Could Browns make playoffs with Jimmy Garoppolo?

One of the great mysteries of the 2017 NFL offseason has been Bill Belichick's plan for Jimmy Garoppolo's future.

With Garoppolo fans populating the front offices of the quarterback-needy franchises holding early-round draft slots, the Patriots stood to collect a windfall of draft picks if they were willing to part with their premium Tom Brady insurance.

As tempting as it might have been to hold the Browns or Texans over a barrel in trade negotiations, New England's brass ultimately deemed Garoppolo untouchable in a contract year.

Thanks to the reporting of NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport, we know Belichick is not yet comfortable turning the offense over to 2016 third-round pick Jacoby Brissett in the event of a serious Brady injury. Rapoport later reported that the organization views Garoppolo as a potential franchise quarterback.

Considering the minuscule -- albeit highly impressive -- sample of game film compiled in Garoppolo's 94 NFL pass attempts, the Pats' hardline stance came as a surprise to many in the football cognoscenti.

The qualities Garoppolo has displayed behind closed doors, however, have led to an avalanche of hyperbole from teammates, coaches and at least one former team executive.

"I played against him every day in practice. He's all that," one former Patriots player recently told CSN New England. "He can make all the throws. He can process all the information. He is a gamer. He can slow it down. He can spin it.

"I'm going tell you this, if he had gotten traded to Cleveland, they're a borderline playoff team. I really believe that."

If that was the lone example of over-the-top Garoppolo praise, we might dismiss it as unwarranted hype. To the contrary, the former Eastern Illinois star has generated an endless stream of plaudits from those who have seen him practice over the past three years.

Belichick paid his No. 2 quarterback the ultimate compliment last November, insisting the transition is "really seamless" when Garoppolo stands in for Brady during first-team practice drills.

"Certainly we have a good quarterback in Jimmy," Belichick added, "and Jimmy could go out there and run everything that Tom can run. We've seen that."

The Ringer's Michael Lombardi, formerly Belichick's right-hand personnel man, insists Patriots teammates will line up to testify on behalf of Garoppolo's estimable potential.

"I've watched this guy practice and play for too many practices. This guy is a good player," Lombardi raved in early March. "And I'm not shilling for Belichick. ... I'm telling you, he's worth the Patriots to hold onto him. If I was in New England, I'd be telling Belichick every day, 'There's no way we can trade him.'"

When wideout Julian Edelman appeared on NFL Total Access early this offseason, he labeled Garoppolo a "stud" with the "gunslinger confidence" reminiscent of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers.

Fellow receiver Chris Hogan offered similar testimony on Good Morning Football.

"Jimmy's got a great arm," Hogan offered. "He's an athletic kid, and he plays really well. So when he gets his chance in the NFL, I think he'll be real successful."

Opposing coaches have been no less effusive in their praise.

Comparing Garoppolo to a young Tony Romo, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said he was "very impressed" by Brady's understudy in the Patriots' season-opening victory last year. New Broncos coach Vance Joseph was Miami's coordinator when Garoppolo dissected his defense with precision in that Week 2 matchup.

"He was confident. He made good decisions. He made some awesome throws in that football game," Joseph said in February. "I was really shocked how good he was against us."

Quarterback has long been the most important and demanding position in professional sports. In the more specialized, pass-heavy NFL of 2017, the value of a legitimate young franchise signal-caller is beyond calculable.

In Garoppolo, Belichick has drafted and developed a priceless asset offering not only Super Bowl insurance but also the potential for a seamless transition should Brady finally start losing his epic battle with Father Time.

"To me, the answer is simple," one AFC scout told CSN New England. "Bill thinks he's got the next great one."

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