Let’s get right to it, breaking down the fallout from the Jimmy Garoppolo trade to the 49ers for a second-round pick:
■ Bill Belichick was effusive in his praise of Garoppolo on Tuesday after the trade, and Belichick is understandably upset over having to trade him. “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,” he said.
Finding a franchise quarterback is the hardest task in the NFL, and Belichick felt like he had The Guy. He spent 3½ years grooming Garoppolo, putting a lot of time and effort into him. It pained Belichick to let Garoppolo leave the building.
Now Belichick has no succession plan behind 40-year-old quarterback Tom Brady. Brian Hoyer can be the backup for now, but the Patriots are starting all over at the most important position.
Belichick’s staff did a great job finding Garoppolo late in the second round. They also missed on third-round picks Kevin O’Connell, Ryan Mallett, and decided after one season that they didn’t want Jacoby Brissett.
Belichick knows how much of a crapshoot the NFL Draft can be. He knows how unprepared today’s college quarterbacks are for the NFL.
“I don’t think any rookie player is ready to come in and play in the National Football League at any position. Certainly quarterback is in that,” Belichick said in 2014.
With Brady at 40, and quarterbacks needing a few years to develop, the pressure is on to find the next successor this coming offseason — and to make sure they get it right.
■ It also seems pretty clear that Belichick didn’t intend to trade Garoppolo, but something changed recently.
We know Belichick’s philosophy is “you’re better off being early than late at that position,” as he said in 2014 after drafting Garoppolo. We know he considers it football malpractice to not have quality quarterback depth “the way Indianapolis did it when they lost [Peyton] Manning and they go 0-16, 1-15 or whatever it was [2-14].” No offense to Hoyer, but a 32-year-old journeyman does not make for good depth.
If Belichick thought Brady needed a successor at 36, he definitely believes Brady needs one at 40. So if keeping Garoppolo is “just not sustainable given the way that things are set up,” as Belichick said last week, they certainly did not prepare for that inevitability. Why didn’t they draft another quarterback this past April? Why did they trade Brissett, who could have been a nice, cheap backup option through 2019? All year, they never accounted for the fact that they might have to get rid of Garoppolo.
Instead, Belichick’s actions leading up to Monday’s trade portray a man who expected to keep Garoppolo beyond this year. The Patriots could have found a way to do it with the franchise tag if they put their heads together and got creative. But it would have cost the Patriots about $23 million to keep Garoppolo, and it would have been a clear sign to Brady that 2018 was his final year.
ESPN The Magazine wrote last week that Belichick “told friends for the past year that he wanted to coach Garoppolo as a starter and that he was confident he could win a Super Bowl with him.” This wouldn’t be the first time in NFL history that the business side overruled the football side.
■ Speaking of, let’s revisit an interview with Robert Kraft in August, right before the final preseason game. I asked him if his philosophy with the football team is “In Bill We Trust.”
“Well, yeah — with checks and balances,” was his immediate reply. He mentioned “checks and balances” twice in our interview.
I also asked Kraft if he was willing to trust whatever the football side told him about Garoppolo’s future with the team.
“Yes,” was his answer, though he didn’t expound.
■ The Patriots also didn’t maximize Garoppolo’s value. It was obviously at its highest before this year’s draft, and they could have created quite the bidding war between the Browns, 49ers, and maybe the Bears and Jaguars.
But general manager John Lynch revealed that the 49ers were “quickly shut down” by the Patriots when the Niners inquired about trading for Garoppolo this offseason. And it doesn’t seem like the Patriots engaged any other team besides the 49ers last week when they finally decided to trade Garoppolo. Browns coach Hue Jackson would have loved to get his hands on Garoppolo, but the Patriots never offered.
It looks like the Patriots purposely steered Garoppolo to the 49ers, a team that exists on the opposite end of the NFL universe. The Patriots now won’t have to face Garoppolo in the regular season until the 49ers visit Foxborough in 2020. The 49ers also had a suitable backup come available in Hoyer, while maybe the Patriots weren’t interested in any of the Browns’ quarterbacks.
■ Let’s stop with “the Patriots wanted to see what they had with Brady this year at 40 before deciding to trade Garoppolo.” Please. Brady was incredible in the Super Bowl last February, and still ate all his avocado ice cream this offseason. The idea that his play could have fallen off sharply over the first eight games of the season is nonsense. And if the Patriots wanted to keep Garoppolo as insurance in case Brady got hurt, that should especially apply over the next eight games and playoffs. But it didn’t.
■ Get familiar with these college names. We’re going to hear a lot about them and the Patriots’ supposed interest this spring: USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, Wyoming’s Josh Allen, Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson, Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph, Washington State’s Luke Falk, and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, among others. With the Patriots likely holding two draft picks between 29-35, anything is possible.
■ This was Scot McCloughan, the former Redskins GM who also helped build Super Bowl teams in Seattle and San Francisco, in an interview with me in August:
“I’m telling you, I’ve been in this thing a long time. Quarterbacks that you think can do it, who go out on Sundays and win for you, you can’t lose them. You’ve got to understand, if there’s a player at that position that you know can do it, you almost have to keep him.”
■ McCloughan’s evaluation of Garoppolo was also interesting.
“He can play. I compare him a lot to Kirk Cousins — smart, really good person, has some leadership qualities, and players believe in them. And that’s huge.”
Now Garoppolo gets to play for 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, who was Cousins’s offensive coordinator for his first two seasons in Washington. Garoppolo’s quickness and athleticism should play well in Shanahan’s system.
■ Garoppolo doesn’t seem to be in any rush to sign a long-term contract with the 49ers, and in theory he could try to test the market this offseason if he doesn’t like what he sees in San Francisco. But the 49ers have more than $100 million in cap space, and the coronation they gave Garoppolo this past week certainly gives the impression that they’re ready to use the franchise tag on him — about $23 million for the non-exclusive tag and $25 million for the exclusive tag.
■ So what kind of long-term contract is Garoppolo looking at with the 49ers? The most important metrics will be how much money he gets in Year 1, and how much he gets over the first three years. As explained by Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap.com, the 49ers will likely try to get Garoppolo for about $21 million in 2018, which is what Brock Osweiler got from the Texans last year. Garoppolo will likely shoot for $26 million or $27 million, since the 49ers gave Colin Kaepernick $24.8 million in the first year of his deal in 2014.
As for three-year cash, Osweiler got $55 million and Ryan Tannehill got $57 million, and Garoppolo is likelier to fall in that range than the next highest range, $66 million for Joe Flacco and $67 million for Eli Manning.
VIEW FROM WITHIN
How big deal affected Patriots
Now let’s look at how the Jimmy Garoppolo trade affected other players on the Patriots:
■ Hoyer signed a three-year deal on Wednesday. Here are the numbers: 2017 — $476,000 salary; 2018 — $915,000 salary; 2019 — $2.8 million salary ($1.51 million fully guaranteed), with a $200,000 roster bonus on the fifth day of the league year and $1.5 million in incentives.
The first two numbers aren’t random. $476,000 is the nine-week prorated amount of $900,000, which is the NFL minimum salary for a player of Hoyer’s experience (he’s in his ninth year, but only his eighth accrued season). And $915,000 is Hoyer’s veteran minimum next year.
The Patriots can get away with paying Hoyer the minimums because he’s also getting paid by the 49ers. Hoyer signed a two-year deal this offseason that guaranteed him about $7 million this year and $2.9 million next year. He’s still getting that money from the 49ers, but Hoyer’s contract had offset language, so the 49ers’ obligation will be reduced by $476,000 this year and $915,000 next year.
But Hoyer’s 49ers contract is why the Patriots didn’t just trade for him. The Patriots would have been on the hook for $1.7 million this year and $2.9 million next year (his full base salary was actually $3.95 million).
■ Hoyer’s contract with the 49ers called for his $4 million signing bonus to be paid in two $2 million installments. The second installment was owed on Oct. 31, which happened to be the day the team released him. Nice parting gift.
■ Timing is everything in the NFL. Here’s betting that if Hoyer hadn’t signed with the Patriots on Wednesday, he would have been the first call from the Texans on Thursday after Deshaun Watson tore his ACL in practice. He’d probably be the starter in Houston, instead of a clipboard holder in New England.
■ Now that Garoppolo is in San Francisco, I wonder if Josh McDaniels is having second thoughts about withdrawing from the 49ers’ head coaching search after interviewing in January. The 49ers look like an attractive job, with Garoppolo at the helm, a gutted roster, and more than $100 million in cap space next year. Now Shanahan gets to reap the benefits of it.
One reason McDaniels may have withdrawn: He didn’t think Garoppolo would become available.
■ Not ready to buy into the rationale that trading Garoppolo frees the Patriots up to use the franchise tag on Malcolm Butler.
Last year’s non-exclusive cornerback tag was $14.212 million, which should make next year’s tag more than $15 million. Only two cornerbacks in the entire league make at least $15 million — Josh Norman and Trumaine Johnson.
Considering the way the Patriots played hardball with Butler last offseason, I have a hard time believing they suddenly view him as a $15 million salary player, especially given his inconsistent play this season.
And if the Patriots did give Butler the tag, he’d sprint to the table to sign it. $15 million and a chance to become a free agent again next year? Sign me up.
■ ESPN The Magazine also wrote that a “collision” is coming between Bill Belichick and Alex Guerrero, Tom Brady’s body coach and TB12 business partner, as Guerrero is blaming the Patriots’ trainers for some of the team’s injuries. We find this fascinating yet not at all surprising, as Guerrero has tried to co-opt the Patriots’ training and rehab department.
Because they see it working for Brady, a majority of the players visit Guerrero for body maintenance — so many that the team has given Guerrero his own work space in Gillette Stadium even though he’s not an employee.
Though his methods may work, he’s certainly encroaching on the territory of the Patriots’ respected professionals — strength and conditioning coach Moses Cabrera, director of rehabilitation Joe Van Allen, and head trainer Jim Whalen, who has held the job since 2002 and whose staff won the NFL’s 2016 Ed Block Courage Award for NFL Athletic Training Staff of the Year.
It’s common for players to see outside specialists, but it’s not common for a majority of players on one team to outsource their training and rehab to one contractor. Teams always prefer that players use the team’s employees.
■ Finally, in early September we wrote about veteran receiver Anquan Boldin, how he had contact with the Patriots last offseason and how he remains intrigued about playing for the team despite retiring in August while with the Bills.
Last week, Buffalo GM Brandon Beane said he was open to trading Boldin’s rights at the deadline, but was not going to simply release Boldin from the team’s reserve/retired list, and the Patriots are why.
“We invested in him, invested time and committed to him, and we wouldn’t want to just put him out on the market to see him go sign with the Patriots or the Dolphins or anybody that can get in our way and work against us,” Beane told SiriusXM NFL.
Boldin has been following through on his promise to pursue social activism in retirement, but a source said he also has been working out in South Florida with Darrelle Revis and other out-of-work players. Boldin and Revis would love another shot in the NFL.
Watson the latest star lost for year
Another week of devastating injury news. The Colts officially shut down Andrew Luck for the season with his shoulder injury, while Rookie of the Year front-runner Deshaun Watson tore his ACL in Thursday’s practice, a demoralizing gut punch for Watson, the Texans, and the NFL.
Watson should be fine for next season, but he quickly became the most electrifying player to watch in the NFL, and it’s such a shame that he won’t be around for the second half of the season or the playoffs. He joins Aaron Rodgers, J.J. Watt, Odell Beckham, Julian Edelman, David Johnson, and many others on the shelf.
Luck’s shoulder, though, should worry Colts fans. It has been 10 months since surgery, he had to be shut down after just a couple weeks of throwing, and Luck is now seeing multiple specialists because they can’t quite figure out the source of his pain.
One league source said the Colts are worried that Luck’s injury is similar to those suffered by Chad Pennington, whose arm strength was sapped after four career shoulder injuries. Colts GM Chris Ballard genuinely does not know what type of arm strength Luck will have moving forward, and had hoped to see him play this year.
Set up to fail
Hue Jackson is 1-23 in his two years as Browns coach, but he is being set up to fail by his front office. Jackson was enamored by Jimmy Garoppolo, thought he was going to draft Watson, and thought the Browns were going to trade for A.J. McCarron last week. But the Browns’ front office, led by Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta, didn’t see eye-to-eye with Jackson on those players, and stuck him instead with DeShone Kizer, Cody Kessler, and Kevin Hogan.
The Cleveland Plain-Dealer and Cincinnati Enquirer both reported last week that the Browns’ front office wasn’t too thrilled about trading for McCarron, and that the botched trade for McCarron was possibly sabotaged by the Browns’ front office.
We’re all for the Browns’ analytical approach to roster building, but they have to find a coach who is on the same page as the decision-makers.