They were unable to compete in trade talks for Matthew Stafford or Carson Wentz despite reportedly being interested in both quarterbacks and don't have a prayer at putting together a big package for Deshaun Watson or Russell Wilson should the Seahawks make him available. Cam Newton, the team's starter for most of the 2020 season, is a free agent. Backup Jarrett Stidham has shown nothing to indicate he has what it takes to compete for a starting job, much less succeed in the role.
The Pats have their highest draft pick in a decade at No. 15 overall, but it's still too low to have a realistic shot at any of the top four QB prospects who could feasibly start from Day 1. The free agent market outside of Newton is rife with journeymen and average-at-best starters. New England is learning that there is rarely an easy way to find a quarterback both good enough to compete right now and with enough left in the tank to be considered a long-term answer under center.
On a related note, yesterday brought news from Greg Bedard of the Boston Sports Journal, who reported on his podcast that the Patriots want to bring Jimmy Garoppolo back to the Northeast. In fact, he is their "Plan A," and is far and away their first preference. Garoppolo was traded by the Pats to the San Francisco 49ers in October of 2017 in exchange for a second-round pick when Tom Brady's expected retirement date did not arrive. Brady, of course, is now gone, and it seems Bill Belichick wants to bring the player we all believed to be Brady's heir apparent back into the fold.
Unfortunately for New England, bringing "Italian Ice," as he was known in those parts for a few years, back to Foxborough will not be easy. To start, the Niners obviously are not going to just give their starting quarterback away. There's been a lot of talk about how he isn't quite good enough to lead the team to a championship even when he's healthy, and that may be true. But it's hard to imagine San Francisco willingly opting for Nick Mullens, who is fine by backup quarterback standards but isn't a starting quarterback at the NFL level.
Despite all the theories floating around about Jimmy G's future in the Bay Area, it has always been the case that the Niners will only move on if they can definitively upgrade. If the price was right, they may have sprung for Stafford or Wentz, for example. But they did not. At this point, the only chance they have at a quarterback who is undeniably better than Garoppolo is if Houston sends Deshaun Watson their way. But one of the few ways the Niners can put together a competitive package for Watson, if and when he hits the trade block, is if they include Garoppolo, which would leave the Patriots looking out the window like Squidward in that SpongeBob meme.
But let's say for the sake of argument that San Francisco somehow gets Watson without giving up Garoppolo or the Nines pull off a trade for noted Kyle Shanahan guy Kirk Cousins, or something of the like. It wouldn't take much to entice San Francisco to trade Garoppolo, given they would have his replacement ready to go. But trading for Garoppolo would result in a $26.4 million cap hit on New England's books in 2021 and $27 million in 2022. They can afford it, given they're projected to have over $60 million in cap room this offseason, but having Garoppolo's contract take up nearly half of the available space when so many other parts of the roster need substantial improvement (most notably WR and the defensive line) is not a wise or efficient division of resources. It certainly does not sound like Bill Belichick, fond of squeezing the value out of every last dollar at his disposal.
There is the possibility that San Francisco cuts Garoppolo outright, of course. Which is not unrealistic, given it would only cost the team $2 million in dead cap and other teams around the league will see Garoppolo's $26 million hit this season as far too high for what he brings to the table. But that would obviously complicate things for New England because then they would have to convince Jimmy G that returning to the team that drafted him is his best option, rather than convincing John Lynch to give him up for a late draft pick. A much more difficult task.
Garoppolo might not be a championship quarterback but he is certainly better (when health) than many other starting signal-callers in the NFL. He would have a few interested parties if he were to hit free agency, many of which would have a better situation to offer than the paltry array of offensive weapons the Patriots currently have. Garoppolo would certainly know that Belichick believes in him if the coach pursued him in free agency, which is worth something, but outbidding the Bears or or Broncos or another wild card team will be difficult regardless because of the talent discrepancy at the skill positions.
So, in essence, if the Patriots want their "Plan A" to work, they have to hope the Niners land a new starting quarterback sometime over the next few months, then either give up a draft pick and convince Garoppolo to restructure his contract or hope San Francisco cuts him and Garoppolo wants to come back. Either possibility is not impossible, but neither is likely by any stretch of the imagination.
All of this could feasibly be revisited next season if Garoppolo stays healthy and fails to live up to expectations. But for now, too much has to go right for New England to even have a chance of acquiring Jimmy G years after trading him. Folks of a certain age are used to everything going right for the Patriots and thus would not be surprised if events unfolded in the exact manner they need, but those days left with Brady. New England better be setting up Plan B.