As they prepare to watch him start a playoff game this weekend, what if the New England Patriots had kept Jimmy Garoppolo?
Faced with a decision on re-signing him as he neared the end of his rookie contract, the New England Patriots traded quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers at the 2017 trade deadline for a second-round draft pick. Any idea he would be Tom Brady’s eventual successor went away then, and the 49ers committed to Garoppolo with a multi-year contract that very briefly made him the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL.
Even with Brady notably making less than other top-tier quarterbacks, it’s difficult to imagine the Patriots signing Garoppolo to the type of contract his market would have likely bore (even shy of the deal the 49ers eventually gave him) and allocating so much cap space to the position.
There have been indications Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick, ever with his eye on how he could replace someone, had no desire to trade Garoppolo. But further speculation suggests Brady went all the way up to owner Robert Kraft, and Kraft then forced Belichick to trade Garoppolo.
As the 49ers prepare to play the Minnesota Vikings in the Divisional Round on Saturday, with the Patriots eliminated by the Tennessee Titans in the Wild Card round, there’s a question in play.
What if the Patriots had kept Garoppolo?
If the Patriots hadn’t traded Garoppolo, he almost surely would have hit the open market in line for a nice contract the following March. He also would have almost surely signed elsewhere, with Brady not close to retiring, and the 49ers would likely have been in the mix to sign him. But by trading for him 49ers’ general manager John Lynch gave himself first dibs on signing Garoppolo, and his 5-0 finish as the starter for them in 2017 sealed the deal.
If Garoppolo did not wind up in San Francisco, one way or the other, that’s where it might be very interesting now. Brady grew up in Northern California as a 49ers’ fan, and as he heads toward free agency in March considering his future San Francisco would surely be on his radar if they still needed a quarterback. Some might say trading Garoppolo to the 49ers was a coldly calculated move by Belichick, to keep that option off the then-hypothetical future table for Brady.
If the Patriots had not traded Garoppolo, and then re-signed him somehow, he’d be a highly paid backup right now. And with how bad Brady looked for much of this season, albeit with a depleted supporting cast, calls for Garoppolo to step in would have definitely come from somewhere.
But alas, it’s all hypothetical. Garoppolo is set to make his first career playoff start for the 49ers this weekend, while the Patriots lick their wounds after an early playoff exit and head into an offseason filled with atypical uncertainty right now.