The word on the street is that Bill Belichick always robs people in trades. Even veteran general managers are afraid to pick up his phone calls. ESPN writer Seth Wickersham calls him “the coldest decision maker the game has ever known... a virtuoso strategist.”
So rookie GM John Lynch had to feel like a 17-year standing at the crossroads at midnight, waiting to deal with the Dark Lord himself, when he began to dicker.
And yet, the early consensus is that the 49ers won this trade, getting a potential franchise quarterback for a second round pick — which is where the Jets drafted QB Christian Hackenberg. Prominent pundits from Peter King to Albert Breer all thought so.
Great trade for the Niners, I believe. They have to think they couldn’t have gotten a better QB prospect at top of 1st rd in ’18. I agree.— Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) October 31, 2017
Still, it’s Belichick, so you have to wonder what BB sees that we don’t. For one thing, Garoppolo is a free agent after this year, and the Niners may have the worst record in the league, making their second a near-first-round pick. Garoppolo won’t be able to play immediately either.
Let’s say Tom Brady suffers a career-ending injury this year, or decides to retire. Belichick could sign Garoppolo back in March as a free agent, with an extra second round pick for his trouble, leaving the Niners with only 5 or 6 games of Garoppolo at QB in a lost season for a very high pick.
As Andrew Brandt notes, this deal is only a slam dunk for the 49ers if they sign a long-term contract with their new QB soon. Once he starts playing, assuming he does well, all the leverage is on Jimmy G’s side. His play this year just makes him more valuable to everyone in a QB-hungry league.
Yes, San Francisco gets a chance to test him out (or get him killed) in a few games this year. But since they lead the league in salary cap room, they already had the best chance of signing him in the spring. This tryout will just make him more expensive.
Albert Breer of MMQB, and a Patriots watcher, had a more optimistic take (from a Niners perspective). The way he sees it, New England kept their ideal QB situation — with the best QB in the game backed up by a well-groomed potential franchise quarterback — as long as they could and tried to finesse the transition.
He admits that the Patriots had more bargaining power for a trade last spring, when the draft class looked uniquely weak at QB, Mike Glennon was the best free agent available and Garoppolo had a full year left on his rookie contract. But they couldn’t be sure how strong Brady would look at age 40 and hoped to sign Jimmy G. to an extension.
He reports that they offered Garoppolo a starting QB salary to sit on the bench, but the backup wanted something they couldn’t offer — playing time. Stymied and with the trade deadline approaching, Belichick typically chose the unsentimental route and got the best he could for what may only be a rental.
Or did he? Other rumors say that he refused to deal with Cleveland, still angry that they fired him as coach 22 years ago, or that he tried to do his backup a favor by trading him to a team with a good coach.
The 49ers and Patriots have not gone deep into the process of how the trade went down, but it can be inferred that Belichick came to the 49ers for this trade. John Lynch knows Belichick, who recruited him for the Patriot’s 2008 training camp (though Lynch ended up retiring). Lynch wouldn’t answer a direct question about who initiated trade talks, but his comments at Garoppolo’s introductory press conference suggest that Belichick approached him.
“An unbelievable opportunity came our way in the midst of what's really been a tough season. ... We had an opportunity right now. We thought about it for about 10 minutes and said this is too good of an opportunity to not take advantage of and so we jumped at it.”
Was this Belichick doing a favor for an old friend, or taking advantage of a vulnerable new GM he had more than the usual amount of intelligence on? Scary.
Belichick himself made a statement that the current situation was not “sustainable” and wished Garoppolo the best. But his words are always more than what they seem at face value. This part of his statement could be seen as faint praise:
The 49ers are getting a good player and they are getting a good person and they are getting a great teammate, and they are getting a good quarterback.
So the only thing he’s great at is being a teammate? He’s less than that as a person, player and quarterback?
Then again, Belichick spins so hard that he is famous for mocking key players on upcoming opponents by praising them so effusively that it is obvious sarcasm. Before the Pats’ recent game against New Orleans, he went on and on about the Saints punter.
Morstead's about as good of a punter as this league has ever seen. [He's a] tremendous, tremendous player. Accurate, long, good plus-50, does everything well.
So maybe his fainter praise of Garoppolo, in double-reverse sardonic spin mode, is his highest form of praise. Who knows?
In the end, you know it came down to some hard bargaining. Ian Rapoport reported that the initial offer included Brian Hoyer as well as the pick. I figure it went something like this: