By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The longer the Patriots have gone with both Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo on the roster, the more complicated the situation has gotten. Especially as Brady has only continued to win Super Bowls and play like the top-ranked player that he is.
After weeks of speculation, trade rumors, and Adam Schefter bluster, the Patriots ultimately kept Garoppolo on their roster beyond the 2017 NFL Draft. They will likely keep him through the 2017 season – as Schefter repeatedly insisted, almost threateningly, to those who dared to question his unflappable always-rightness.
But what happens next March? What if Brady is fresh off a sixth championship and remains elite as a 40-year-old, while Garoppolo races toward unrestricted free agency? A potential answer has come – from perhaps the preeminent Patriots writer in all of New England.
ESPN’s Mike Reiss posted a new column on Tuesday as a response to a fan who asked him about the Patriots’ quarterback situation on Twitter. When asked what he sees the Patriots doing with Garoppolo, Reiss actually offered a prediction.
He believes that the Patriots could do with Garoppolo the same thing that they did with another notable Brady backup, Matt Cassel. That is, apply the franchise tag to Garoppolo, who would be 26 at the time, and trade him soon after that.
Back on Feb. 5, 2009, the Patriots franchised Cassel after he had started 15 of the Patriots’ 16 games due to Brady going down with a torn ACL. Twenty-four days later, on March 1, they traded Cassel along with linebacker Mike Vrabel to the Chiefs for the 34th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.
Reiss assessed the “multiple dynamics” that are in play as part of his prediction of a Garoppolo franchise-and-trade. That includes Brady’s level of play next season, his desire to continue playing for multiple years, Garoppolo’s continued improvement, and Jacoby Brissett’s possible development into a reliable No. 2 quarterback.
His prediction came with the assumption that the Patriots could not reach a deal on a long-term extension with Garoppolo, which ostensibly still cannot be ruled out. However, it’s Brady that has been the subject of recent rumors involving a new contract – and there’s little chance that Garoppolo would sign any kind of extension without the expectation of starting.
One major difference between a hypothetical tag for Garoppolo and the Patriots’ 2009 tag on Cassel is the price, as quarterback salaries have ballooned in the years since. Cassel’s franchise tag cost merely $14.65 million; Garoppolo’s could cost over $24 million next offseason, considering Kirk Cousins’ recent $23.9 million tag from the Redskins.
If the Patriots end up franchising and trading Garoppolo next year, it would draw heavy scrutiny from those who wanted or expected the team to trade Garoppolo this year. The Browns were rumored to be offering multiple first-round picks, which the Patriots apparently turned down. Schefter even said the Patriots would have turned down four first-rounders for Garoppolo.
After all this, if the Patriots traded Garoppolo for a deal similar to the high second-round pick they got for Cassel in 2009, it would be tough to swallow. It would invite questions of whether the Patriots mismanaged their asset in Garoppolo, misjudged Brady’s future level of play or Garoppolo’s trade market, underestimated Brissett’s ability to be a serviceable backup in 2017, or some combination of the three. One of them would certainly have to be true.
Nonetheless, it appears that the Patriots view Garoppolo as their franchise quarterback of the future. But if Brady continues to play the way he is right now for 2-3 more seasons, it would be virtually impossible for Bill Belichick to let him go. Then again, if Garoppolo is still able to fetch a first-round pick in a franchise-and-trade, it would still represent good value for a quarterback who would presumably still have only two career starts under his belt. It would also bode well for both Brady’s ability to play at a high level into his mid-40s and for Brissett’s possible emergence as the real successor.
This isn’t the first time that the idea of a franchise-and-trade scenario has been brought up. Michael Hurley speculated on the matter back in February. But Reiss is as plugged in to the Patriots organization as any beat writer, so when he offers this level of speculation to the point of making a prediction, it warrants extra attention. The idea of Garoppolo being franchised and traded should now be considered a distinct possibility.
It would draw all kinds of strong reactions if Garoppolo is ultimately franchised and traded, but it simply speaks to how complicated the Patriots’ quarterback situation has become. Considering that it stems from a continued superlative level of play for Brady and a very high ceiling for Garoppolo, it’s perhaps the best problem an NFL team could possibly have.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.