With only one year left on his rookie contract and the fact that Tom Brady continues to play at an elite level, Garoppolo’s future has been a focal point of much debate thus far. Between points of whether the team should trade Garoppolo, to what he is worth on the trade market and what teams would/should be interested in him, there are so many levels to this. But as seen from the title of this article, it is rather obvious that the Patriots should indeed trade the young quarterback at some point this off-season.
In his first three seasons in the NFL, Garoppolo has only attempted 94 passes during the regular season, completing 63 of those for a 67% completion percentage. 63 of those attempts came this past season, when he started in the first two games of the season when Brady was out due to a suspension. He would throw for 502 yards and four touchdowns on 68.3% completion percentage while losing one fumble and throwing no interceptions. He faced the Cardinals and Dolphins before going down in the Miami game with an injury. He would come back healthy a few weeks later and attempt four more passes in strict garbage time.
Garoppolo’s lack of experience is arguably the most important variable in this discussion. Besides starting two games at the NFL level, he has strictly been a back-up for Brady. But at Eastern Illinois (where Garoppolo went to college), he had a remarkable career there. He threw for over 13,000 yards and nearly 120 touchdowns (118) compared to only 51 interceptions. In his junior and senior seasons, he threw for a combined 8,823 yards, 84 touchdowns and only 24 interceptions on a 63.7% completion percentage (706 completions on 1,108 attempts).
But as we have seen with plenty of examples in the past, including Brock Osweiler (Texans) and Matt Flynn (Seahawks), teams who have taken big gambles on quarterbacks with little starting experience in the NFL have swung and missed on occasion. That fear carries over to Garoppolo, who only has one more year remaining on his rookie contract before he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2018. Any team who may potentially be interested in him will have to not only consider how much Garoppolo is worth in a trade, but the fact that he may not be with that team after next season.
Granted, a team that trades for Garoppolo should/would likely try to approach about a long-term contract extension in order to at least get more than one season of play from what is going to be a big investment. But two problems emerge from there as well: “What is Garoppolo worth?” and “Will he sign an extension before hitting free agency?” With the salary cap rising each and every year in the NFL, quarterback contracts seem to be getting larger as well. So it makes it hard to pinpoint exactly what a quarterback of his experience would be worth.
The other point is whether or not Garoppolo would be interested in signing a contract extension before hitting free agency. If he were to be a starting quarterback for a team in 2017 and do very well, whatever extension he may sign before free agency may be a bargain for the team, but not for him. So the idea of him losing money may be enough for him (and his agent) to want to take a gamble on himself. Plus, if he gets traded to a team he may not want to be on long-term, it would be rather hard to sign him to an extension. Money talks and it may very well be the case for Mr. Garoppolo.
But ever since he was drafted back in 2014 in the second round by a team with an elite quarterback still at the helm, speculation creeped in about “Is Tom Brady retiring?” or “Are the Patriots ready to move on from Brady?”, to name a few. Clearly that isn’t the case as Brady is fresh off leading the Patriots to the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history. Not to mention, he recently spoke with Sports Illustrated’s Peter King and mentioned he’d want to play into his “mid-forties”. So Brady appears to be going nowhere for the time being, as further evidenced when Boston Herald’s Jeff Howe tweeted out on Thursday morning saying “Brady and the Patriots have expressed interest in a new contract”.
So if the Patriots are interested in having Brady at the helm for the next few seasons as least (which they should), Garoppolo simply does not fit into the Patriots long-term plans. He is one year away from free agency, where (unless he were to play absolutely horrible in 2017 as a starting quarterback) he will clearly make more money than the Patriots would be willing to offer to keep him as a back-up quarterback. So if the Patriots kept Garoppolo with them for the 2017 season and then let him go in free agency, they’d be missing out on an opportunity to at the very least recoup the second round draft pick they used on him in a trade (if not more).
And yes, there is a possibility that if Garoppolo was kept for his last year on his contract and then he left in free agency, the Patriots could get a compensatory pick. But the fact of the matter is that considering the weak free agent market for quarterbacks led by Mike Glennon (Kirk Cousins isn’t going anywhere) and rather uninspiring rookie class in this year’s draft, Garoppolo’s price tag will be certainly higher now then whatever compensatory pick they’d get.
And with all of this in mind, Jacoby Brissett hasn’t even been discussed yet. Brissett started for the team as a rookie this past season in weeks three and four when Brady was still suspended and Garoppolo was injured. Brissett would start weeks three and four against the Texans and Bills, throwing for 308 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions on 28 of 46 throwing. He also ran for 71 yards on 12 attempts with a touchdown. Brissett was in a strict game manager role it seems, throwing for no more than 27 times in those games. He didn’t necessarily make many impressive throws or plays, but he also did not make any mistakes either. And that’s not to mention he was the Patriots third-string quarterback when Brady and Garoppolo were active. Plus on top of that, Brissett would undergo surgery on the thumb on his throwing hand shortly after week four for a torn ligament he had been playing through.
While Brissett did not have much of a sample size this past season, he certainly played well enough to have hope about his future prospects with more experience and guidance at the NFL level. That’s when considering his rookie status and the fact he was playing through an injury that required surgery. And with Garoppolo all but gone from the Patriots one way or another, the team will likely turn their attention to Brissett as someone to groom for the quarterback of the future. So even with Garoppolo out of the picture, the Patriots may already have their quarterback of the future in Brissett.
So between Brady planning on playing for at least a few more seasons (according to him) and Brissett still under contract for another three seasons, it appears the Patriots are set at quarterback for at least the near future. Bill Belichick is smart enough to know that timing is a big issue here with Garoppolo, despite him showing well when called upon. He is going to be a free agent after next season under his current contract and there is simply no way that Belichick would let him go in free agency if he has the chance to get a major package for him in a deal. As beloved as Garoppolo may be in New England, it’s clear his future lies elsewhere, where he has the chance to start for a team.
Garoppolo was an investment for the Patriots when they used a second round pick on him. And as described before, there was a time when he was viewed as the heir to Brady’s throne at some point. But things have changed, Brady continues to defy the trend of rapidly-declining quarterback play at his age and Brissett is the next quarterback to be groomed for the day Brady walks away. Whether or not Garoppolo fetches a first round pick (maybe even more than that, depending on who you ask) or a lesser return in a trade, it is not only wise to trade him but it is required at this point. He unfortunately does not have a future with the Patriots and it would be crazy for the team to let him sit for another season on the bench before letting him slip away in free agency.
While some may argue that Garoppolo should not be traded, Belichick has proven time and time again that football is a business. It’s a business that includes doing whatever it takes to help your team win. In this case, that includes trading away Garoppolo for assets that will help the team. And sometimes that requires someone to make the tough decisions. This may not be an easy choice, it may not be the most well-liked, but it is the right choice.