Two seasons after the New England Patriots made the controversial decision to trade Jimmy Garoppolo, the quarterback has led the San Francisco 49ers to Super Bowl LIV.
The 49ers went 13-3 under Garoppolo in the regular season and beat the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers to advance to the Super Bowl. Garoppolo completed 69.1 percent of his passes for 3,978 yards with 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 2019, his first full season as a starter. He leaned heavily on the 49ers’ rushing attack in the postseason, throwing for just 208 yards with one touchdown and one interception in two games.
So, was it the right decision for the Patriots to trade Garoppolo knowing what we do now? That’s a complicated question with an incomplete answer. Here’s what we know so far: The Patriots won Super Bowl LIII a year after trading Garoppolo, and that would have been difficult with the young QB on the roster. They also made, and lost, Super Bowl LII the year they traded Garoppolo.
New England would have had to either franchise Garoppolo and keep him on the roster with starting quarterback Tom Brady or trade Brady and sign Garoppolo to a long-term deal during the 2018 offseason. The Patriots could not have fielded as talented of a roster with Garoppolo taking up prime salary-cap space, and Garoppolo suffered a torn ACL early in the 2018 season.
It’s difficult to say the Garoppolo trade led to a Super Bowl win, but the title happened. It can’t be ignored while discussing the Garoppolo trade.
The Patriots drafted Garoppolo 62nd overall in the 2014 NFL Draft. They traded him to the 49ers for the 43rd overall draft pick in 2018, which seemed like a paltry haul at the time. The Patriots didn’t keep that pick, and there’s no longer a direct line to New England’s compensation for Garoppolo.
The Athletic did the legwork for us, here’s the simplified version:
“The Patriots traded Garoppolo, No. 63 in 2018 and Nos. 97, 162, 205 and 239 in 2019 for cornerback Duke Dawson, linebacker Christian Sam, cornerback Joejuan Williams, running back Damien Harris, offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste, quarterback Jarrett Stidham, defensive tackle Byron Cowart and a 2020 fourth-round pick,” per The Athletic’s Jeff Howe.
Dawson and Sam are already off the Patriots’ roster. Williams, Cowart and Harris hardly played in 2019, Cajuste spent the season on the non-football injury list and Stidham may or may not be the heir apparent to Brady. It’s too early to tell, and that largely depends on whether or not Brady is back in 2020.
Clearly, at this date and with Brady’s future uncertain, the Patriots would prefer Garoppolo to that haul. But that Super Bowl win…
Garoppolo would have cost $23 million on a franchise tag. That means the Patriots would have had to just subtract $23 million worth of players from a Super Bowl-winning roster. That results in a roster that’s no longer winning a Lombardi Trophy.
Quite frankly, the other option — getting rid of Brady — was not realistic in 2017 or 2018. He was the Super Bowl MVP following the 2016 season and the NFL MVP in 2017. Brady’s regular-season numbers have dropped since that time, but the Patriots weren’t about to dump a Super Bowl-winning NFL MVP, even if he was 40 years old, to keep an unknown commodity like Garoppolo.
Patriots fans will likely always wonder “what if?” as Garoppolo’s career continues. But it’s really not a question worth pondering. The timing wasn’t right, and they had to trade him.
If Garoppolo winds up winning multiple Super Bowls with the 49ers and turning into one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, then sure, it’s worth revisiting the question down the line. But just know that the alternatives at the time were to weaken their roster or dump a legend still playing at a very high level. It’s best to cheer on Garoppolo and get those nagging alternatives out of your heads for now.