The NFL trade deadline delivered a blockbuster on Monday night when quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo—the Patriots’ presumed heir apparent to Tom Brady—was shipped to San Francisco for a 2018 second-round pick. This is a deal with tentacles that stretch everywhere, not simply because it affects the future of the league’s marquee franchise of the past decade, but also because it alters the landscape at the most important position in the game. It takes a team with a reserve of cash out of the 2018 quarterback free-agent market, it speeds up a franchise rebuild, and it confirms that a Super Bowl contender is going all in on the greatest QB of his era. Here’s a look at the ripple effect of this move and everything it could impact.
So I guess rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard isn’t going to be the foundation upon which an NFL team builds for the long haul. San Francisco general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan both received six-year contracts when they took their jobs this winter, and the implication was that the franchise’s rebuilding process wouldn’t be rushed—maybe this group would even take its time finding a quarterback. Well, the long game lasted eight weeks into the regular season, and now things get interesting. While the Niners won’t be expected to contend immediately, this move expedites the timeline. The most obvious wrinkle is Garoppolo’s contract status; he’s set to become a free agent after the 2017 campaign, but the Niners will have the first opportunity to negotiate with him and will have the option to apply the franchise tag to keep him. And from a team-building perspective, look out:
With recent moves the #49ers have a strong chance to have well north of $100M in cap space for the 2018 season. Should be fun.— Spotrac (@spotrac) October 31, 2017
One of the unintended consequences of the rising salary cap era (it’s shot up by more than $40 million since 2013) is that teams end up with a ton of cap space when they rebuild. Rookie contracts are now so minuscule that franchises going through youth movements have a lot of money to spend. This puts the Niners in a similar spot to the one the Jaguars were in a few years ago, where they essentially have to shell out cash for big-ticket free agents. To be successful, they’ll have to hit on some key draft picks, as the Jags did with players like Jalen Ramsey. Yet San Francisco has a path to quickly climb out of the NFC basement: It has its quarterback of the future, can spend obscene amounts of money to round out its roster over the next two offseasons, and will continue to develop potential studs like DeForest Buckner—the 2016 first-round pick who ranks third in the NFL in stops among interior defenders, according to Pro Football Focus.
Theories have floated for years—most recently this offseason, on multiple occasions—that the Patriot Way could mean that Brady would be sent packing the moment his play started to slip. As these theories had it, Garoppolo would have then taken over, ushering in his tenure as New England’s franchise centerpiece.
The problem with this line of thinking is that Brady’s play hasn’t slipped despite the fact he turned 40 in August. The Pats previously offered Garoppolo big money to stay for the long term, according to The MMQB’s Albert Breer, but he clearly wanted to become a starter, and that wasn’t going to happen in New England. Now, the Patriots lack a Plan B behind their aging quarterback, who has, with few exceptions, represented plans A through Z over the past decade and a half. While that may seem antithetical to the Patriot Way—Bill Belichick is known for playing the long game, often trading down in the draft to collect mid-round picks, dumping veterans the moment he feels they lose value, and finding bargain-bin free agents who can perform one job—it’s actually much in keeping with New England’s ethos. Belichick and the Patriots are doing what they’ve always done: They’re betting big on Tom freaking Brady.
Garoppolo was shipped out of town right before he was about to become very expensive because Brady might still be throwing touchdown passes when Garoppolo has kids who are old enough to be in the league. If there’s reason to second-guess the Patriots, it’s because they unloaded Garoppolo after trading quarterback Jacoby Brissett to Indianapolis in the preseason. Brissett is a decent NFL backup and a guy who had been in the Pats’ system for over a year. The player they received in return, wideout Phillip Dorsett, has 85 receiving yards in 2017.
There’s also the question of why New England abandoned its succession plan under center now. As for that, here’s the best theory I’ve seen:
Bill Belichick read TB12 and now believes Tom Brady is going to live forever.— Jane Slater (@SlaterNFL) October 31, 2017
I guess Belichick buys the avocado ice cream plan.
Imagine that you’re the top quarterback set to hit the open market this offseason. You know what you’ve probably been excited about? A team with the potential for nine-digit cap space is now coached by your former offensive coordinator. For Cousins, the next move has all been spelled out for a while now:
49ers can put together an offer sheet using $50M in 2018 cap room without blinking an eye if Redskins give Kirk Cousins the transition tag. https://t.co/lIRUcp8XYH— Joel Corry (@corryjoel) October 22, 2017
Well, things took a hit for Cousins on Monday night. That potential big-money deal is now off the table, and his free-agency options, though still plentiful, will probably be less lucrative and less comfortable than a reunion with his old coordinator on a cap-space-rich team. The race to sign Cousins feels unpredictable: What happens if there are openings in Pittsburgh or Arizona? What if Denver clears room? Does Jacksonville become a possible landing spot? There may, however, be a perfect solution ...
Heyyyyy, look who’s back, baby! The Jets are here and ready to overpay for a quarterback. It’s all coming together, as the Jets are not good enough to be good, but also not nearly bad enough to take an elite passer in the first round of the 2018 draft:
For @msimonespn: Jets have an equal chance of reaching the playoffs and landing No. 1 overall pick. 0.1% chance for each.— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) October 30, 2017
According to Spotrac, the Jets are set to have the second-most cap space (as of now, around $55 million) of any franchise entering this offseason. And quite frankly, paying to sign Cousins is a better option than trading up in April to draft someone like Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen. Cousins’s price tag is shrinking, and it’s important to note that he is not Josh McCown, Bryce Petty, or Christian Hackenberg.
The 2018 NFL Draft
The Niners are 0-8. Unless Jimmy G plays like a historic talent over the second half of this season, they’ll secure a high pick in the 2018 draft. If they truly bottom out and end up with a top-two selection, they’ll instantly become power players in the quarterback market. In fact, they would find themselves in a similar situation as the Titans in 2016, when they already had Marcus Mariota and thus could get a haul from the Rams in exchange for the right to select Jared Goff. If San Francisco is in position to take Darnold or a similarly hyped prospect, it’ll control next spring’s draft.
The other team that comes into play here is the Browns, who are winless and will enter the 2018 draft in dire need of a quarterback despite taking DeShone Kizer in the second round this year and Cody Kessler in the third round the year prior. Cleveland being Cleveland, it’s one of the clear losers from Monday’s trade, given that there were widespread reports that the Browns previously tried to snag Garoppolo.
This may all just be a result of Belichick being on Team Petty:
Would love to know if Browns had any shot at Jimmy G. Some around the league believe BB wouldn't consider "helping" them at QB. Old feelings— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) October 31, 2017
The AFC East
The doomsday scenario for the non–New England AFC East teams was Garoppolo succeeding Brady and becoming the Patriots’ version Aaron Rodgers: a young, polished backup who replaces a legend and becomes legendary himself. (Julian Edelman compared Garoppolo to Rodgers earlier this year.) That notion seemed far-fetched, but betting against the Pats doing anything that would make life miserable for the teams in Buffalo, New York, and Miami is foolhardy.
After the Garoppolo trade, the three other teams in this division are probably relieved that the Pats don’t have a quarterback-in-waiting to keep their dynasty continuing apace. That said, Brady could play until he’s 65.
The Patriots Defense
One overlooked part of this deal, now that the Pats don’t have to worry about retaining Garoppolo, is how the front office now has the option to use its franchise tag on Malcolm Butler:
The Jimmy G trade allows the Pats to franchise tag Malcolm Butler. The 2017 franchise tag number for CBs was $14.212M.— Cap Space=$5,113,007 (@patscap) October 31, 2017
Or wait—maybe that’s not it at all:
I also continue to hear the Pats still open to trading Malcolm Butler, who could be paired with that 2nd rnd pick for quality player— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) October 31, 2017
Depending on your outlook, the Jimmy G trade either allows the Pats to retain some of their defensive talent or jump-start a complete overhaul on that side of the ball. Butler, a Super Bowl XLIX hero and a generally good cornerback, is allowing opposing passers to average a quarterback rating of more than 100 when throwing against him this season, according to Pro Football Focus. Despite its recent efforts in wins over the Falcons and Chargers, the Patriots defense is still ranked 32nd in the NFL in yards allowed (417 per game). More dominoes could soon fall.
There are even reports suggesting that the 2018 second-round pick the Patriots snagged from the Niners could be used for immediate defensive help, which would bolster New England’s already-decent Super Bowl case:
For more thoughts after talking to GMs regarding Jimmy G trade - Pats will deal this pick by 4pm, most likely for a DL...— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) October 31, 2017
There’s been a lot of player movement this week—but no trade will have a bigger impact on more things than this. Kids, eat your avocado ice cream.