FOXBOROUGH — Tom Brady, who will turn 37 in August, is under contract with the Patriots through the 2017 season. It’s safe to assume the franchise quarterback is not going anywhere until then.
At some point, the Patriots were going to have to identify Brady’s heir apparent.
It became clear it wasn’t going to be Ryan Mallett, who was drafted 74th overall in 2011. Mallett, who has thrown just four passes in three seasons, didn’t play a single snap in 2013 and is entering the final year of his contract.
Brady’s successor could be Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, whom the Patriots selected with the 30th pick (62d overall) in the second round of Friday’s NFL Draft.
Garoppolo is the eighth quarterback drafted by the Patriots under coach Bill Belichick and the highest selection at the position.
“He’s got a lot of qualities we admire in a quarterback,” Belichick said. “The situation we have at quarterback, we felt as an organization that we needed to address that to some degree in the future so we’ll see how that works out. You’re better off being early than late at that position.”
After selecting Garoppolo, the Patriots traded their third-round (93d overall) pick to Jacksonville and received a fourth-rounder (105) and sixth-rounder (179) in return.
On Saturday, the Patriots have three picks in the fourth (Nos. 105, 130 and 140), three in the sixth (Nos. 179, 198 and 206), and a seventh-rounder (No. 244).
“In the third round, we felt the trade we made with Jacksonville, we’ll be able to maintain the value of that pick and add a pick into the draft,” Belichick said. We’ve been able to pick some players that have been productive for us in the third day of the draft. Hopefully that will be the case tomorrow.”
Garoppolo will likely be Brady’s backup in 2014 — a position he could be in for the next four seasons. But he’ll have plenty of time to learn from Brady — a situation he called a dream scenario.
“I couldn’t have pictured it any better,” Garoppolo said. “[Brady] was always a guy I tried to emulate my game after. It’s pretty exciting being able to go to Boston and learn from Tom and Coach Belichick. I have a lot to learn and I’m excited about it.
“Whether I was coming in as the starter or as the backup, I’m going to go in and approach it the same way. My mind-set is the same as it would be if I were going in as the starter. I’m going to go out there and try to get better each and every day. That’s what good football players do.”
Garoppolo, a 6-foot-2-inch, 226-pound righthanded passer, had a breakout senior season, throwing for 5,050 yards and 53 touchdowns, with nine interceptions.
In 45 career starts, he completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 13,151 yards and 118 touchdowns and 51 interceptions. He also rushed for eight touchdowns.
Garoppolo played most of his college career tucked away in the Ohio Valley Conference, but Belichick made it clear that did not depreciate his value.
“I would say his level of competition is less than, certainly, he’s not playing at the level of competition in the SEC, but that’s not his fault,” Belichick said. “He’s playing against the guys out there. I think it will be an adjustment for him, he’ll see guys that are a lot bigger, a lot faster, a lot more athletic than guys he saw on the field the last couple of years. It doesn’t mean they can’t adjust to it.”
Some of Garoppolo’s greatest strengths are his vision and his quick delivery, but there are things he looks forward to picking up from Brady.
“His poise in the pocket is so impressive,” Garoppolo said of Brady. “He really does a great job of taking control of the offense.
“He never really loses his cool. He’s always cool, calm, and collected in the pocket and that’s what I try to do.”
Garoppolo had a tremendous senior season and received the Walter Payton Award, which recognizes the top player in the FCS, but his draft stock began to pick up steam after strong performances in the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl.
It was a busy process leading up to the draft, but Garoppolo, who said his work ethic is one of his greatest strengths, knew it would help improve his game.
“[My game] improved tremendously, especially the knowledge of the game,” he said.Anthony Gulizia can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @gulizia_a.