Jimmy Garoppolo's long-awaited return to New England on Sunday couldn't have gone much better.
Sure, the 49ers quarterback didn't throw a touchdown pass and coach Kyle Shanahan continued to use him conservatively, but Garoppolo left Foxboro, Mass. a very happy man after his new team dominated his old one. The same couldn't be said for Patriots coach Bill Belichick, the man who drafted Garoppolo in 2014, coached him for parts of four seasons and reportedly viewed him as Tom Brady's long-term successor under center.
The Patriots now are facing the questions at QB they hoped to bypass following Brady's departure in free agency to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. New England signed 2015 NFL MVP Cam Newton to a low-risk, one-year deal, but he hasn't looked the same since missing a game after testing positive for COVID-19. With a murky future at the NFL's most important position, should the Patriots regret trading Garoppolo to the 49ers for a second-round pick in 2017?
"I don't think so," NFL Media's Ian Rapoport said Monday on KNBR's "Murph & Mac Show." "I really don't. That revisionist history -- first of all, we're never gonna know the answer. Second of all, it is a very fun game to play. Like, what if the Patriots had never called [the 49ers] and never said, 'Hey, we'll do this for a two,' or whatever it is. Would they have franchised him and had Brady there? Maybe, but I don't think that's what they wanted to do. I think probably the reason they traded him for a two is because they knew that, with Brady there, he was gone next season anyway. I don't think they would've franchised him."
Garoppolo was due to become an unrestricted free agent in 2018, and the Patriots could've franchise-tagged him by paying him (at least) the top five average salaries of the league's quarterbacks. That would've been prohibitive under the salary cap, considering they already were paying Brady.
The Patriots traded Garoppolo in the middle of their Super Bowl title defense, and they won another Super Bowl the following season. Although Brady already was 40 by the time Garoppolo became a 49er, he hadn't shown a lot of signs of slowing down. Conversely, Garoppolo had made just two starts in his NFL career.
Even if it would've been the right call, it would've been a hard one to make.
"[Do] they pick a young Jimmy Garoppolo, who had really only [started two games] at that point over the greatest quarterback who ever lived?" Rapoport continued. "I don't think there's any chance they do, and the fact they traded him for a two makes me think that they liked him but weren't in love with him. Because if you think he's a future, big-time star quarterback, then you immediately say, 'We'll do it for a one.'
"To me, the fact that they were willing to do it for a two makes me think they liked him but weren't completely in love with him. Plus, you got the Super Bowl. I don't know. I think they are fine with the decision they made, even if it takes a little bit to transition from one great quarterback to whoever [their] next great quarterback is."
The 49ers are happy with how things worked out, even with all the questions about Garoppolo's long-term future. The Patriots probably won't say the same, but you bet against Belichick finding a solution at your own peril.
Even if Garoppolo's absence has made the Patriots' heart grow fonder, keeping him instead of Brady wasn't necessarily a no-brainer.