It is an NFL quarterback's dream to lead his team to victory in the Super Bowl. Jimmy Garoppolo already has a Super Bowl ring backing up Tom Brady from the Patriots' Super Bowl XLIX victory against the Seahawks. A Patriots win over the Falcons in Super Bowl LI will give Garoppolo a second ring without taking any snaps under center in the big game, if everything goes according to Bill Belichick's plans.
Garoppolo is heading into his contract year next season while the 39-year-old Brady, who is arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history, is under contract through the 2019 season. Garoppolo, a 2014 second-round pick, was handed a golden opportunity at the beginning of the season thanks to Brady serving a four-game suspension because of Deflategate.
Garoppolo was looking like starting quarterback material in the most extensive game action of his career before spraining the AC joint in his right shoulder in Week 2. The injury sidelined him until it was time for Brady to return. In the six quarters Garoppolo played, he connected on 42 of 59 passes (71.2 completion percentage) for 496 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions, which was good for a 119.0 passer rating.
Knowing Garoppolo can leave after next season in free agency, there has been speculation that the Patriots could trade him in the offseason for the right price. It's going to take a lot more than the 2019 third-round compensatory pick New England would likely receive for Garoppolo going to another team in 2018 as a free agent.
The Patriots won't be able to command the king's ransom teams get to move out of the top slots of the NFL Draft so that a completely unproven commodity can be taken -- despite Garoppolo being less of a risk due to his success in limited NFL opportunities. For example, the Eagles gave the Browns the eighth pick in the 2016 draft, 2016 third- and fourth-round picks, a 2017 first-round pick and a 2018 second-round pick for the 2016 draft's second overall pick, which was used to select quarterback Carson Wentz, and a 2017 fourth-round pick.
The Patriots could initially seek compensation similar to what the Eagles received from the Vikings for Sam Bradford when Teddy Bridgewater went down late in the preseason with a knee injury. Bradford was dealt for a 2017 first-round pick and a conditional 2018 fourth-round pick. The situations aren't analogous. The Vikings were desperately seeking an experienced quarterback for a team with Super Bowl aspirations. Bradford, the 2010 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, has been a starter since entering the NFL.
The compensation with inexperienced young veteran quarterbacks is probably a better indication of Garoppolo's trade value. The chart below illustrates these types of trades since the turn of the century.
|Name||Year||Starts||Passes||Old Team||New Team||Compensation|
|Matt Cassel||2009||15||555||Patriots||Chiefs||2009 2nd-round pick; Chiefs also get LB Mike Vrabel|
|Matt Hasselbeck||2001||0||29||Packers||Seahawks||2001 3rd-round pick; swap of 2001 1st-round picks with Packers moving from 17th to 10th|
|Kevin Kolb||2011||7||319||Eagles||Cardinals||2012 2nd-round pick & CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie|
|Matt Schaub||2007||2||164||Falcons||Texans||2007 & 2008 2nd-round picks; swap of 2007 1st-round picks with Falcons moving from 10th to 8th|
|Charlie Whitehurst||2010||0||0||Chargers||Seahawks||2011 3rd-round pick; swap of 2010 2nd-round picks with Chargers moving from 60th to 40th|
Potential trade partners
This season's playoffs underscore the difficulty of being a successful team without solving the quarterback piece of the puzzle. Fortunately for the Patriots and Garoppolo, there are more NFL teams than quality starting quarterbacks.
Potential trade partners could include the Bears, Bills, Browns, Jets and 49ers. It would be a tremendous feat for the Patriots to convince one of these teams to give up a 2017 first-round draft choice in return since their picks are in the top 10 of the draft. In addition to the first overall selection, the Browns also have the 12th pick in the draft. Two of the teams, the Bills and Jets, are New England's AFC East rivals. That didn't stop Belichick from unloading quarterback Drew Bledsoe to Buffalo in a trade following the 2001 season. Here's a look at each team's quarterback situation.
The guaranteed money in Jay Cutler's contract was the primary reason he remained in Chicago when head coach John Fox and general manager Ryan Pace took over in 2015. The guarantees made trading Cutler virtually impossible and releasing him unpalatable. These concerns no longer exist because there isn't any guaranteed money left in Cutler's contract. The Jay Cutler era should be coming to an end since Fox and Pace hitching their wagons to Cutler in 2017 when their jobs could be on the line after a 3-13 season seems remote.
The Bills benching Tyrod Taylor for the season finale after head coach Rex Ryan was fired suggested that the option on his contract for an additional five years at $82.5 million (worth up to $101.75 million through salary escalators and incentives) wasn't going to be picked up. Taylor's saving grace might be new head coach Sean McDermott naming Rick Dennison as offensive coordinator. Dennison was Taylor's quarterback coach in 2014 during his lone season on the Ravens' coaching staff before becoming the Broncos' offensive coordinator. Denver had interest in Taylor when he was a free agent in 2015 and made an inquiry with Buffalo about his trade availability before last year's draft and contract extension.
There's a growing sense of urgency about finding a solution at quarterback after bypassing Wentz last year with the trade down in the first round. This year's crop of quarterbacks in the draft isn't considered on par with Wentz as a prospect. Robert Griffin III wasn't the answer in the four games he played after a long stint on injured reserve because of a shoulder injury suffered in the season opener.
New York Jets
The 2017 starting quarterback probably wasn't on the 2016 roster. Impending free agent Ryan Fitzpatrick isn't expected back after a lackluster season in which he only regained his starting job after benching because of a season-ending knee injury to Geno Smith, who is also a free agent. And 2015 fourth-round pick Bryce Petty didn't make a good case for being the quarterback of the future when given the opportunity to play. The 2016 second-round pick, Christian Hackenberg, is a project. He was inactive for every game except the season finale, in which he did not play.
San Francisco 49ers
A divorce between the 49ers and Colin Kaepernick has seemed inevitable since he was given permission to seek a trade in the offseason. Kaepernick reworking his contract early in the season so he has the option to hit the open market in March only added to this belief. He isn't the type of pocket passer next coach Kyle Shanahan wants at quarterback anyway. Kirk Cousins, who Shanahan had for the final two of his four years as Redskins offensive coordinator, fits that bill better than any potentially available quarterback. The Redskins giving Cousins a second franchise tag wouldn't necessarily preclude him from being with another team next season.
Garoppolo's next contract
Any team acquiring Garoppolo will likely insist on him signing a long-term deal in the process. Garoppolo's camp would presumably want a contract comparable to the four-year, $72 million deal, with $37 million fully guaranteed, that Brock Osweiler received in free agency from the Texans after just seven career starts.
Osweiler's performance this season should make other teams hesitant about rewarding largely unproven commodities in this manner. He ranked near the bottom in a majority of major statistical categories before losing his starting job to Tom Savage when he was pulled from the Week 15 contest against the Jaguars. Savage suffering a concussion paved the way for Osweiler to return to the lineup in time for the Texans to defeat a depleted Raiders squad in the wild-card playoff round.
The type of contract Nick Foles received a couple months after being acquired by the Rams in a 2015 trade with the Eagles involving Bradford would be more appealing to Garoppolo's new team. Foles signed a two-year, $24.5 million extension (worth a maximum of $38 million through incentives) containing $13.792 million in guarantees. There was also a mechanism for Foles to void the final year of the deal, 2017.
The conditions were at least 50 percent offensive play time during the 2015 and 2016 regular seasons with the Rams making the playoffs both years, the same play time requirement with 19 or more regular-season wins in the two seasons or two Pro Bowl selections. Foles lost his job to Case Keenum during the second half of the 2015 season because of ineffectiveness, which led to the Rams moving up to the top of the 2016 draft to take Jared Goff. The Rams released Foles at the start of training camp this season.
New England's other options
The Patriots keeping Garoppolo for the 2017 season might make the most sense unless a team makes an offer that can't be refused. Compensation along the lines of the Schaub trade might not qualify because Garoppolo is an excellent insurance policy against Father Time rapidly catching up to Brady. It would probably need to involve a first-round pick whether in 2017, which the Browns are in the position to give because of two current selections, or 2018.
The "Patriot Way" is to get rid of a player a year too early rather than a year too late. Brady appears to be an exception to this rule. He isn't showing any signs of slowing down although he is beginning to approach uncharted territory.
The NFL's history with quarterbacks in their 40s isn't pretty. Brett Favre is the only quarterback to ever have an MVP-caliber season at 40, which Brady will be before the start of next season. The wheels came off the following year when Favre was 41 and he promptly retired after that season. The oldest quarterback to play in a Pro Bowl is Warren Moon as a 41-year-old.
Having Garoppolo play out his contract would give the Patriots the most flexibility. Garoppolo could be franchised in 2018 with the purpose of trading him, like Cassel, or replacing Brady should the inevitable drop off occur next season. There's a risk because the Patriots could be stuck with Garoppolo making upwards of a fully guaranteed $23 million with a soft trade market since he surely would sign his franchise tender almost immediately after getting it.
Convincing Garoppolo to bide his time waiting for Brady to retire would be a major coup by the Patriots. His representatives, Yee & Dubin Sports, already have an excellent rapport with the Patriots because of their representation of Brady. Garoppolo should have a good sense of Brady's plans because of their shared representation.
It would likely take more than top backup quarterback money, which is currently $7 million to $7.5 million per year with incentives and salary escalators that could make a deal worth as much as $12 million per year, for Garoppolo to forgo a chance of becoming a starting quarterback as early as next season. A deal in the Foles neighborhood might be necessary. If Garoppolo chooses this route, his deal shouldn't run any longer than Brady's so he would hit the open market in 2020 at the latest.