The effects from the Patriots’ decision to trade backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers will reverberate from now until next year’s draft. And the impact will be felt across the league.
Garoppolo’s rookie contract is set to expire after this season, which means he was likely to hit the market and cash in, even though his resumé amounts to some solid work in the smallest of sample sizes (two starts, 94 pass attempts) across four seasons. The Patriots were going to have to choose between Garoppolo and Tom Brady at some point, because the logic of the salary cap dictated that they wouldn’t have been able to pay starter money to two players at the game’s most expensive position.
But the Patriots don’t operate according to everyone else’s logical conventions. As The MMQB’s Albert Breer reported, New England made a good-faith effort to try to find a way to keep Garoppolo and Brady beyond 2017, and to pay both accordingly. The sticking point, according to Breer, was Garoppolo’s desire to, you know, actually play meaningful football before he becomes eligible to collect Social Security. And with Brady churning along with ho-hum excellence eight games into his age-40 season, there’s no telling when that day was going come in Foxboro.
Bill Belichick seemed to confirm all this when he spoke to reporters earlier today.
“We probably had, in my opinion, the best quarterback situation in the league the last, call it, two-and-a-half years,” Belichick said. “It’s just not sustainable, given the way that things are set up. It’s definitely not something we wanted to walk away from. And I felt we rode it out as long as we could. We over a period of time explored every option possible to try to sustain it, but just as this point felt like we had to make a decision.”
Today’s trade deadline gave the Pats one last chance to move Garoppolo in exchange for a 2018 draft pick. The return (a second-rounder) is not as high as it might have been back in the spring, when several QB-thirsty teams (hi, Cleveland) were likely willing to fork over much more. But it’s still better than the possibility of a third-round compensatory pick in 2019, which would have been the maximum for the Pats to get if Garoppolo were to walk in free agency. San Francisco is 0-8 and likely to be picking in the top five of the draft, which means the Pats likely got themselves an additional selection between Nos. 33 and 37 overall.
Brady thinks he can play until he’s 45, but New England braced itself for the possibility that he might be nearing the end by being unusually aggressive in free agency this offseason. Brady’s still at the height of his powers this season, even without Julian Edelman, so the Pats now know they have time to find Brady’s eventual successor. Their only short-term concern at the position is to find a backup, since the Garoppolo trade left them with no quarterbacks except for Brady. The 49ers’ decision to release Brian Hoyer makes him the obvious candidate, as does this report from NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport:
On the other side, the 49ers may have acquired their quarterback of the future. I emphasized the word “may” in that sentence because Garoppolo will have eight games (though he reportedly won’t start Sunday against the Cardinals) to demonstrate what he’s got, at an extremely low cost (roughly $434,000). If he flops, the Niners can move on with no repercussions. If he’s worth keeping, they can franchise him (for approximately $23 million) or sign him for the long term before free agency begins. Because the Niners are expected to have something like $100 million in cap room next year, both are realistic options. And all it cost San Francisco was the same price the Pats paid to draft Garoppolo in the first place.
The Garoppolo acquisition also gives San Francisco the potential for additional flexibility. With a likely top-five pick that now doesn’t need to be spent on a rookie QB, the 49ers have given themselves the opportunity to trade down before the draft to pile up more picks. This assumes, of course, that any possible trade partners who could be on the prowl for a quarterback—Broncos? Cardinals? Jaguars? Bills? Jets? Ravens? Giants? Hell, what about the Saints? Steelers? Chargers? Or maybe even the Colts?—will have any desire to move up to grab one. One former longtime scout suggested that may not be the case:
Then again, QB-needy teams’ draft strategies won’t be determined until the Kirk Cousins saga finishes playing out in Washington. The Skins have famously backed themselves into a corner on that one. So there’s still lots to come.