The biggest surprise of the Patriots offseason was a deal they didn’t make.
Following their epic Super Bowl victory, it would have been easy for the Patriots to rest on their laurels this offseason, especially considering they didn’t have Rob Gronkowski for their postseason run. However, rather than maintain their status quo, the Patriots made a few offseason splashes.
The Patriots’ first big move was signing cornerback Stephon Gilmore to a five-year/$65 million deal. This move was out of the ordinary for Bill Belichick who hadn’t given a huge, multi-year deal to an opposing team’s free agent since Adalius Thomas about a decade ago. Along with signing Gilmore, the Patriots were aggressive in the trade market by sending their first round pick to New Orleans for wide receiver Brandin Cooks.
While these two moves generated plenty of buzz for the defending Super Bowl champs, they made one big questionable move (or lack thereof). That move was not trading backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
Having shown so much promise in his starts last season during Brady’s suspension, Garoppolo was involved in plenty of trade rumors this offseason. Based on his track record, it’s hard to really question any move Bill Belichick makes, but not trading Garoppolo was an un-Patriot like mistake. Here’s why:
The Potential Haul
While I’m sure many teams were calling Bill Belichick to inquire about trading for Jimmy Garoppolo this offseason, the most common proposed trade partner for Garoppolo was the Cleveland Browns. While official trade offers weren’t made public, many speculated that the package would have started with the Browns’ second first round pick (number 12 overall) and would have featured multiple other picks from the Browns’ war chest of draft picks.
The Patriots were very busy this offseason trading away their high draft picks. Along with trading their first round pick in the aforementioned Cooks trade, the Patriots also traded out of the second round (while acquiring a third round pick) for Kony Ealy. This draft was the first one in the Belichick era in which the Patriots didn’t make a selection in the first two rounds.
Belichick is known for bartering draft capital so it’s surprising to see him pass on acquiring a couple of additional early round picks for a player who’s unlikely to play a meaningful down this season (unless Brady gets injured or deflates more footballs) and may not play another meaningful down in a Patriots jersey.
Garoppolo Is About To Get PAID
This trade wouldn’t come as such a surprise if Jimmy Garoppolo still had a few years left on his contract. However, he only has one year left and is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent this summer. Everyone knows that quarterbacks with some level of NFL success (even in small sample sizes) that hit unrestricted free agency are in for a big pay day.
Stats at time of signing (from Pro Football Reference)
With this impending pay day, if the Patriots wish to keep Garoppolo in New England past this season, they can either sign him long term or give him the franchise tag. Both of these options will be incredibly pricey and very unlikely. The franchise tag number for quarterbacks this season was over $20 million and that will likely be the case next season as well, and any long term contract Garoppolo signs won’t be much cheaper on a per year basis if we use the Osweiler and Glennon contracts as benchmarks.
One of the biggest advantages the Patriots have had during the Brady era is having a quarterback who plays at one of the highest levels (if not the highest level) in the league while saving money due to Brady’s willingness to take pay cuts. Consequently, the Patriots can maximize their talent across the rest of the roster. He currently has the 14th highest cap hit among quarterbacks.
However, that pay cut still usually puts Brady in the $15-20 million range. If they’re paying another quarterback that amount (instead of the amount in a rookie contract), the Patriots lose that immense advantage which makes it unfathomable that the Patriots would keep Garoppolo beyond this season.
Belichick has a long history of trading players away whom he didn’t intend to pay rather than letting them walk away for nothing. He did it this past season with Jamie Collins and the previous offseason with Chandler Jones. The most notable player Belichick traded away prior to his big pay day was Richard Seymour. Since he had made similar trades so often before, it was definitely surprising that Belichick has elected to not trade Garoppolo.
Other than being a very valuable insurance policy, there are a couple of reasons the Patriots may have chosen to avoid making this trade this offseason.
The first is the chance (albeit very slim chance) that this is Tom Brady‘s last season. Brady has stated multiple times that he plans on playing at least a few more seasons, but after his wife Gisele’s national TV interview where she spilled the beans on Tom playing with concussions, it seems that he has his post-playing career somewhere firmly on his radar. If Belichick knows something we don’t know (which he often does) about Brady’s impending retirement, it would be an obvious decision to keep Garoppolo if he’s the eventual heir to Brady’s throne.
There’s also a decent chance that the Patriots can still give Garoppolo the franchise tag next offseason and then trade him, similar to what they did with Matt Cassel following Brady’s missed season due to a Torn ACL. If they go this route, they won’t have much leverage in a trade and the potential haul will likely not be nearly as nice as it would be this offseason, but he won’t be walking for nothing.
All that being said, at the moment this lack of deal is a bad move. When you’re in win now mode (which the Patriots always are), it doesn’t make a lot of sense to turn down immense assets to bolster your roster for a player who you probably won’t pay and who probably will never take another meaningful snap for your franchise.
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