The news Monday morning that Tom Brady has signed a two-year contract extension with the Patriots through the 2019 season was cause for celebration across New England.
Tommy Terrific is not going anywhere after having one of the best seasons of his career at age 38, with this new contract putting to rest any notion that the Patriots are going to move on soon from their aging quarterback. Brady is now under contract through age 42, which would give him 20 full years in a Patriots uniform.
Of course, the details of the contract haven't been released, and in NFL contracts, details are everything. How much guaranteed money did Brady get in 2018 and 2019, when he'll be 41 and 42? How much of a discount did Brady give the Patriots this time? Are the Patriots really banking on Brady playing at a high level well into his 40s?
If the base salaries are relatively low or the amount of guaranteed money is high, then we can pencil Brady into the lineup for another four seasons. Otherwise, the Patriots may have a decision to make before the contract expires.
Either way, Brady's future is secure for at least the next two to three seasons. But in 2016, Brady's extension has a much more immediate and significant impact on another member of the Patriots: backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
Brady's deal means it now becomes a matter of "when," not "if," the Patriots should trade Garoppolo. He was viewed as Brady's potential successor when the Patriots drafted him in the second round in 2014 (62d overall), the highest draft pick the team has used on a quarterback since Brady has held the job.
But for two years, Garoppolo has been a bystander, riding the pine while Brady put together two of the best seasons of his career. With Brady still on top of his game and now signed for another four years, the Patriots don't need the Garoppolo insurance policy for the future.
Garoppolo's contract is set to expire after the 2017 season, two years before Brady's deal is up. If you think Garoppolo is willing to wait around until 2019 — or perhaps even longer — to become the Patriots' quarterback, think again. He badly wants to play, and if he's a free agent after 2017, Garoppolo almost certainly will sign with another team.
So the Patriots will have to trade Garoppolo, the way they traded Ryan Mallett before his rookie contract expired. Unlike Mallett, who was dealt to Houston for a meager seventh-round pick, Garoppolo should have significant value. One pro scout at the NFL Combine told me last weekend that his team raved about Garoppolo and thought he was "borderline brilliant" when they studied the quarterback prospects in the 2014 draft.
But considering all the pros and cons, the Patriots would most likely be better off holding onto Garoppolo for one more year and trading him before the 2017 season.
I see two valid reasons to trade Garoppolo this year:
■ The Patriots could recoup their 29th pick.
The Patriots don't have a first-round pick right now, thanks to Deflategate. They lost the 29th overall pick. But their punishment states that if they have two first-rounders, they lose the higher of the picks. So if the Patriots were able to convince, say, Cleveland, Houston, or Philadelphia to give up its first-round pick for Garoppolo, the Patriots would get the 29th pick back.
■ The Patriots could try to snag the 32d pick from the Browns.
The Browns are the most quarterback-desperate team in the NFL (though the Rams and Texans give them a run for their money), and they currently hold the first pick of the second round (32d overall). Instead of reaching for a quarterback with the No. 2 overall pick, the Browns might find it appealing to use the No. 2 on a position player, then trade No. 32 for Garoppolo. This would essentially restore the pick they forfeited for Deflategate.
However, there are more reasons not to trade Garoppolo this offseason:
■ Garoppolo is good — and cheap. Well, we don’t know yet whether he’s a good NFL quarterback, as he has not had any significant playing time in meaningful regular-season games. But he was highly rated coming out of college, and knows the Patriots’ system well. Should Brady suffer an injury that keeps him out of one or more games, the Patriots can stay afloat with Garoppolo running the offense. That much can’t be said for most backup quarterbacks.
On top of it, Garoppolo isn't exactly burning a hole in the Patriots' pocket. He's making only $686,718 in 2016, with a cap number of $900,154. The top veteran backup quarterbacks make $2 million-$4 million per year.
Jacksonville's Chad Henne just signed a two-year, $8 million deal. The top free agent backups on this year's market played for $2 million or more last year: Miami's Matt Moore ($2.6 million), Arizona's Drew Stanton ($2.45 million), and Indianapolis's Matt Hasselbeck ($2 million). Hasselbeck, a Norfolk native, could be an intriguing option as a Patriots backup. He'll also be 41 in September and might not have anything left in the tank after taking a beating last year in Indianapolis.
But Garoppolo is good and cheap this year, and won't lose any trade value if the Patriots hold onto him for one more season.
■ Trading him now would force the Patriots to either draft an unknown quantity or sign a veteran who doesn’t know the system. In addition to the three quarterbacks listed above, the top available backup quarterbacks are Tarvaris Jackson, Charlie Whitehurst, Chase Daniel, and Scott Tolzien. Would you rather have any of them over Garoppolo? I wouldn’t.
And does it really make sense to trade Garoppolo for a draft pick, then turn around and use a second- or third-round pick on another quarterback?
Ask the Colts, who played five quarterbacks last year and missed out on the playoffs by one game, how important it is to have a quality backup QB.
■ The Patriots can’t get anything higher than the 29th pick.
Even if they were able to convince the Browns to part with the No. 2 pick for Garoppolo, the Patriots would get only their 29th pick back, thanks to the Deflategate punishments.
And 29th picks are 50-50 propositions, at best. Recent 29th picks include busts such as Cordarrelle Patterson, Gabe Carimi, and Kyle Wilson. The slot has also produced a seven-time Pro Bowler in Nick Mangold and promising young safety Harrison Smith. But of the 26 players picked 29th overall since 1990, only five have been named an All-Pro or Pro Bowler.
If the Patriots hold onto Garoppolo, they can try to get a higher first-round pick for him next offseason. At worst, he'd be worth a second- or third-rounder, which is basically what they're looking at getting for him this year.
This much is clear: Garoppolo is not going to finish out his rookie contract in New England. Trading him now could get the Patriots the 29th or 32d pick now (at best), but would likely weaken them at an important position. Waiting it out another year could keep the Patriots strong at quarterback in 2016, and net them a bigger haul on the trade market next offseason.