The New England Patriots, latest NFL rumors have it, could be hearing trade offers for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo this week as coaches and executives from all 32 National Football League franchises descend on Indianapolis, Indiana, for the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine.
The 25-year-old, who will enter his fourth NFL season after the Patriots drafted him out of Eastern Illinois in the second round of the 2014 draft, saw his trade stock skyrocket after he filled in for New England's legendary Tom Brady early in the 2016 season, when Brady was suspended over the so-called "Deflategate" affair.
Garoppolo played only five quarters and part of a sixth under center before going down with a shoulder injury. But he led the Patriots to an opening night 23-21 road victory over the Arizona Cardinals.
He then proceeded to throw for two touchdowns in the first quarter and another in the second at home in Week 2 against the Miami Dolphins, before leaving the game with the injury. The Patriots went on to win that game 31-24 as their third-string quarterback, rookie Jacoby Brissett, guided them the rest of the way.
With the 39-year-old Brady taking the Patriots to their — and his — fifth Super Bowl victory and seventh appearance (a record ninth overall in franchise history) and subsequently revealing that he plans to play well into his mid-40s, the Patriots and Brady have already reportedly begun negotiations to extend the future Hall of Famer's contract.
As it is, Brady's contract runs through the 2019 season, meaning that barring another Brady absence, Garoppolo would be consigned to a backup role for three more seasons at minimum if he were to stay with the Patriots. But with Garopplo's own deal expiring at the end of the 2017 season, the Patriots are almost certain to lose him to unrestricted free agency at that point anyway.
According to Cleveland.com football writer Mary Kay Cabot, the Cleveland Browns, who possess the top overall pick in the 2017 draft, might be willing to swap that pick in some sort of package for Garoppolo. That would create an extraordinary situation in which the defending five-time Super Bowl champions would be granted the overall number one pick in the draft.
The Browns — who lost their first 14 games in 2016 and emerged with just a single victory all season — struggled through a three-way quarterback situation, with Robert Griffin III and 37-year-old Josh McCown splitting eight starts while rookie third-round draft pick Cody Kessler, out of the University of Southern California, took the other eight, posting a 92.3 quarterback rating.
In 17 career appearances across three seasons, Garoppolo has posted a 106.2 rating, completing 67 percent of his 94 passes with five touchdowns.
The San Francisco 49ers, who hold the second overall draft pick, also face a quarterback crisis making them a natural contender for Garoppolo.
The Browns also hold the 12th pick in the first round, and according to NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock, that might be enough, along with a package of players or lower picks, to pry Garoppolo away from Coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots.
"If I'm the Cleveland Browns and I've got No. 1 and No. 12, if I came away with either (defensive end Myles) Garrett or (defensive tackle) Jonathan Allen at Number One, and gave up the 12th pick in the draft to get Garoppolo? I would be stoked. I would feel like I had a difference-maker on defense and we had a quarterback on offense," Mayock said in an interview this week.
But why would the Patriots settle for a 12th overall pick when they could come away with one of the top two or one of the top three? The Chicago Bears, who will select third, might be tired of Jay Cutler, whose salary cap "dead money" number is set to drop this year, making him expendable. The Bears won only three games behind Cutler last season and have finished higher than third in their division only twice in his seven years under center in Chicago.
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The Bears have not made a postseason appearance since 2010, the now-33-year-old Cutler's first year with the team.
While any of the three teams — Browns, 49ers, and Bears — could use their draft pick to select a quarterback, the 2017 class is considered by experts to be a poor one for quarterbacks. With North Carolina's string-armed but inexperienced Mitch Trubisky, Notre Dame's talented bit also rough-around-the-edges DeShone Kizer, and Deshaun Watson — whose draft stock may have dropped during the season despite taking Clemson to the national championship — topping the group.
Would any of the teams holding those draft picks be better off with one of those three quarterbacks or with Jimmy Garoppolo, who has already played a role in two New England Patriots Super Bowl championships? NFL trade rumors are certain to center around that question for at least the remainder of this week, if not all the way to the NFL Draft on April 27.
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