To start 2016, Tom Brady was serving a four-game suspension as punishment for his role in Deflategate. Jimmy Garoppolo replaced him, but a week 2 injury led to Brissett taking the reins.
While his play was far from exceptional, it was still impressive for a third-round rookie thrown into the fire. He showed great rushing ability, although his passing was extremely inconsistent even with coddling from the play-calling.
Still, between his three games in 2016 and an excellent showing the following preseason, he displayed enough potential to become a valuable asset. So, the Patriots trading him days before the next season for an underwhelming return definitely came as a shock.
For an Indianapolis team expecting to be without Andrew Luck for the whole year, this was a no-brainer. New England’s asking price was only Dorsett, who had failed to live up to his draft day expectations. I picture Chris Ballard hanging up the first time he got this offer expecting it to have been a prank call.
Indianapolis Post Trade
Brissett played as well for the Colts as anyone could have realistically expected. After Scott Tolzien embarrassed himself, the team, and all of America with his pitiful week one performance, Brissett started every game the rest of the way.
Statistically, it was ugly, but that doesn’t take into account just how bad Indianapolis was. In 2016, a healthy Luck was only able to will them to eight wins. Expecting Brissett to surpass or even meet that with less than a week of preparation would have been insane.
With the most sacks allowed in the league, his offensive line play was terrible. T.Y. Hilton and Jack Doyle were solid top targets, but it’s hard to get them the ball when you get drilled instantly every play. Old man Frank Gore didn’t move the needle in the backfield, either.
It was a terrible situation, and Brissett still managed to make the most out of it. Getting four wins was somewhat of an accomplishment, though it’s worth noting that those came against the 0-16 Browns, the 4-12 Texans (twice), and the 6-10 49ers before they acquired Garoppolo.
Whether by his own volition or the team’s game plan, Brissett didn’t take many risks. He barely topped 3,000 yards and sported a 13:7 touchdown-to-interception ratio. While it was by no means perfect, just surviving that season was impressive.
In 2018, Brissett was relegated back to his natural role as a backup. Luck returned and led the team to 10 wins and another in the playoffs. The ensuing divisional round beatdown proved to be Luck’s final game, though, as he shockingly retired just weeks before the season opener.
Once again, Brissett was thrust into a starting role with little time to prepare, but this time he and the team handled it a lot better. Indianapolis showed faith in their new starter with a two-year extension. Eight weeks into the season, Brissett was making that investment look genius, playing the best ball of his career and captaining a 5-2 team.
Then, a knee injury sidelined him against the Steelers, and everything changed. After sitting out one game, he returned a much worse player. So bad, in fact, that the Colts signed Philip Rivers this offseason to start. Now, Brissett will collect a cool $15 million to likely warm the bench behind one of the most durable quarterbacks in NFL history.
Even though he may have squandered his last starting opportunity in the league, Brissett was still a huge steal for Indy. They got 3 years and 30 starts of solid play. For a worse player at a significantly less valuable position, that’s a win any day.
New England Post Trade
To some degree, trading your third-string quarterback for a recent first-round pick is impressive. That’s about the only way you can like this trade for the Patriots, though.
Like I said before, Brissett’s play had already greatly surpassed his draft evaluation, so getting only Dorsett back was underwhelming. Interestingly, after New England traded away Garoppolo for a similarly disappointing return months later, theories began to emerge that this was Bill Belichick’s payback for Robert Kraft refusing to move on from Brady.
If true, that would explain the peculiar timing of and return for the Brissett trade, but it still wouldn’t justify it. Belichick is one of the most methodical and unemotional coaches in sports history, so sabotaging his own team out of spite certainly would come as a surprise.
To make matters worse, Dorsett did even less in New England than Indianapolis. At just 528 yards, 2016 remains his best season as a pro. In three years with the Patriots, he averaged just over half that. Even last season when the team’s receiving core was uncharacteristically awful, he failed to make his mark.
Even though he bombed this trade, Belichick deserves a smidgen of credit for declining Dorsett’s fifth-year option. Teams are often too stubborn to admit they were wrong about a player. That usually results in overly long leashes and undeserved contract extensions, so props to the Pats for cutting their losses.
Instead, the Pats resigned him to a cheap one-year deal for 2019. Now, he’s headed to Seattle where a roster spot isn’t guaranteed. 5 years after getting a call night one of the draft, he might have just received his final call for a contract.
Besides the terrible return, I can’t help but think New England would have been much better off keeping Brissett. The Garoppolo trade at least made sense in that he was due for a new contract, but Brissett had three years left on his rookie deal. He certainly could have been a trustworthy backup to Brady if not his future successor.
Belichick doesn’t miss often, but this one was undeniable. It was questionable then and looks even worse now.
Final Verdict: Colts Win
Outside of an inclination to give New England the benefit of the doubt, there was never a reason to like this trade for the Pats. They gave up a great backup quarterback for a bad receiver. In his first year as Colts GM, this was great move by Ballard in a short career full of them.
Who do you think won the trade? What deal should I look at next? Sound off in the comments.