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ESPN: Patriots biggest roster decision over the next couple months is at quarterback

Jimmy Garoppolo. Jimmy Garoppolo. Jimmy Garoppolo? Jimmy. Garoppolo. J-I-M-M-Y G-A-R-O-P-P-O-L-O.

The true quiet period of the NFL season is almost upon us, so ESPN examined the biggest upcoming roster decision for every team that could be decided in the coming months.

The New England Patriots don’t have many question marks, so the team can focus beyond the 2017 season and on building for the future. ESPN’s Field Yates highlights QB Jimmy Garoppolo as the biggest roster decision in the coming months.

“The Patriots held on to backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo this offseason despite substantial trade interest from the Browns,” Yates writes. “He will be a free agent next offseason. Tom Brady might be less than two months away from 40, but he has shown no signs of physical regression. And the Patriots expect Brady to play beyond the 2017 season.

“So how does the team proceed with Garoppolo? If he walks in free agency, New England would be in line for a compensatory pick, likely a third-round selection. The team could also use the franchise tag on Garoppolo, which would seemingly be a vehicle to trade him. Extending Garoppolo would give the Patriots long-term security at quarterback, but Garoppolo would have to be open to it. For now, Garoppolo provides New England with the best backup plan in the league at the most important position on the roster for a meager cost of less than $1 million in 2017.”

The Winter of Garoppolo in free agrency turned into the Spring of Garoppolo during the draft and it seems like the Summer of Garoppolo has arrived.

The Patriots have made it clear that they want to retain Garoppolo because: 1) Tom Brady is old; 2) they believe Garoppolo is a starting-caliber quarterback; 3) they don’t trust Jacoby Brissett with the keys to the franchise.

If Brissett emerges this summer as having shown considerable advances in his ability, then perhaps the team would be more willing to consider a possible trade involving Garoppolo. There’s a chance a team could suffer an injury prior to the season, leaving the team to pony up a serious premium to acquire a quarterback- a premium the Patriots had been looking for but did not receive during this past draft- just like how the Minnesota Vikings acquired Sam Bradford at an inflated price.

The future of Garoppolo is certainly a big decision for the Patriots and ESPN’s Mike Reiss wrote an interesting article about an out-of-the-box way the team could retain their back-up quarterback moving forward.

If we operate under the assumption that the Patriots are planning on using the franchise tag on Garoppolo after the 2017 season, just like how they tagged Matt Cassel after the 2008 season, Reiss notes perhaps the two sides could agree on a one-year extension to spread his cap hit across multiple years.

“Offer Garoppolo, right now, a one-year extension through 2018 worth $24 million (a figure reached because it is projected to be close to the franchise tag),” Reiss suggests. “By doing it now, the club could spread the cap hit over 2017 and 2018, making it much more tenable from a cap-management perspective. The Patriots currently have about $19 million in cap space.”

In other words, what if the Patriots and Garoppolo made a joint agreement to avoid the franchise tag, guarantee Garoppolo his projected money now, and save the team some cap space in 2018?

The deal would need to come with some caveats; Garoppolo likely wouldn’t agree unless the contract included a condition that prevented the Patriots from applying the tag after the 2018 season; the Patriots wouldn’t want to guarantee Garoppolo all of the money until they were absolutely certain that no team would offer them the moon in a Bridgewater-esque scenario.

But finding a way to spread Garoppolo’s projected franchise tag expense over two seasons seems like a move Bill Belichick would make, and Garoppolo seems open to staying with the franchise. Reiss also isn’t the type to make baseless speculation.

Garoppolo’s future in New England is the biggest roster decision the Patriots will have to make this upcoming year and finding a way to retain his services is one way for Belichick to continue his incredible offseason.