The Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots go into the offseason with a lot of major questions surrounding their roster. Much of the defensive line is set to enter free agency, as is cornerback Logan Ryan, tight end Marcellus Bennett, and star middle linebacker Dont’a Hightower, among others. I really hope the Patriots will resign Hightower, but many of those remaining holes will have to be filled with free agents and rookies from the 2017 draft class. It’s a daunting task, but the Patriots have something most teams do not have: a surplus quarterback who appears more than capable of competing at the NFL level.
Jimmy Garoppolo was impressive in his two starts as the Patriots signal caller, earning a road win in Arizona to open the season and shredding the Miami Dolphins defense before suffering a shoulder injury from a hit by linebacker Kiko Alonso. In a little shy of six quarters, Garoppolo completed 42-of-59 passes for 496 yards and four touchdowns, losing one fumble.
It’s a small sample size, to be sure, but he looked good. The passes were accurate and fast. The decision-making was strong. He projected confidence and poise in a primetime game on the road, and in the home opener at Gillette. All of this was rendered a lot less important with the return of Tom Brady from his four-game Deflategate suspension, however, as he went on to remind the league why he is the greatest quarterback of all time. Brady shows no signs of slowing down, and Garoppolo will be a free agent in 2018.
The NFL, meanwhile, has demonstrated itself to once again be a quarterback-centric league. Brady, Ryan, Roethlisberger and Rodgers were the starting QBs in the conference championship games. Ezekiel Elliott and his O-line may have been a big part of the Cowboys success in 2016, but Dak Prescott’s impressive play as a rookie forced defenses to worry about the ground and air attack, making their resurgence possible.
Other teams have tried to solve this problem in the draft. Both the Rams’ Goff and the Eagles’ Wentz were taken with the first and second picks of the draft, and neither got their teams anywhere close to the playoffs. Garoppolo represents a huge opportunity for a franchise desperate to make a fast course correction. He’s NFL-ready, still affordable on the last year of his rookie deal, and lacks many of the questions of character that rookies with no pro experience present to general managers and coaches. His injury may also compel him to take a more team-friendly, long-term deal before he has a chance to make the case for a bigger contract.
The Patriots should be comfortable moving on from him, too. Garoppolo’s value is the highest it’ll ever be with him in a Patriots uniform. Delaying until the end of the 2017 campaign means he likely walks for virtually nothing. While it’s certainly possible Brady suddenly deteriorates as so many other older quarterbacks have, there’s no guarantee of that happening. They also have another young quarterback in Jacoby Brissett, and the ability to draft more in 2017 and beyond. His value could translate to other free agents in contract years, to earlier draft picks, or some combination.
The player also has something to gain. As long as Brady plays, Garoppolo will be on the bench, losing valuable years when he could be earning himself a big payday. If he has any competitive bones in his body, he wants to be the starter for a team, and wants to try to lead that team to a championship.
Critics may think this represents an overvaluation of six quarters of football, and that may be right. But teams like the 49ers, Bears, Browns, among others, all have a strong need at the position, and this draft class appears to be dismal at best. Sam Bradford, the definition of disappointment at the position, commanded a first and fourth round pick from the Vikings at the start of the 2016 season. Even if Garoppolo earns a more modest haul, he can still immediately benefit a team desperate to put a competent player in the position, while setting the Patriots up in a much better position to further sustain their greatness next season, and perhaps well beyond.