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Jimmy Garoppolo Trade: Why Now, and Why the Niners?

In the end, Jimmy Garoppolo wanted to be a starter, and the Patriots—having failed to make him happy—finally relented. Inside the shock trade at the deadline that sends Tom Brady’s backup to San Francisco to become Kyle Shanahan’s main main

Know this—the Patriots tried.

They knew what they had with their sweetheart of a quarterback situation, with the greatest of all time as their starter and a 25-year-old star-in-waiting behind him, and they wanted to keep it going. They were willing to pay to make it happen. They were willing to wait on him to close the deal.

But late on Monday night, the Patriots finally gave up hope, because they couldn’t give Jimmy Garoppolo what he really wanted: playing time.

As I understand it, the Patriots put potential solutions in front of Garoppolo in the spring and summer to try to extend their window to pass him the torch that Tom Brady has carried for the last 17 seasons. It would have cost them a lot, but they were willing to carry two starting quarterback contracts on their books to do it. Garoppolo, however, made it clear he that wants to be a starter, not just a guy paid like one.

So now he’s gone to San Francisco for the Niners’ second-round pick in 2018, which figures to be somewhere in the mid-30s overall.

Is it the best the Patriots could’ve done? No. But, at the least on the surface it looks like New England simply wanted to keep the chance of a Brady/Garoppolo succession alive for as long as it could, and clearly the Patriots didn’t want to go into the territory of having to franchise Garoppolo in March.

Waiting until now, rather than making a deal last spring, did come with a price. We can illustrate that by explaining the environment that existed for a Garoppolo trade in March 2017:

• Quarterback-needy teams were nose-to-nose with one of the worst draft classes in years at the position. Forget how it’s turned out. The belief was that a group headed by Mitch Trubisky, Pat Mahomes and Deshaun Watson lagged well behind the last three QB classes, and the 2018 class would be on another level all together.

• The free-agent class wasn’t much better. The Bucs’ Mike Glennon was clearly the top name, and he got a deal at $15 million per from the Bears, only to last less than a month as the starter in Chicago.

• Garoppolo was due just $895,077 for 2017. Not only would that be workable for cap-needy teams, but it also would create leverage in working a long-term deal, leverage that wouldn’t be there if he was assigned a franchise tag worth around $22 million (at least).

• Garoppolo had recent playing history. He played meaningful snaps in September 2016, starting in place of the suspended Brady and compiling a 119.0 rating before being injured.

Perfect, right? If the Patriots were going to sell high, either March or April was the time to do it. Supply was low. Demand was high. Garoppolo was affordable and ready to go. The return could’ve been great.

I say “could’ve been,” because that will forever remain a hypothetical. More than one team I spoke with that was in the market for a quarterback in the spring was under the impression that the Patriots weren’t moving Garoppolo. Since then, the Patriots have gotten eight games of evidence that Tom Brady will be fine as a 40-something, and Garoppolo has gotten closer to the end of his deal.

So yes, there’s definitely reason to believe the Patriots should have done this six months ago, at the height of the market. But given Brady’s age and the importance of the position, there’s also an argument that it would’ve been best for the Patriots to just hold on to Garoppolo for as long as they could, even if it meant tagging him and giving Brady another raise (to keep him the team’s highest-paid quarterback).

The Patriots waited, and so now Garoppolo’s a Niner, and for San Francisco this one’s a home run.

Niners coach Kyle Shanahan, as the Browns offensive coordinator in 2014, graded Garoppolo, the then-Eastern Illinois quarterback, highly, and now he gets him for the virtually the same price, draft-pickwise, that the Patriots paid for Garoppolo three years ago. At the very least, this is a half-season audition for Garoppolo to be the long-term answer in San Francisco. More likely, he’ll be there for a lot longer than that.

The Niners are armed with the franchise tag for 2018 and more than $100 million in cap space to do a long-term deal with their new QB. If it works out, and Garoppolo is the guy he looked like on September 18, 2016, when he was 18-for-26 for three touchdowns and no picks less than two quarters against Miami before getting hurt, they just stole a franchise quarterback.

If it doesn’t work out, the Niners can just take another crack at the position—having only given up the same sort of draft pick the Jets did for Christian Hackenberg. Remember, the 49ers still have four picks in the first three rounds in April, including their own first-rounder, which figures to land in the top five.

And yup, in the end, it sounds weird to say that this was an easy call for the rookie GM, John Lynch, and a complicate one for the greatest coach of all time, Bill Belichick.

But that’s just where we are in 2017.

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