It goes without saying that if the Patriots knew Tom Brady was going to be Tom Brady, they wouldn’t have waited until the sixth round to take him. They’d have taken him in the first round.
Here’s the thing, though: Not taking Brady in the first round never hurt the Patriots. It actually might in the case of Jimmy Garoppolo.
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The Patriots should have drafted Garoppolo in the first round. Seriously.
Of course this is being said in hindsight, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s true. If the Patriots drafted Garoppolo in the first round rather than the second in 2014, they’d be paying him a bit more but they'd also have him for an extra year on his rookie deal thanks to the fifth-year option that exists for first-round picks. With Brady not yet done and potential years of franchising ahead, that extra season of Garoppolo’s rookie deal could prove to be crucial.
First, a look back at the 2014 draft. As you may recall, Garoppolo’s selection in the second round turned heads. Them taking him a round earlier (which would have put his selection before Teddy Bridgewater’s) might have made those very same heads explode.
That would have been the right move, however, especially when you consider what they did with that first-round pick. The Pats took Dominique Easley 29th overall, a player they put on IR in back-to-back seasons before releasing. He enjoyed a bounceback campaign with the Rams last season, but his 2017 season is already over after tearing his ACL in training camp.
So say the Pats didn’t take Easley and instead chose to shock the world and take Garoppolo. Here’s where they’d stand: They’d have paid Garoppolo more by now (Bridgewater, taken three picks after where the Pats picked in the first, got a four-year $6,849,502 contract, whereas Garoppolo got $3,483,898 over four years), but they would not yet be facing the question of what’s next.
Garoppolo will be a free agent at season’s end, at which point the Patriots might need to franchise him or use the transition tag to retain his services. Had they taken him in the first round and exercised the fifth-year option, they wouldn’t need to worry about the franchise tag until the 2019 season, at which point Brady would be 42. That’s a much easier pill to swallow for one year if they’re seriously entertaining making a switch to Garoppolo the year after in 2020.
So what would that fifth-year option cost? For first-round picks taken outside of the top 10, the salary is calculated by averaging the third through 25th-highest salaries at the player’s position in the fourth year of the deal. My math has it at $10,419,705.70; CBS Sports (which has a chart and is therefore likely way more correct) has it at $12,198,000.
That isn’t chump change, but it is compared to having to pay for the franchise tag. This season, the franchise tag for a quarterback is $21.268 million. That number will only be higher a year later.
The Patriots seemingly indicated by not trading Garoppolo this offseason that they believe in him. It was a bold stance to take when they seemingly could have gotten a haul of draft picks. If the Pats had taken as bold a stance on draft back a few years back, perhaps their future at quarterback would be just a tad less murky.