Last week, the Patriots shocked the NFL when they traded Jimmy Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers on the eve of the NFL trade deadline.
After his impressive work in past preseasons, last season’s two and a half game stretch filling in for Tom Brady last season, and this year’s trade of Jacoby Brissett, Garoppolo looked to be New England’s quarterback of the future once Brady retired. Garoppolo had shown enough promise that many figured that even if the Patriots were to trade him that he would fetch a huge return in a quarterback-needy league. There were even rumors around the last draft (which have since been denied) that the Browns were ready to offer multiple first round picks for him! Most expected the Patriots would surely get more than than the singular second round pick New England got from San Francisco.
The trade itself leaves many questions and the return itself leaves even more: Why didn’t they get more? Who’s gonna be their backup quarterback? Who’ll be the Patriots quarterback of the future? Will Tom Brady play forever?
It’s possible the market for Garoppolo, at least the expensive one many had imagined, never developed. Perhaps the Patriots weren’t even shopping him around draft time. Ultimately, the Patriots did receive what should be a very high second round pick with the 49ers currently sitting at 0-9. The Patriots are used to picking at or near the end of the first round so coach Belichick could have his eyes on some defensive help or even his next potential successor to Brady at quarterback with the pick. That being said, take a listen to some of his comments after the trade.
“We probably had, in my opinion, the best quarterback situation in the league for the last, call it, two and a half years… It’s definitely not something that we wanted to walk away from, and I felt like we rode it out as long as we could. We, over a period of time, explored every option possible to try and sustain it but at this point felt like we had to make a decision,” Belichick said. It’s safe to say this doesn’t sound like a man who was thrilled to trade away Garoppolo.
A number of factors could’ve forced Belichick’s hand. For one, Garoppolo was set to be a free agent after the season and sure to command a big deal after the likes of Brock Osweiler (4 years, $72 million) and Mike Glennon (3 years, $45 million) got lucrative deals on the open market the past couple years.
Even if the Patriots franchise tagged him, he’d be making more than Tom Brady with next year’s franchise tag expected to be around $24 million. It’s pretty unheard of for any NFL team to shell out over $40 million on two quarterbacks and that might not even be feasible, especially when one might not even see the field all year. Even further complicating that matter, Garoppolo and Brady have the same agent, Don Yee. Given the nature of his job it wouldn’t make sense for Yee to let Garoppolo take a pay cut to back up Brady in New England. Furthermore, the situation could have caused tension between his clients going forward, as Garropolo himself wanted the opportunity to start after four years backing up Brady. Yee likely made that clear and it’s possible that he put some pressure on the organization to get a deal done as the deadline neared. Perhaps the writing was on the wall when New England couldn’t get a deal done with Garoppolo and Yee this past offseason.
Perhaps team owner Robert Kraft had a say in the decision. For the most part, Kraft has stayed completely uninvolved in football operations since Belichick took over in New England. However, Kraft and Brady have a great relationship, closer than that between most owners and quarterbacks. Add in the role Brady’s played in bringing five Super Bowls to Foxboro and in turn, all the money he’s made Kraft, the owner probably feels connected and indebted to Brady more than he has to any other player. While Belichick will often make any trade to improve his team, regardless of emotion, it’s possible that this time Kraft wanted to ensure that Brady wouldn’t eventually get traded to make way for Garoppolo.
As much as he likes Garoppolo, Belichick might’ve been influenced by some of his own motives. Coach Belichick is good friends with Mike Shanahan, whose son Kyle now coaches the 49ers. He likely felt comfortable sending Garoppolo, whom he likely want to see succeed, to someone he trusts to develop and cater to Garoppolo as opposed to say, exiling him to Cleveland like Jamie Collins last year. He’d also be doing the Shanahan’s a favor by giving Kyle an extensive look at a potential franchise player at the game’s most important position.
It’s also possible that Belichick shares Kraft’s sentiment and connection to Brady. Is he interested in developing and trying to win it all with another quarterback or would he rather retire along with the one with whom he’s shared historic levels of success? Perhaps all Belichick wanted to see was if a 40-year-old Brady could still perform at a high level before deciding he could rely on him for a couple more years. Maybe eight more weeks of seeing Brady play at an MVP level were enough for Belichick to know he could rely on Brady for the final stretch of his (Brady’s) and potentially both of their careers.
After signing Brian Hoyer, the Patriots have a veteran backup they’re familiar with but are now left without a successor to Brady. Perhaps Belichick has someone he likes even more than Garoppolo in the upcoming draft class, one many are saying could have the best quarterback class has seen in years. That might even be more in line with the Patriots’ plans. If Brady plays for two or three more years, a quarterback drafted this coming year would still have a year or two left on their rookie contract to take over for Brady.
Knowing the Patriots, we might never know what motives drove the team to trade Garoppolo. Even if we do find out, we likely won’t know the results of the process and how successful it was for both sides for several years.