How the 49ers’ recent trade could affect the Patriots’ pursuit of Jimmy Garoppolo

The 49ers traded up to acquire the No. 3 pick in the NFL Draft on Friday.

New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton, left, and San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo speak at midfield after an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Cam Newton and Jimmy Garoppolo could be in the same quarterback room next season. –AP Photo/Charles Krupa

The San Francisco 49ers sent shockwaves through the football world Friday when they made the blockbuster trade to move up to the No. 3 pick in the NFL Draft.

Friday’s trade could potentially have a butterfly effect that shakes up the quarterback situations for multiple teams. By making a trade to move up so high in the draft while giving up multiple future first-round picks, as well as other picks, it’s easy to think that the Jimmy Garoppolo era in the Bay Area is at least winding down, if not finished.

Enter the Patriots. New England got off to a bang to start its offseason, so far spending a league-most $315 million in free agency, per OverTheCap.com, sending a message that it plans to be competitive in 2021. However, the team still lacks a clear answer as to who will start at quarterback. Sure, the Patriots re-signed Cam Newton, but that was just a one-year deal with a salary equivalent to what a backup makes.

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If that isn’t enough to think that the Patriots could end up with Garoppolo, it has been reported that the Patriots are very much willing to make a reunion happen. Earlier in March, Garoppolo was viewed as “Plan A” for the Patriots’ solution at quarterback, according to Boston Sports Journal’s Greg Bedard. On Thursday, ESPN NFL insider Dianna Russini said a Garoppolo trade to New England “could still go down.”

The biggest obstacle New England faces in its attempts to trade for Garoppolo is San Francisco’s desire to make a deal. As of now, it appears the 49ers don’t want to do that. Moments after Friday’s trade was reported, ESPN’s Adam Schefter shared that a 49ers source told him that “Jimmy is here to stay. He’s our guy this year.”

Now, that doesn’t mean a Garoppolo trade will never happen. Things can change. In fact, that appeared to happen four years ago when Garoppolo was still in New England. Prior to the 2017 season, it was reported that the Patriots weren’t going to move him at any price, yet Garoppolo was traded by the Patriots to the 49ers in October of that year.

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If the Patriots are able to get the 49ers to change their mind on a Garoppolo trade, the next question becomes what they’ll have to give up in order to do that. The first time Garoppolo was traded, the Patriots received a second-round pick in the ensuing NFL Draft.

There could be an argument that Garoppolo is worth more than that this time around. Since arriving in San Francisco, Garoppolo has proved himself to be a quality NFL starting quarterback with the 49ers, going 22-8 in games he’s started. Garoppolo also helped the 49ers reach the Super Bowl in his one full season as their starting quarterback.

And that’s where the argument that Garoppolo is worth less than his original return begins. Garoppolo’s only started more than six games in a season once since he became the 49ers’ full-time starting quarterback in 2018. This past season, Garoppolo missed 10 games due to multiple ankle injuries. The money Garoppolo is making while missing several games isn’t light, either. His cap hit for the 2021 season is $26.4 million and for the 2022 season it’s $27 million, which is the final year of his five-year deal.

ESPN’s Mike Reiss speculated that the Patriots could make an aggressive offer by giving up either their second-round pick in this year’s draft or star cornerback Stephon Gilmore. The 49ers could certainly use a draft pick after giving up four draft picks on Friday. They could also use Gilmore, as Richard Sherman isn’t expected to return to San Francisco.

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If Garoppolo ends up getting traded to New England, he’ll likely have to restructure his contract or sign a new one, similar to what the Patriots did with Trent Brown. The Patriots have less than $12 million in cap space, according to salary cap guru @PatsCap, which isn’t enough to take in Garoppolo’s current deal.

Of course, the 49ers could stand pat with Garoppolo for this season and take a quarterback to sit for a season in the meantime. They could also take a prospect from a different position, too.

If the 49ers indeed keep Garoppolo, the Patriots could be left in a tricky spot. The amount of quality veteran quarterbacks on the open market is scarce after many of them have either found new homes or currently appear likely to say with their current teams.

If the Patriots are hoping to draft a quarterback in the first round, it’s no guarantee that they’ll be able to get one of the top five quarterback prospects. Four of them are projected to be selected somewhere in the top 10, well out of the Patriots’ range with the 15th pick. Alabama quarterback Mac Jones, who’s considered to be the fifth quarterback, has been projected to be drafted by the Patriots but could always end up getting drafted higher. Friday’s trades made by the 49ers and Dolphins also suggest that the Patriots would likely have to give up at least a future first-round pick to move into the top 10 of the draft.

Whether it’s Garoppolo or not, the Patriots’ starting quarterback situation should become clearer in the next month with the 2021 NFL Draft being held from April 29-May 1.

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