The chances of seeing Jimmy Garoppolo back in a New England Patriots uniform certainly increased Friday when the San Francisco 49ers traded up in the 2021 NFL Draft to No. 3 overall, where they’re undoubtedly targeting a quarterback.
But obstacles remain in place for the Patriots to reacquire their 2014 second-round pick.
The biggest: Are the 49ers willing to trade Garoppolo?
Are the 49ers to be believed?
Logic says no, but if San Francisco really wants stability at the quarterback position, then maybe it truly will keep Garoppolo while drafting its quarterback of the future. Garoppolo could start in 2021 with a high-upside backup behind him on the depth chart. And a quality reserve is needed for the injury-prone Garoppolo. It’s possible the 49ers won’t want to roll with a rookie quarterback right away. And they’re built to win in 2021.
The other impediment in place for Garoppolo landing back in New England via trade is his price. Garoppolo carries a $25 million cap hit in 2021. The Patriots currently have less than $12 million in cap space, per Miguel Benzan, aka @PatsCap on Twitter, after a free-agency spending splurge. With a restructure, the Patriots could knock Garoppolo’s cap hit down to around $13 million. They also could potentially get Garoppolo to agree to throw away his old contract and start over with an incentive-laden deal similar to how New England acquired offensive tackle Trent Brown from the Las Vegas Raiders.
The money can be shifted around after a trade, but it’s not necessarily easy. And if the Patriots have to restructure Garoppolo’s deal, pushing cap hits into the future, while also restructuring other contracts to do the same, then there’s an element of mortgaging the future to get a quarterback who has struggled to stay healthy over the course of his career. Is Garoppolo worth that? The Patriots still really like him, according to a source.
The odds of Garoppolo coming back to New England are much better if the 49ers are forced to release their QB. And that’s at least within the realm of possibility, since Garoppolo has a no-trade clause and a high salary.
The Patriots are built to draft a quarterback. This deal decreases the chances of that happening since the Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets and 49ers will likely be taking the top quarterbacks off the board in the first three picks. The Atlanta Falcons, picking fourth, also could look to take a quarterback. Trading up with the Cincinnati Bengals for the No. 5 overall pick might only net the fifth-best quarterback in the draft, whether that’s Mac Jones, Trey Lance or Justin Fields.
The Patriots currently have quarterbacks Cam Newton, Jarrett Stidham and Jake Dolegala on their 90-man roster. It would likely only take a mid-round pick to acquire Garoppolo. Or they could call the 49ers’ bluff and wait to see if he’s released. A quarterback depth chart with Newton and Garoppolo would certainly improve the Patriots’ prospects for the 2021 season. New England needs another quarterback to compete with Newton, and Garoppolo is the best veteran option reasonably available.
So, after Friday’s wild trade between the 49ers and Miami Dolphins, the Patriots’ chances of acquiring Garoppolo certainly have improved, but landing Fields or Lance might be more of a pipe dream while picking 15th overall without a direct path to a trade up.