Written by Kieran Patterson

Episode 1: Etling, Garoppolo and playing till you suck

April 16th, 2000; it’s the sixth round of the NFL Draft with the 199th pick the New England Patriots select, Tom Brady, Quarterback from Michigan. No one batted an eyelid. Worst combine ever seen by a quarterback a kid who looked like he’d never been to a weight room, never ran a 40 and looked like he was only an average passer. Despite his late game heroics at Michigan, Brady was not looked at as a true NFL prospect. Despite this on his first day of training camp, that’s when he was introduced to New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Robert took a look at the young quarterback “You’re Tom right? Our sixth-round draft pick”, Tom looked at Kraft and uttered those now famous words “Yes Mr Kraft and I’m the best decision this organisation has ever made”.

The one thing Brady never lacked was confidence, competitive fire and belief in himself. If you told someone that year that Tom Brady would become the greatest quarterback to ever play football they might think you’re crazy. Brady never had a doubt though. Ever.

Fast-forward to week 2 of the 2001 season, the Patriots are at home to the Jets and down by 7. With 5 minutes left Bledsoe takes the ball, runs out right towards the sideline. As he picks up the first down Mo Lewis makes one of the hardest tackles I’ve ever seen on a quarterback. A hit so hard it sheared a blood vessel in his back, nearly killing him. Brady stepped up and led the Patriots to a Super Bowl that season. Starting the Patriots dynasty that nearly every football fan outside of Boston hates today.

Recently though, there is one big question looming over Brady. How long does he have left? Having a 41-year-old on the field is unknown territory for any team in the NFL. So how do you deal with it? Especially given that Brady took 35+ sacks last season. Bill Belichick had a solution, let young talent Jimmy Garoppolo take the reins. Kraft wouldn’t allow it and made Belichick trade Garoppolo. Most Patriot fans wouldn’t even consider trading Brady though, would they? Well, I actually liked the idea. Given that Brady grew up a 49ers fan it would be nice to see him finish out his career in the red and gold he grew up in. But would a mid-season trade really be the way Brady want to leave New England? Given how many times he’s dazzled wearing that number 12 Patriots jersey, it only seems fitting he goes out like a hero.

Given that Brady has been quoted as saying he’s going to play till he sucks, it’s very likely that he doesn’t go out a hero. It’s a sad possibility he goes out either injured or playing the worst football of his life. It’s possible he starts throwing 3-4 picks and game and makes Brock Osweiler look accurate. It would be a sad way to go, but if he sticks to what he says it’s the most likely scenario.

What’s next for the Patriots after this though? Who takes over? If the response to that is Brian Hoyer I’m jumping off a cliff. Seriously though, 2 seasons ago the Patriots had Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett sat learning from Brady. Two young, talented and teachable quarterbacks ready to learn from the greatest. Both gone. Garoppolo off to San Francisco who until his injury looked like he could be changing their fortunes slightly, in return the Patriots got a second round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Not a great deal for the Patriots. Jacoby Brissett was then shipped off to their arch rivals, the Colts, for wide receiver Phillip Dorsett. Not a great deal for the Patriots again. It clearly isn’t Belichick’s idea to ship these quarterbacks out and maybe Kraft is placing a little too much trust in Brady staying at the top of his game to levels of winning Super Bowl MVPs, countless AFC East divisions and gunning for the most prestigious records in the game if not holding them already.

So it’s clear that the Patriots need to replace Brady and it’s clear that Hoyer won’t be filling that role… But before we look at who they can draft in the next couple of years, let’s take a look at a player many fans either don’t know exists, have forgotten or simply just over look. That’s Danny Etling.

While this former LSU starter currently sits on the practice squad, it should be noted that he is always traveling with the team and has a very active role during practices. The only real playtime he’s seen with the Patriots is during the week 4 pre-season game against the Giants. While he definitely showed that his passing game needs work he showed that on the ground he’s very competent. The highlight of this was when he snapped off an 86-yard touchdown run. Why am I mentioning this though? Why am I talking about a round 7 pick out of LSU? A college not known for its quarterbacks? Mainly because with pretty much any other team, this wouldn’t be worth mentioning. Because in New England, there are very few ‘star’ players in the traditional sense.

Besides Gronk and Brady, there aren’t any big personalities and stars that attract that media attention. Do your job and do it well. That’s the Patriot way. That’s how Brady became who he is today which is a 70,000+ passing yards (and let’s not forget 1,000 rush yards!) quarterback with 122 games with a passer rating of over 100+ in his career. He worked. He kept his head down. He did his job. That’s why he’s still there and has been for the best part of 2 decades. That’s why he’s beloved in New England. That’s why he’s the greatest of all time. Danny Etling is doing what is asked of him, he’s doing his job. He might not replace Brady. Maybe the Patriot’s decide to draft someone like Will Grier, Jake Fromm or Drew Lock. Maybe they do have a star, someone that doesn’t really fit with ‘the Patriot way’ of keeping your head down and improving every little aspect of your game.

Brady came to New England in a situation almost the same as Etling’s. A late round pick, low expectation, hard worker and with the tough job of potentially replacing a beloved star. Yes, Brady now is way more beloved and accomplished than Drew Bledsoe but the fact remains that Brady and Etling have essentially came into the same situation. This might just be me looking for parallels between the situations to fit my narrative. To make some whimsical opinion piece on how Danny Etling mirroring Tom Brady so closely is some strange form of fate or destiny at play. Or maybe, just maybe, the end of the Brady era could be the start of something special. It could mark the rising of a new star.

Now while Etling remains on the practice squad and Tom Brady still has time left on his contract we might not be seeing the start of the ‘Etling dynasty’ anytime soon, but given how Brady’s legacy came to be. How Belichick spotted his talent and no one else did, is it really that strange to think that Etling could ascend become such a great quarterback? Maybe. But that’s what I love about the NFL. Anything can happen.

To be continued…

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