s going to get a contract in the mid-20s over a five-year extended period because he hasn’t played that much. So it’s just a way to keep their rights to him.”
Matt Flynn struck a similar bonanza after being Aaron Rodgers’s understudy in Green Bay, parlaying a six-touchdown performance in one 2012 game into a starter’s contract with the Seahawks in 2013. But such riches have eluded the alternates for other stars, such as Curtis Painter and Jim Sorgi, who backed up Peyton Manning in Indianapolis, and Chase Daniel and Luke McCown, who sat behind Drew Brees in New Orleans.
There is little doubt that employees of the Patriots, the dominant franchise of the 21st century, often develop reputations they cannot match elsewhere. Consider the Belichick assistants who left New England to become N.F.L. head coaches — Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Josh McDaniels and Bill O’Brien. They have managed one playoff win over 17 combined seasons, echoing the experience of the Brady backups.
“What New England has built there, obviously the system that’s there and the players that are there — it’s not an easy thing as a quarterback to plug in and have success once you leave,” said Trent Green, a former N.F.L. quarterback and an analyst for CBS.
Still, Green said he expected a lot from Garoppolo. “He has a great demeanor to play the position,” Green said. “I don’t think he’s the type of personality to freak out under pressure.”
Since Garoppolo arrived in the 49ers’ locker room, he has rarely lifted his nose from Shanahan’s playbook, working hard to absorb an offensive system and a lexicon that are said to be among the most complicated in the N.F.L. He has expanded that crash course over the last week, while trying to figure out the Bears’ defense.
“I’ve got a nice little routine for it,” he said.
Asked to elaborate on that routine, Garoppolo answered with a smile: “That’s top secret, man. Come on.”
One more lesson from Belichick and the Patriots.