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5 NFL executives discuss 6 ideal trade partners and best value for Patriots QB Jimmy Garoppolo

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The Patriots quarterback is at the heart of 2017 free agency.

New England Patriots QB Jimmy Garoppolo isn’t the best player at the heart of 2017 NFL free agency (Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell). He might not have the most upside (Texans CB A.J. Bouye). Heck, Garoppolo isn’t even a free agent at all.

Nonetheless, Garoppolo’s potential and premium at quarterback makes him the most important target for the teams with the most cap space and the most draft capital.

ESPN’s Mike Sando spoke with five NFL executives to try and get a feel of which teams are actually interested in acquiring Garoppolo and how much draft capital each team would be willing to part with in a trade.

The six teams interested in Garoppolo aren’t a surprise to those that have been following the trade talks and one executive has an interesting theory on whether or not the Patriots would be willing to send Garoppolo somewhere in the division.

New England Patriots v Cleveland Browns Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Cleveland Browns

Lower offer: 2017 second-rounder and 2017 fifth-rounder
Higher offer: 2017 first-rounder (No. 12) and a 2018 conditional fourth-rounder

One executive actually thinks the Patriots might prefer the day two draft picks owned by the Browns.

“New England doesn't love No. 1 picks,” one of the insiders told Sando. “They love seconds and thirds. If they pick 32nd and then they pick again early in the second round with a pick they acquire, they are studying all the same players.”

The Browns own the 33rd, 51st, and 65th overall selections. The Patriots already obtained the Browns’ projected third round compensatory draft pick in a trade for LB Jamie Collins. If the Browns packages the 33rd and 51st overall picks for Garoppolo, that would be the equivalent draft capital to trading the 12th overall pick.

Another executive believes the Browns would have to add in “a future pick” or “a third next year” in addition to the above hypothetical trades, while a third executive doesn’t think the Browns would want to give much more than the 33rd overall pick.

San Francisco 49ers

Lower offer: 2017 second-rounder and 2017 fifth-rounder
Higher offer: 2017 second-rounder and 2018 first-rounder

The lower offer for the 49ers and Browns are almost the same and they represent identical value. The higher offer is interesting because it includes a future first, which should draw a comparison to the Sam Bradford trade between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings.

“The Bradford trade was one of the biggest panic moves of all time, and you can say it made sense for Minnesota to do it, but I did not think that was the case, and I don't think that becomes the market,” one executive told Sando. “Philly basically got bailed out by a team that was desperate.”

Sando notes that an understated aspect of the Bradford trade is that it involved 2017 picks in a 2016 trade. Time value of draft picks shows that future draft picks hold less value than present draft picks; a third rounder now is worth a second rounder next year. The Vikings gave the equivalent of a present-day second round and sixth round draft pick for Bradford.

Another insider told Sando that he would be willing to give a first round draft pick “somewhere up to around No.20, even the high teens” for Garoppolo if the team really loved his potential.

Chicago Bears v New England Patriots Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Chicago Bears

Lower offer: 2017 second-rounder and 2017 fifth-rounder, plus a conditional 2018 choice TBD
Higher offer: 2017 second-rounder and 2018 first-rounder, plus a conditional 2018 choice TBD

The executives believe that the Bears will be willing to pay more than the Browns or 49ers because the general manager and coach are in “desperation” mode in order to save their jobs. They might not get enough time to develop a rookie quarterback, the veteran quarterbacks might not be interested, and a good season from Garoppolo could buy them another couple years of work.

The idea of trading a future first round pick is rooted in the idea of Garoppolo saving the team value. If he makes the Bears an average team, then the Bears will only give up a mid-round first. If he doesn’t save the team, well, then the front office is likely fired and the loss of an early first round pick isn’t the problem of the ousted front office.

"I could even see Chicago giving up the No. 3 pick," one of the insiders said. "If I were them, I wouldn't want to give up more than that. At the end of the day, I don't think Garoppolo is going to get traded. I think a lot of this [is] mental exercise unless a team, like, just throws out something crazy."

New York Jets v New England Patriots Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images

New York Jets

Lower offer: 2017 second-round and 2017 fifth-rounder, plus a conditional 2018 choice TBD
Higher offer: 2017 first-rounder (No. 6), plus a conditional 2018 choice TBD

The Jets suffer from the same problem as the Bears where the front office and coaching staff could be fired if they don’t produce in their third season after they regressed in their second season.

“Who would give up a 1 for Garoppolo?" an insider asked Sando. “Me thinking out loud, not Cleveland, not Chicago, not San Francisco. For some reason, I think the Jets would give a first. And then the Patriots would take the high first [sixth overall] not because they necessarily want the great player but because they could flip that pick for more picks if they wanted to.”

A factor against the Jets was their recent 2016 second round investment into QB Christian Hackenberg; they might not be willing to give up draft capital for Garoppolo so quickly after drafting Hackenberg.

Another executive threw out the idea that the Patriots could intentionally sabotage the Jets with a Garoppolo trade.

“You want a lot of positive going on in the offseason, and with the Jets, do they become even more desperate with Darrelle Revis' situation, where they might have to cut him and they need a rebound?” this insider asked Sando. “I think they would give the sixth [overall] pick and something else. And at the end of the day, I think New England would rather trade Garoppolo in the division.

“If you are New England, you know what the quarterback is and you know he is your system guy who is good with your staff. You get stronger and make your division rival weaker because they do not get the great player in the draft. They get the OK quarterback. Teams are so afraid of trading in the division. You think New England worries about the Jets making them look bad? That is comical, almost.”

This theory depends on Garoppolo being a “system guy” and an “OK quarterback,” which the Patriots don’t appear to believe to be the case.

Buffalo Bills v New England Patriots Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Buffalo Bills

Lower offer: 2017 second-rounder and 2017 fifth-rounder, plus a conditional 2018 choice TBD
Higher offer: 2017 first-rounder (No. 10) and a conditional 2018 pick TBD

The Patriots have traded a quarterback to the Bills before when Buffalo sent a 2003 first round pick to New England for QB Drew Bledsoe.

“Buffalo had initially offered only a 2003 second-rounder that could upgrade to a first if Bledsoe started at least 12 games and the Bills reached the playoffs,” Sando reports. “The Bills agreed to the higher price [future first] after missing out on Patrick Ramsey in the draft.”

Most of the executives would rather the Bills move forward with incumbent QB Tyrod Taylor. The Bills make the least sense of all six teams.

Houston Texans

Lower offer: 2017 second-rounder
Higher offer: N/A

The Texans could throw out a low offer for Garoppolo or a player-for-player swap. One executive asked if the Patriots would consider a Garoppolo-for-WR DeAndre Hopkins trade, but added “New England would take a loss, though, because they would have to pay Hopkins.”

None of the executives considered the Texans “desperate” enough to trade more than a second for Gaorppolo and they would rather move forward with QB Brock Osweiler or QB Tom Savage and keep the first round pick.

I think we can eliminate the Jets, Bills, and Texans pretty quickly because I believe the Patriots believe Garoppolo to be a competent quarterback. They wouldn’t want to strengthen a division rival at the most important position, while the Texans wouldn’t be able to pay enough for his services.

Of the Browns, 49ers, and Bears, the Browns have the clear lead in draft capital, but the Bears are the most desperate and that could affect their trade offer. Whether the Browns offer the 12th overall pick or a pair of seconds, or the Bears feel the need to offer the 3rd overall or a second and future first, there is a definite market for Garoppolo with teams that truly want to acquire his services.

It’s in the Patriots best interest to keep drawing out the trade talks until Washington QB Kirk Cousins is signed because that would make Garoppolo the best obtainable quarterback on the market and should further increase his value.

All of these discussions align with our projection on Sunday, which labeled Garoppolo at a mid-first value. My instincts tell me to watch out for a Bears offer with the 36th overall pick and a future first round pick- whether in 2018 or 2019- in order to send Garoppolo out of the conference and back to his home-state of Illinois.