INDIANAPOLIS — If Bill Belichick’s goal is to convince the rest of the world that Jimmy Garoppolo is not on the trading block this offseason, he’s not doing a very good job of it.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter was the latest to report that the Patriots will be keeping Garoppolo for 2017, writing Wednesday on Twitter that “Patriots are not expected to trade QB Jimmy Garoppolo, per league sources.”
That report left a little wiggle room — “not expected to” — but Schefter doubled down on his report later in the day while speaking on WEEI radio.
“I’m just telling you that Jimmy Garoppolo is going to be on the Patriots in 2017,” he said. “No matter who calls, no matter what anybody offers, he’s going to be on the roster this summer.”
Schefter is the most respected reporter in the NFL, and his words carry significant weight. Even still, it was hard finding an executive, scout, or media member at the combine who believed that the Patriots absolutely wouldn’t trade Garoppolo should a team blow them away with an offer.
“Every player has a price,” said one general manager.
Was Wednesday’s report a sign that the Patriots are committing to Garoppolo as their backup in 2017, and possibly as their starting quarterback of the future? Or was this simply an unspoken message to teams believed to be interested in Garoppolo — the Browns, Bears, and 49ers — that their trade offers are underwhelming?
It’s still early in the offseason, and deadlines often spur action. So the real trade talks might not heat up until the trade market opens March 9 or, at the latest, right before the draft on April 25. Heck, the Patriots could go all the way through training camp and wait for a team to get desperate, as the Vikings did last August.
It’s impossible to know what to believe, because the NFL Combine is one giant game of liar’s poker.
Teams lie to each other about which players they’re interested in. Teams lie to agents about whether their players are in their plans for the future. Agents lie to teams about how many teams are interested in their clients. And draft prospects lie to teams about their off-field habits and their commitment to football.
The reason to trade Garoppolo this offseason is obvious: He is entering the final year of his contract, Tom Brady is playing among the best football of his career at age 39 and wants to play several more seasons, and Garoppolo potentially could fetch multiple high draft picks to help restock the New England roster for a few years.
But it’s certainly understandable if the Patriots want to keep Garoppolo for 2017. He’s under contract for $820,077 in salary and a $1.108 million salary cap, and backup quarterback is one of the most important positions in today’s NFL (just ask the Oakland Raiders).
Garoppolo proved in his short stint last season that he’s more than capable of playing quarterback in the NFL, and he just might be the Patriots’ QB of the future.
“I thought Jimmy was really special,” said Broncos coach Vance Joseph, who was the Dolphins’ defensive coordinator when Garoppolo threw three touchdowns in the first 21 minutes against them last September. “He was really poised and confident. I was shocked how good he was against us.”
“I was very impressed with his poise,” added Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, whose team lost to Garoppolo, 23-21, in Week 1.
Of course, if Belichick really wanted to set the record straight, he could do so easily in Indianapolis. He could schedule a press conference — the Patriots, Saints, and Redskins are the only teams not to have a coach or GM speak to the media here this week — look right into the cameras and tell the world, “Jimmy Garoppolo is not going anywhere.”
Instead, we get only back-channel reports from ESPN and NFL Network about how Garoppolo isn’t going anywhere, which only creates the impression that the Patriots are trying to drive up the ante.
If the Patriots want to keep Garoppolo, well, no team knows more about him than they do. But pretty soon, every day that Garoppolo remains with the Patriots will only create controversy about the Patriots’ future at quarterback.
It’s all well and good to say that the Patriots want to keep Garoppolo, but it’s easier said than done. They can keep him for 2017 on his current deal no problem, but then what happens in 2018 and beyond? Garoppolo, like any competitor, wants to get paid, and he doesn’t want to keep sitting on the bench.
Keeping Garoppolo past 2017 means investing $20-plus million into him, the amount of the franchise tag. And it means you’re either paying your backup $20 million — a horrible use of resources, particularly for the cap-savvy Patriots — or, more startlingly, that you’re getting rid of Brady in 2018.
That can’t be the scenario that any Patriots fan is rooting for after the incredible season Brady just put together. But if the Patriots don’t trade Garoppolo this offseason, they’re inviting a world of controversy about their quarterback situation.
Let’s not forget Belichick’s comments about Garoppolo from November.
“Jimmy can go out there and run everything that Tom can run,” he said. “When we put Jimmy in there, it’s really seamless. Unless you were actually looking at the position, if you just could block out that position and say which guy was in there at quarterback, I don’t know if you would know a lot of times.”
That quote sounds like Belichick has identified his next franchise quarterback. Or, it sounds like he’s trying to drive up the price on Garoppolo.
It’s impossible to know. Belichick might be holding a straight flush, or he might be bluffing.
No matter how many reports emerge in the next days and weeks about Garoppolo staying with the Patriots, it will be tough to take them at face value until we actually see Garoppolo standing on the Patriots sideline in Week 1.
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.