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The New England Patriots won their first game of the season, beating the Arizona Cardinals without Tom Brady, who’s suspended, and with a solid effort from 24-year-old Jimmy Garoppolo.
It now looks as though the Patriots have two good quarterback options, and this is a problem.
On the one hand, it’s good for the Patriots’ immediate future. But that good problem is going to very quickly turn into a headache when the Patriots have to decide between Brady and Garoppolo – and that’s coming much sooner than most realize.
If the Patriots want to keep Garoppolo, the 2017 season could be Brady’s last in New England.
On the surface, it’s easy to say the Pats have their quarterback situation set for the next 10-15 years – just keep playing Brady for now, and when he finally decides to retire, the Pats can slot Garoppolo in as the starter.
But there’s a problem with that: Garoppolo is a free agent after the 2017 season.
Unless Garoppolo completely falls apart in the next three games, he has already shown enough that he can be, at the very least, a decent NFL starting quarterback. On top of that, when he hits free agency, he will have had four years of the tutelage of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
That’s a pretty good CV.
Somebody is going to offer Garoppolo a monster contract. Just look at the deal Brock Osweiler struck with the Houston Texans under similar circumstances: four years, $72 million.
Meanwhile, Brady’s seemingly nowhere near retiring. He is signed through the 2019 season, and, at different times, he has said that he wants to play until he is 45 (through the 2022 season) and that he wants to play 10 more seasons (through the 2025 season).
So the Patriots are going to have to make a decision after the 2017 season: Do they want to keep rolling with Brady and gambling against Father Time? Or do they cut ties with Brady earlier than they may like and make Garoppolo their starting quarterback for the next decade?
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In theory, the Patriots could sign Garoppolo to a long-term deal and keep Brady. But it’s hard to pay two starting QBs under the salary cap (possibly $30 million to 32 million per year for both), even if one is offering a discount. And that also presumes that Garoppolo is willing to remain a backup while another team is offering a huge contract and a starting job.
That scenario seems unlikely.
The other option is the Matt Cassel plan. After Cassel performed well filling in for an injured Brady in 2008, Cassel was a pending free agent. At the time, the Patriots gave Cassel the franchise tag and then traded him to the Kansas City Chiefs for an early second-round pick.
That scenario could land the Patriots a good draft pick or two for Garoppolo, possibly even a first-rounder. But it still means their quarterback situation is not as set in the long term as many people seem to think.
For now, the Patriots have a good quarterback problem. But they can’t keep both indefinitely, and at some point in the next 18 months, the Patriots are going to have to decide if Brady will still be their quarterback in 2018.
If the idea of the Patriots picking Garoppolo over Brady sounds nuts, ask yourself this: When was the last time Bill Belichick picked loyalty over what’s best for the team?