There are valid reasons for trading Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers.
■ Tom Brady is going to play three more years and win more Super Bowls.
■ The Patriots believe they can find another young quarterback to groom.
■ The Patriots need to restock their young talent, and Garoppolo brought them a high second-round pick.
But there’s one reason that you, Patriots fans, shouldn’t accept: Garoppolo was too expensive.
He was going to command a large contract in March as an unrestricted free agent, and now is set to cash in with the 49ers. The Patriots already have Brady under contract for $15 million in cash and $22 million in cap dollars next year. The non-exclusive franchise tag for Garoppolo next year will be about $23 million. So that’s about $38 million in cash and $45 million in salary cap dollars next year to keep Brady and Garoppolo.
Belichick laid it out Tuesday as if the Patriots were backed into a corner.
“It’s definitely not something that we wanted to walk away from, and I felt like we rode it out as long as we could,” Belichick said. “We over a period of time explored every option possible to try to sustain it, but just at this point felt like we had to make a decision.
“It’s just not sustainable given the way that things are set up.”
But money is no object in the NFL. The salary cap keeps rising significantly, the cap can be manipulated, and the owners are printing money. The Patriots could have found a way to keep Garoppolo next year if they really wanted to, especially since the franchise tag is just a one-year commitment.
We don’t know if money was the only reason the Patriots traded Garoppolo Monday. Belichick wouldn’t say.
We also don’t know how the Patriots truly feel about Garoppolo, though Belichick raved about him Tuesday.
““The 49ers are getting a good player, and they’re getting a good person, and they’re getting a great teammate and they’re getting a good quarterback,’’ Belichick said.
“He’s a talented individual, was a great person to coach. I met with him weekly and, again, have a tremendous amount of respect for him.”
But Belichick left a few things unsaid. He clearly thinks Garoppolo can play, but does he consider Garoppolo a rare talent? Or does he believe that if the Patriots could find Garoppolo out of Eastern Illinois with the 62nd draft pick, they can find another kid to groom in next year’s draft?
Hopefully, it’s the latter. Otherwise, the Patriots may have made a huge blunder by trading away their next franchise quarterback, especially if it’s because they didn’t want to pay him. You don’t let good football players walk out the door, definitely not at the sport’s most important position.
If Garoppolo turns out to be Aaron Rodgers or Steve Young, then a franchise tag would be money well spent. Heaven forbid Garoppolo turns the 49ers into a Super Bowl contender, especially if the Patriots struggle to find the next young quarterback. They hit on Garoppolo, but missed on Ryan Mallett and Kevin O’Connell and didn’t think too highly of Jacoby Brissett.
Please don’t tell me that they can’t afford to pay $38 million in cash and $45 million in cap dollars for two quarterbacks next year. Don’t tell me that it will hamper their ability to field a competitive team, or that spending that much money goes against all conventional wisdom.
The Patriots have built a dynasty based on going against conventional wisdom. And have you taken a look at the NFL’s finances these days? Robert Kraft and the other owners are doing just fine.
The Patriots could have kept Garoppolo with the franchise tag and remained a Super Bowl competitor next year.
Let’s lay out the facts:
■ The non-exclusive tag for quarterbacks, the lower of the two, was $21.268 million this year. So let’s assume it is $23 million next year. If Garoppolo signed with another team after being given the non-exclusive tag, the Patriots would have received two first-round picks as compensation.
■ Per the NFL Players Association, the Patriots currently have $157 million in salary cap commitments next year. The cap hasn’t been set, but it has gone up $12 million each of the past two years. It is at $167 million this year, so let’s conservatively assume the salary cap is $177 million next year. Plus, the Patriots will probably roll over $1 million-$2 million more in cap space.
They will need to spend money at left tackle, and they have Malcolm Butler’s contract to deal with. But they have most of the team already under contract: Brady, Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Dont’a Hightower, Devin McCourty, Stephon Gilmore, James White, Rex Burkhead, Kyle Van Noy, and four-fifths of the offensive line. They won’t be big players in free agency as they were this year.
■ The salary cap is fungible. There are always ways to create cap space by restructuring other contracts and converting salary into signing bonuses. The Patriots can create millions more in cap space by releasing Dwayne Allen, David Harris, and others. They can restructure Gronk, Cooks, or McCourty.
So the Patriots could’ve made it work with Garoppolo and the franchise tag, if they really wanted to. They could have made the one-year spending commitment, just to buy an extra year of time to decide on Brady vs. Garoppolo.
After a lengthy opening statement in which he stated his affection for Garoppolo, Belichick retreated into his usual mode. He didn’t really explain why the Patriots felt that keeping Garoppolo was “unsustainable.”
“In the end, you put it all together and try to do what you think is best for the team,” Belichick said.
If the answer is that the Patriots believe they can find another young franchise quarterback to take over after Brady, then Belichick and his staff deserve the benefit of the doubt. This is a good year for quarterbacks in the draft, and the Patriots now have extra ammo.
But if the only answer is that Garoppolo would have exceeded the team’s self-imposed budget, Patriots fans shouldn’t accept it.