The Jimmy Garoppolo Trade Makes Sense for Both the Patriots and 49ers
The NFL Trade Deadline is typically a bit of a letdown, but not this year.
Within a span of a few hours on Monday night, left tackle Duane Brown was traded from the Houston Texans to the Seattle Seahawks before quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was sent from the New England Patriots to the San Francisco 49ers.
Brown will undoubtedly have the bigger impact on 2017, but the ripple effect from the Garoppolo trade is significantly more interesting. There were rumors involving Garoppolo being traded during the offseason, but those died off when the Patriots instead traded Jacoby Brissett to the Indianapolis Colts.
That made Garoppolo actually getting traded shocking while leaving us with a few questions that need to be answered.
Why Do This if You’re New England?
As a second-round pick, the Patriots don’t get the benefit of having a fifth-year option on Garoppolo's deal, meaning he was set to become a free agent following the 2017 season. That left New England with few options once he opened the season on the roster -- trade him before the deadline, extend him, or give him the franchise tag for 2018. All of them, though, relied on what a 40-year-old Tom Brady had left in the tank.
If the first half of 2017 is any indication, he has plenty left.
Brady is now first among quarterbacks in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back and he’s also found a fountain of youth for his arm, throwing deep at a much higher rate than the past few seasons. New England is first in Adjusted NEP per play and the offense has carried a struggling defense throughout the first half. It’s not a stretch to imagine Brady being able to play like this -- or reinvent his playing style again -- for at least another few years.
Extending or franchising Garoppolo only made sense if Brady took a step back, but since he was only needed as a backup, it didn't make much sense to invest the money necessary to keep him. If he hit free agency and got a massive deal from another team, the Patriots would get a third-round compensatory pick in 2019 (the 95th overall pick in a best-case scenario), which would also indicate New England didn’t spend money to bring in another free agent.
They now get a second-round pick, likely in the mid-30s range, in the upcoming draft. Garoppolo was drafted 62nd overall in 2014, so this is a good return on investment.
New England does now need a backup quarterback, but it appears that recently released 49er, Brian Hoyer, could be a fit. Getting Hoyer, a former Brady backup, as a free agent instead of in the trade allows the Patriots to pay him the vet minimum as opposed to picking up his full salary.
Why Do This if You’re San Francisco?
Well, what’s an offensive guru without a quarterback?
Head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch went into the season with Hoyer set as the bridge starter. He only lasted until the middle of Week 6 before getting benched with a -0.09 Passing NEP per drop back, which ranked 28th among quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs. He was replaced by rookie third-round pick C.J. Beathard, but two-and-a-half weeks was enough to prove to everyone he wasn’t going to be the answer.
Beathard has been worth -0.20 Passing NEP per drop back during his playing time, easily the worst among 33 quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs. There’s also been little to indicate any long-term upside that would warrant sticking with him going forward. After all, the 49ers are currently 30th in Adjusted NEP per play as an offense.
With Garoppolo now in the fold, Shanahan gets a quarterback to work with over the second half of the season. The Niners could get enough time to see if Garoppolo will be worth an extension or if they should plunge into the 2018 quarterback class or pursue someone like Kirk Cousins in free agency, though the probability of those latter two options took a big hit with this trade.
By acquiring Garoppolo, San Francisco will get an extended look at a possible quarterback of the future and might get a discount while doing it. If he merely plays adequately instead of great, San Francisco could get a near middle-tier long-term deal in place. That could save them a significant amount of money had they gone after Garoppolo as a free agent after not throwing a pass in 2017. The hype of the unknown would have driven the price higher. Imagine Mike Glennon getting his $18 million guaranteed had he thrown more than 11 passes in 2016. It wouldn’t have happened.
San Francisco is a rebuilding team, but much of the fun and young pieces come on defense like DeForest Buckner, Solomon Thomas, and Reuben Foster. The offense has a few veterans brought in during this past offseason, but there’s not much of a nucleus on that side of the ball. Still, there are players like wide receiver Pierre Garcon, who could be served better with more competent quarterback play. In a best-case scenario, Shanahan works his magic and the 49ers have a quarterback to build around going forward. Meanwhile, the worst-case scenario is that they're in just about the same spot if they didn't make the trade.
One of the perks for drafting and developing a quarterback is getting those years on a cheap rookie deal. Garoppolo will turn 26 years old on Thursday and would be significantly more expensive than a rookie contract, but for a team like San Francisco that has more than $56 million in projected cap space for 2018, that might not be as big of a problem as it would for other teams.
Did the Reported Price of Acquiring Him Drop?
Yes. And maybe also no.
Reports had flown around that the Patriots were seeking a first-round pick plus more in return for Garoppolo. We have no idea if those reports had any basis in reality, though.
Do We Know if Garoppolo Is Good?
No, we don’t.
Garoppolo has thrown a total of 94 passes in his career. A majority of those (63, to be exact) came last year, which were mostly during the first two weeks during Brady's suspension. It should be noted, though, that those 63 attempts were pretty good -- he was worth 0.42 Passing NEP per drop back on 67 drop backs in 2016. That would've bested Matt Ryan's MVP performance (0.37 Passing NEP per drop back), but he obviously had a much bigger sample size, dropping back 571 times.
It would be just as silly to think Garoppolo will be successful based on his limited playing time as it would to write him off as the next Patriots backup to fail elsewhere. We can imagine Shanahan will alter parts of his scheme to fit Garoppolo's game for the best chance to succeed, but that could have also been applied to Hoyer and Beathard, and neither one of those have worked so far.
What this does give is a potential hope at quarterback to build around. That’s more than the 49ers had on Monday afternoon and now they’ll get a half-season audition, which is way more than they’d get with another free agent or draft prospect. For a franchise with little other options at the position, trying to find out if Garoppolo can be good is a risk worth taking.