It’s about time we talked about this, because for Bears fans, Jimmy Garoppolo is a name that has swirled in undefined suspension for months now in various forms of emotion:
Hope for the possibility that an Illinois kid can come home and take the Bears to the promised land.
Fear that the cost for acquiring him would cripple the Bears for years and years to come.
Horror in acquiring another Patriots backup quarterback that turns out to be fool’s gold.
Lukewarm indifference, as the Bears will mess this up as sure as the sun will rise, no matter how talented a quarterback he may be.
Born in Arlington Heights, Garoppolo ended up attending Eastern Illinois University where he flourished in four seasons under center for the Panthers and declared for the 2014 NFL Draft.
Coming out of college, some scouts were gushing: “Outstanding arm talent, high football IQ,” “Composed on and off the field,” “Maybe the best I’ve ever seen at throwing fades,” “Lethal in the red zone.”
Others not so much. Some flaws were hanging onto the ball too long, having too quick a release, and being more of a game manager than a game changer. After the balancing act panned out, Garoppolo went to the New England Patriots with the 62nd overall pick in 2014.
Growing up, Garoppolo rooted for the hometown Bears, and his hometown friends bring it up to him quite a bit:
Jimmy Garoppolo feels the tug of home.
It’s usually vocalized by his childhood friends from Arlington Heights, not satisfied with his status as the Patriots’ backup quarterback. They ask him about starting for the Bears.
“All the time,” he said. Sun-Times
No doubt it’s a romantic story, and contemplating the cool nature of him donning #10 in Bears navy and orange does make me tingle in strange places. That, however, isn’t the real hangup. The problem is that he is an expensive acquisition (with an expiring contract) that may not be anything at all at the professional level.
Starting only 2 NFL games in his short career, Garoppolo’s game tape is limited to those precious reps and a handful of preseason games against lesser talent. In those two contests he performed very capably, going 47/54 for 498 yards, throwing 4 touchdowns with no interceptions before an injury forced Jacoby Brissett into action.
With Tom Brady indicating that he’s going to continue playing, even at 39 years of age and approaching his potentially 5th Super Bowl ring, the Patriots have declared the bidding for their prized backup and potential heir to the throne is worth a 1st and 4th round pick, minimum. That is a quantity very viable for teams such as Cleveland, who are beset with draft pick collateral, but the Bears have no such luxuries.
In 2016 they possess high-value picks in the tops of every round, extra picks coming only in the 4th. With Cleveland holding the 12th overall pick in addition to the 1st pick of the draft, they seemingly hold every card but one:
They play in the AFC.
Bill Belichick, a former Browns coach himself, likely has no desire to send Cleveland a talented quarterback, no matter how many draft picks they offer. It would require a king’s ransom to pry Belichick’s icy grip on the 25 year old gunslinger’s future.
The Bears, meanwhile, seemingly have a good relationship with the Patriots. The two teams squared off in a joint practice back in August which could be interpreted as a success, so long as you can look past a scuffle here or there. New England now employs Shea McClellin and Martellus Bennett; Chicago seemed impressed enough with Cre’Von LeBlanc to sign him to a contract when he was deemed expendable by the Patriots.
Some older Patriots fans may feel oily dealing with the Bears after the 1985 team’s legendary championship came at the expense of their favorite team, but Bill Belichick certainly doesn’t intend to factor that into negotiations: Needless to say, these aren’t the same Bears.
Some jaded Bears fans may not want to relive the painful 8 years of Jay Cutler’s decline, feeling like this deal hits too close to home. Cutler too was 25 years old at the time of his acquisition, but by that point had been to a Pro Bowl. The Bears wouldn’t have to deal away two 1st round picks to acquire Garoppolo (one would hope), but the elite draft choices involved may smack of a terrifyingly familiar bad taste. The Ghost of Jay Cutler may not stop haunting this franchise’s fans for any number of decades.
The man trying to cleanse the creaky haunted house at 1920 Football Drive is an amateur exorcist, but he’s doing his best.
That ghostbuster-in-learning is Ryan Pace. Young and capable though he may seem, Pace is running out of time and opportunities to take this roster to the next level. His hands wet with slip, his master work is missing several enormous chunks of clay to form something worthwhile.
A fellow former EIU Panther football player himself, Pace and Garoppolo crossed paths recently. Garoppolo seemed to think it was a pleasant experience:
“We got to talk one-on-one and it was just a couple of Eastern guys hanging out. There are not many Eastern Illinois guys (in the NFL), so it’s a small group and we like to stick together.” – Tribune
Ultimately the ties back to Eastern Illinois can only go so far, and being an EIU alum myself I certainly do hope the two of them bond over that bit of trivia.
That said? There’s a lot of question marks about Garoppolo that Ryan Pace has to have answered in his own mind to satisfy the risk factor of dealing away precious picks, picks that could bolster a talent-poor young roster, for an unproven quarterback that is entering a contract year.
According to Jason La Canfora, Pace has already satisfied these concerns:
The Chicago Bears will make a strong, concerted effort to acquire quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo from the New England Patriots , according to sources with knowledge of the situation. The Illinois native is far and away their top offseason priority. – CBS Sports
Plenty of food for thought, and much more to chew on will come over the next few weeks as we approach the league year officially beginning as of 3pm central time on March 9th.
Until then we too will have to ignore the chirp of bats, tangle of cobwebs, and spooky sounds emanating from Halas Hall. The frightening nature of this team’s potential for both good and terrible things rides silently along the winter moonlight, cascading simultaneous visions of perfect corner fade passes and braindead interceptions into the whirling fabric of our dreams and indeed our very nightmares.