The New England Patriots traded Jimmy Garoppolo at the deadline last season to the San Francisco 49ers, where he proceeded to go undefeated as a starter. These are the facts of the story as they now stand, almost a year away from the move itself. The Patriots certainly regret the move. They would certainly love to have Garoppolo now as Tom Brady has kept his distance during OTAs. It is a move that they would take back in an instant if they knew Garoppolo was going to be this good. And yet, in racing to judgment, Brad Gagnon of Bleacher Report called the deal the biggest mistake of the decade for the Patriots. Here is what he had to say.
“We may never know whether Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was on board with the trade that sent backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers last fall, but it already looks as though New England made the mistake of sending Tom Brady’s heir apparent away in exchange for a mere a second-round pick.
To many, it was a weird move even before the 26-year-old Garoppolo tore it up and won all five of his starts down the stretch in San Francisco. After all, Brady is the oldest position player in the NFL, and Jimmy G had performed well as his backup. He was clearly the top option—maybe the only option?—to succeed Brady, but now he’s one of the league’s most highly touted young franchise quarterbacks and playing on the other coast.”
To say that the Garoppolo trade is already such a massive mistake is very presumptuous. Garoppolo has started only five games. He threw seven touchdowns and five interceptions in that time, and did so for a team that no opponent took seriously. Meanwhile, we do not yet have enough data on how long Brady plans to play, how successful the Patriots or 49ers will be in that time, or what will become of the draft pick that the 49ers sent to New England. There is still quite a bit left to determine. If Brady plays for five more seasons and wins two more Super Bowls, it would hardly be fair to call this deal a mistake.
Especially when there are more pressing ones on the docket for New England. Trading Chandler Jones comes to mind. Had the Patriots known that Malcolm Butler would leave as a free agent and that Jamie Collins would be traded, they likely would have kept Jones as a centerpiece of the defense. Based on last season’s underwhelming pass-rush, Jones might have been the difference between a championship last year and losing to the Philadelphia Eagles. Jones could have made life very difficult for the Eagles last year.
Speaking of Butler, though, benching him in the Super Bowl is arguably a bigger mistake than any roster decision the Patriots have made in recent years. At least in trading Jones and Garoppolo, the Patriots were trying to avoid a bad contract. Benching Butler was simply a decision not to play a player that was already on the roster. This is yet another decision that may have actively cost the Patriots the Super Bowl.
The point is that, while Garoppolo showed promise, it is way too early to chalk this trade up as apocalyptic. The Patriots have made more damaging and tangible mistakes in recent years. Garoppolo may come back to haunt them later, but until he does so over a longer sample size than five months, it is unfair to treat the trade as harshly as many fans do.