It has been a widely-held view for over a year now that the clock is ticking on Jimmy Garoppolo's tenure with the San Francisco 49ers. That particular agenda was pushed even further when the team gave up the 12th pick this year, two future first-rounders and a third-rounder to trade all the way up to the No. 3 spot in the 2021 NFL Draft, where they will almost certainly select a quarterback of the future.
Garoppolo led the franchise to a Super Bowl appearance in his one fully healthy season, but was unable to finish the job once there and his reoccurring injury issues means he isn't a great bet as a long-term starter for anybody, not just the Niners.
Meanwhile on the other side of the country, the New England Patriots found themselves in need of another franchise quarterback after Tom Brady's departure and ended up with Cam Newton. Newton was not good in his first season but, for lack of any better options and the fact that 2020 was a hard year for everyone, the Patriots are bringing him back for another go-around in 2021. New England tried to patch every hole in their roster in a free agent signing bonanza and Newton will be leading a very different team in 2021.
Even with the Newton signing, the Pats were loosely linked with Jimmy G all offseason. Those dots were connected because the Niners can now move on from him with nearly no financial penalty and Bill Belichick has always been fond of Garoppolo since he drafted the Eastern Illinois product in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Reports suggest Belichick saw Garoppolo as Brady's heir apparent but he, and everyone else, was surprised to find that Brady was not going to retire anytime soon. Belichick was ultimately forced to trade Garoppolo to San Francisco for a second-round pick.
The Patriots-Garoppolo noise only increased with the big trade last Friday. New England has Newton but nobody is sold on him after last season's borderline disastrous performances. Garoppolo is expendable now that the Niners presumably have a succession plan ready to go with a top-tier quarterback prospect that the franchise has invested quite a bit into already, given what they had to give up to get to the top of the draft. However, the brakes should be pumped here because Shanahan told reporters he enjoys having a reliable veteran ahead of a rookie on Monday. He noted that recent history has supplied several examples where that arrangement works (most prominently the Alex Smith/Patrick Mahomes situation).
That didn't stop Stephen A. Smith from entering the NFL trade world and suggesting the Patriots should trade Newton for Garoppolo straight-up.
Stephen A. does not oft tread these kinds of grounds, but when he does he comes ready with a scorcher of a take. This qualifies. It's an interesting idea. Shanahan's desire to have a veteran to lean on in case the rookie isn't ready would be satisfied, and the financial commitment to Newton would only be a fraction of what the Niners owe Garoppolo. It would also be quite a test of Shanahan's play-calling abilities, given Newton's unique skillset and the playmakers he would have at his disposal.
The Patriots, meanwhile, would get their guy back and Garoppolo is good enough to make them a playoff team with enough of a supporting cast around him, as we saw in 2019. Staying healthy is an issue but not that much more of an issue than it would be with Newton and his physical playstyle. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels would get a more traditional pocket quarterback to scheme around and Belichick gets the chance to prove he was right about Garoppolo's future in New England all along.
The financial aspect makes any potential transaction complicated, given Garoppolo is owed $26 million this year while Newton is only guaranteed $3.5 million. But it actually makes a certain amount of sense and would definitely be entertaining. Neither party does it, though. They're comfortable with what they have now. Trading Garoppolo would mean the Niners have to bank on Newton delivering, which he was entirely unable to do last year. At least they know for sure Garoppolo can make the throws Shanahan requires of him when he's on the field. New England, meanwhile, spent all that money in free agency with Newton as the quarterback in mind. McDaniels could change the playbook on the fly for Jimmy G, but that doesn't mean he wants to.
Most importantly, while Belichick apparently thought quite highly of Garoppolo before he was traded, things have changed. He tops out as an above-average quarterback who can win games but won't do so by himself. That's still good. Many teams, including the 2020 Patriots, would love to have that kind of player under center. But not quite bank-your-future-on-the-guy good. Both will stand pat for now. But Stephen A. should try his hand at football trades more often, if only for the entertainment value.