The Patriots waited for the right time to deal backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, and the 49ers were the perfect partner before Tuesday’s NFL trade deadline.
In a blockbuster move rare for the midseason, New England on Monday sent Garoppolo to San Francisco for a second-round pick in the 2018 draft.
The deal also confirmed two things: First, the Patriots are more confident that Tom Brady will keep playing, and keep playing well, for several more seasons. Remember, the team also dealt former third-stringer Jacoby Brissett to Indianapolis before the season. Second, the 49ers were less confident that either Washington’s Kirk Cousins or a high draft pick was the best route to finding a franchise passer.
The 49ers are 0-8 going into Week 9. but it’s clear the first season with coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch has been more of a personnel assessment. Now that they have seen what they have — and what they didn’t want — getting Garoppolo between offseasons works out nicely.
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Lynch has been defense-first since passing on Mitchell Trubisky and trading out of the No. 2 spot in this year’s draft. The offense has been under evaluation, including the quick QB change from shaky stopgap Brian Hoyer (who was released Monday and reportedly is rejoining New England) to overwhelmed third-round rookie C.J. Beathard.
There’s no doubt Lynch has had his eye on Garoppolo since taking the job. Now that the present and near future at the position don’t even look as good as they were in the rearview mirror, he gets a polished passer who’s well-versed in the Patriots’ system.
Cousins hasn’t played well enough to become the highest-paid QB in the game next year, at least not with the 49ers paying him. USC’s Sam Darnold, Wyoming’s Josh Allen and UCLA’s Josh Rosen have each had rough, mistake-filled college seasons. As a draft class, those three have faded enough to the point Louisville dual threat Lamar Jackson is the most attractive first-round option.
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Lynch couldn’t afford to wait to see if the Patriots would have no other takers for Garoppolo, or to assume the 49ers could sign him were he to become an unrestricted free agent. Lynch was sitting on two second-round picks next year and could easily afford to give up one, given how he has stockpiled picks — he still has 18 over two years.
As for handling Shanahan’s offense, Garoppolo is a great candidate — and given he’ll turn 26 in three days, he’s three years younger than the indoctrinated Cousins. The intensity and diverse play-calling of Pats offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will help him make a comfortable transition. Garoppolo will get a jump on learning his new offense with a half-season of action.
As for the Patriots, they get an extra high pick for someone they had no intention of re-signing. Could New England have gotten more? Possibly, but based on the Bears’ aggressive move to get Trubisky and the Browns trading out of the pick that became Deshaun Watson to settle on DeShone Kizer in the second round, it didn’t seem as though there were enough true buyers to drive up the market.
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From the Patriots’ perspective, they didn’t want to lose the staring contest, especially with the 49ers ready to blink and make a reasonable offer.
They also had to see if Brady could keep up his level at 40 after again playing deep into the postseason and winning a fifth Super Bowl. There’s no concern about that now, and there’s no question New England needed some non-retirement reassurance from Brady to act on Garoppolo — two things that couldn’t be as clear in March or April.
The Patriots go on with the GOAT, and the 49ers go forward with Jimmy G. Both teams secured their near future in different ways, but each succeeded in executing a win-win trade — in this case, better late than early.