By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Everybody loves the backup quarterback. That’s the old adage, anyway. But it’s really come to life this year regarding one Mr. James Garoppolo.
The latest illustration of this fascination came Monday afternoon, when draft analyst extraordinaire Mike Mayock delivered his annual conference call and stated that Garoppolo was well worth the price of the No. 12 overall pick from the Cleveland Browns.
“If I’m the Cleveland Browns and I’ve got one and 12, if I came away with either Myles Garrett or Jonathan Allen at No. 1 and gave up the 12th pick in the draft to get Garoppolo, I would be stoked,” he said, per Cleveland.com. “I would feel like we got a difference-maker on defense and we got a quarterback on offense.”
This is, perhaps, deadly accurate. It also may be a reach. In any event, it is indicative of the scarcity of young, talented quarterbacks in the league … and the high prices teams are willing to pay if they think they’ve found one. And that’s nothing new.
Back in 2012, the Seahawks ponied up $26 million for Matt Flynn, who at that point had thrown exactly 132 passes as an NFL quarterback. But he had completed 82 of them — nine for touchdowns! — and so the Seahawks were willing to dedicate $10 million guaranteed to Flynn. He ended up not being better than Russell Wilson, and he’d throw just nine passes as a Seahawk before being traded away for a couple of draft picks.
That’s just one example, but there are many more. Brock Osweiler flashed for a few weeks and earned himself a contract that gives him $37 million guaranteed. Colin Kaepernick turned one very good season into upwards of $30 million (and counting). The Chiefs gave up the 34th overall pick after seeing Matt Cassel lead a Patriots team to 25.4 points per game, one season after that same offense scored 36.8 points per game. And on and on and on.
The point is this: Teams pay a lot — in dollars, and in draft picks — for quarterbacks, even if their bona fides aren’t quite bona fide.
So it stands to reason, with Tom Brady proving himself to be an engineered robot incapable of aging and thus preparing to play another season as arguably the best quarterback in the NFL, that the Patriots would be wise to sell Garoppolo to the highest bidder this spring.
And they may. But a question that is not being asked enough this offseason is this: Why the rush?
While yes, Brady may be in position to knock off Brett Favre for the best season ever by a 40-year-old quarterback, the fact remains that he’ll be 40. There’s no diet or exercise regimen that can take 10 years off ligaments and joints. And so it’s simply good business to have a backup plan in place.
Do the Patriots really think Jacoby Brissett is ready to handle that role? Probably not. By all measures, it seems as though the team loves Brissett. They used a third-round pick to get him, they kept him with the team on the road all year despite his IR status, and he’s received nothing but compliments from teammates and coaches alike. They seem to want him around long term.
But in 2017, is he ready to keep a Super Bowl-caliber Patriots team contending if Brady goes down for any period of time? Probably not. And Garoppolo probably could do a better job.
So, for the Patriots, there should be absolutely no desperation to deal Garoppolo this spring. If a Herschel Walker deal comes along, then it would obviously be wise to take it. But Bill Belichick could always tap back into his own bag of tricks and pull a Matt Cassel 2.0.
While yes, Garoppolo is entering his final season under contract, the Patriots would be free to place the franchise tag on him next year. It would guarantee him one huge payday, but that would not dissuade teams from calling for his services. That dollar amount could be paid out over the course of a new longer-term deal that Garoppolo signs with his new team. That’s a dollar amount that any team acquiring Garoppolo this offseason would have to pay anyway in order to make a trade worthwhile. And, if a trade were to take place next year, that team would still have to give up at least a high draft pick to acquire Garoppolo’s services.
In the meanwhile, the Patriots benefit in two ways. First, obviously, they have insurance in the event of a Brady problem. Secondly, they have an opportunity for Garoppolo to increase his trade value even more.
As of right now, Garoppolo’s thrown just 94 NFL passes. He’s thrown five touchdowns and no picks, and he has a passer rating of 106.2. Everything he’s done in his first three seasons has been impressive — hence, the hoopla. But what if he gets another four-week window to play in 2017 and keeps it up? He may drive his own price tag up, to the point where a first-round pick is no longer enough.
Of course, the risk is that Garoppolo does get a chance to play and doesn’t quite perform at a high level. If he throws a couple of interceptions and struggles to keep the offense flowing, then it won’t help his trade value.
But still, a quarterback with four years in the NFL, learning under Brady, with more good than bad on his resume? He will at worst garner the same return next year as he would this year, even with a bad showing in 2017. (The mere existence of these pictures will entice some eager GM to lose sleep at the thought of missing out on “the next Brady.”
What we don’t know is exactly what Belichick is thinking at this moment. If the 12th pick really is in play and if Belichick has a player in mind that he’d really like to add to his roster — or he’d like to turn that 12th pick into something like the 19th pick and the 68th pick — then perhaps he makes the move now. We can’t know his thinking as it relates to this year’s draft class, but it’s possible that a first-round pick in 2017 is equally as valuable to him as a first-round pick in 2018.
So while there’s sure to be a ton of Garoppolo speculation and rumors over the coming two months in the buildup to the draft, don’t forget that Belichick has next year’s franchise tag tucked right next to his red challenge flag in his dad-length tube sock. He likely feels no sense of desperation to pull the trigger on a trade sooner than he has to.