The talk of the NFL offseason was pretty clear: what were the New England Patriots going to do with backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo?
The 25-year-old impressed in the five and a half meaningful quarters he played. He completed 71.2% of his passes for 496 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions. Put that all together in some formula and you get a 119 passer rating.
ESPN’s NFL insider Adam Schefter remained adamant that the Patriots would retain the young, promising quarterback, and he ended up being right.
Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot kept the possibility open and reported that the Browns dream possibility was to draft defensive end Myles Garrett with the first overall pick, and trade the 12th overall pick to the Patriots in exchange for Garoppolo.
Now many fans are saying that Patriots head coach and general manager Bill Belichick did not trade Garoppolo solely to keep as insurance on the 40-year-old Tom Brady. You tell me. Is that even remotely smart?
Belichick does not refuse first-round picks, especially 12th overall picks, to keep his backup quarterback as insurance. Bill clearly has a plan for both Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo.
Here’s the hard part: reading Belichick’s mind is more futile than travelling back in time. He rarely gives any reporters insight towards what his intentions are, nor does anything leak out of Foxborough with any regularity.
Therefore, we must look at all the possible situations, weigh them out and put on our hoodies and calculate which scenarios make the most sense for the Patriots, both as an organization and as a football team.
Scenario #1: Jimmy Garoppolo is franchised after the 2017 season To Keep Him
The first scenario involves Brady playing beyond the 2017 season, and Garoppolo getting slapped with the franchise tag to ride the bench for another year, barring an injury to Brady.
This one makes sense until you think about the particular dollar amounts. The 2018 franchise tag for quarterbacks will be somewhere around $22 million, and the Krafts, along with Belichick, rarely, if ever, pay a player above what they are worth.
Whether Garoppolo is the next quarterback for the Patriots, paying him $22 million guaranteed, and keeping him on the bench for that much money makes zero sense for Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
On the football side though, this makes perfect sense. Brady has just completed a terrific 2016 campaign along with winning his fifth Lombardi Trophy. A decline this year seems highly unlikely.
However, the older he gets, the more likely the drop off is (duh). Franchising Jimmy Garoppolo gives the Patriots much needed time. So if Brady does drop off during the 2018 season, or decides to retire after said season, the Patriots will be ready to negotiate a new contract with Garoppolo, in which he does become the starting quarterback.
Scenario #2: Garoppolo is franchised after the 2017 season and traded
This scenario seems more likely than the one before. I highly doubt the Krafts would want to pay a backup quarterback $22 million guaranteed, and who could blame them?
Therefore, the Patriots will be forced to either let Jimmy walk for nothing, or franchise him to retain his rights and trade him. This would be a massive disappointment and careless handling of a very valuable asset, something rarely seen from Belichick. He is often times so good at trading players away a year early rather than a year late, and this would fall in to the latter category.
There were many reports, enough to say they were all accurate, that the Browns offered the 12th overall pick for Garoppolo, and if the Patriots shop Garoppolo around with the franchise tag, teams will take advantage and will not have to give up a first round pick. How come the Patriots would not be able to trade Garoppolo for a first round pick?
Two reasons. The main one being that teams know the Patriots have to deal Garoppolo. Team executives know that the Krafts do not want to pay Garoppolo the $22 million and will simply wait until the trade demands go down. The second reason is that $22 million is a lot for a relatively unproven quarterback.
Scenario #3: The New England Patriots trade Tom Brady
Sound the hot take sirens! Realistically, how probable is this one? Highly, highly, highly (highly) unlikely. The possibility is still there though.
As I mentioned earlier, Belichick always trades players a year early rather than a year late. With the successor in place, it would make perfect sense to trade away Brady. And that is what is usually done, except this is a massive exception.
Tom Brady is the greatest player of all-time, and the debate is futile. Not only has he accomplished more than any player than the game, he is still in terrific shape, perhaps the best of his life.
Brady just set an NFL record for the best TD:INT ratio, at the ripe age of 39. He will be 40 years old when the regular season starts, and that is typically the age when quarterbacks experience a nosedive in production, with the exception of Brett Favre.
Brady has made it beyond difficult on the Patriots to trade him, because if he had declined like a regular human being, then it would be a no-brainer, with Garoppolo ready to take over.
Not only is Brady still performing at a high level, but he is the franchise. Without Tom Brady, who knows where the Patriots would be, but the Krafts would certainly not be as wealthy or as powerful as they are right now without him.
If Belichick came to Robert Kraft to tell him he was trading Brady, Kraft would either object or make it very hard on Bill to convince him otherwise. That is why this scenario is wildly unlikely.
Scenario #4: Garoppolo signs a bridge deal
The Patriots could use their leverage with Garoppolo and let him know that regardless of what he does, the Patriots will franchise tag him to make sure he does not leave, at least without compensation.
If Garoppolo is franchise tagged, he could be traded as stated earlier, and if the Patriots trade him to a franchise that Garoppolo does not want to be with, he is stuck there for at least a year.
The Patriots can use that leverage to tell Garoppolo to sign a two year bridge deal equaling $22 million (the franchise tag number) fully guaranteed, and spread the cap hit over 2017 and 2018.
Garoppolo would be hesitant to sign this, but if the Patriots add a clause that says the Patriots can not franchise tag him after the 2018 season, it seems like a fair deal for both parties.
Garoppolo gets an exceptional amount of money to ride the bench, while he will still be young (27) when the contract expires.
For the Patriots, Robert Kraft would be hesitant to sign the backup quarterback for $11 million guaranteed annually, but he would be able to keep the potential heir under team control for an extra year, and wait to see what happens with Brady.
This buys time for the Patriots to see if Brady’s production drops during the 2018 season or if he retires at the age of 41. This scenario is the best for the Patriots, though how likely it is depends on Garoppolo’s willingness to waste another year on the bench.
Scenario #5: Garoppolo walks away, becomes a free agent
This would be vomit-inducing for both Patriots fans and the Patriots organization. Not only do you get nothing for Garoppolo, but now you have a 41-year old Tom Brady and a project quarterback in Jacoby Brissett.
The Patriots would likely receive a compensatory pick in the 2019 NFL draft, but that is nowhere near enough for an asset like Garoppolo. This would be severe mismanagement of an asset by Belichick.
This scenario does not seem likely though. The Patriots would at least franchise tag Garoppolo to trade him, rather than lose him for completely nothing.
Scenario #6: Tom Brady Retires After The 2017 Season
If the Patriots win Super Bowl 52, it would be fitting to end the Brady era exactly how it started, winning back to back Super Bowls, and three out of the last four.
This would be the absolute ideal scenario for Belichick, as he gets to have at least one crack (if he does not retire along with Brady) to win without Brady as his quarterback.
How likely is this though? Well, according to Brady, it is not happening.
What Is The Most Likely Scenario Then?
I would have to go with either scenario #2 or #4, although I’m leaning towards the former. Based on what Garoppolo has said throughout the offseason, he wants to play as soon as possible.
If he signs a bridge deal with New England, there is a very small chance he plays any meaningful snaps for the Patriots. He could force the Patriots’ hand by not signing an extension, forcing them to franchise tag him and either get his $22 million sitting on the bench or playing for another organization.