In the not-too-distant future, the New England Patriots are going to have a tough decision to make with Jimmy Garoppolo.
After a promising two-game start in 2016 before getting injured and ceding the job back to Tom Brady, Garoppolo looked like a competent starting quarterback.
The Patriots ultimately decided to hang onto Garoppolo through the offseason, despite rampant speculation that they could trade him to a quarterback-needy team for draft picks.
While Garoppolo remains Brady’s backup for 2017, he’s set to hit free agency at the end of this season, putting the Patriots in a difficult place. They could opt to re-sign Garoppolo for what figures to be a hefty price, despite the possibility of once again having him back up Brady. Or, they could let Garoppolo leave in free agency, losing a potential replacement for their 41-year-old quarterback for nothing.
It’s a difficult decision that will likely greatly rely on how Brady ages and performs in the 2017 season. However, as ESPN’s Mike Reiss told Sports Illustrated’s Peter King on “The MMQB Podcast,” the Patriots may have another option that makes re-signing Garoppolo more palatable.
As Reiss noted, placing the franchise tag on Garoppolo and paying him over $20 million to back up Brady goes against the Patriots’ ethos. However, Reiss hypothesized that the Patriots could perhaps split the franchise tag over this year and next season for Garoppolo to lessen the cap hit and buy more time.
King noted that the Patriots use a similar tactic when they pay practice-squad players more than the minimum in order to retain them.
“One thought I had was maybe you press fast-forward on that. Why not visit that right now? You have a team with $14-15 million in cap space right now, maybe you take that franchise figure, split it in half? ‘Jimmy, if you give us one more year, we’ll give it half to you this year, half to you next year.’ And you lessen the cap hit.
“Just in theory, I think that’s something that would be very Patriot-like, to me, to buy them more time.”
The idea would essentially be to put off Garoppolo’s free agency one more year, lessen the cap hit to pay him, and get one more year out of Brady. Perhaps the Patriots could engender goodwill with Garoppolo by paying him the full franchise tag, but doing so in a more team-friendly nature.
As Reiss and King said, however, the question is if Garoppolo would accept sitting behind Brady for yet another season, particularly as he enters his prime. Both Reiss and King speculated that Garoppolo and his agents – whom Brady also shares – look at the “big picture” and may only be willing to change teams if it was the right fit. Even without Brady, the Patriots could be a good future fit for Garoppolo if he had the chance to take over as quarterback.
A decision on Garoppolo is obviously several months away, but it’s surely in the back of the Patriots’ minds.