New England Patriots

Giving up high draft picks for Garoppolo doesn’t fit with NFL history

(Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire)

Jimmy Garoppolo, Patriots backup quarterback and professional handsome person, may or may not be a franchise quarterback. Obviously, we have no way of knowing at this point because he hasn’t been asked to do it.

In the NFL, seeing is truly the only believing.

Reasonable people can disagree on their evaluations of Garoppolo. Some thought he was a first-round talent out of Eastern Illinois (I didn’t). Even more, it seems, believe Jimmy G is destined to be a high-level starting quarterback in the NFL (I don’t).

But a consensus has emerged — albeit not unanimous — that giving up multiple high picks is just the assumed price for Garoppolo. Even smart, veteran NFL media and personnel people believe it will take at least one first-round pick and probably another high pick, maybe a second, to land him.

Whether or not you believe Garoppolo is good shouldn’t change the following: Giving up that much for a backup quarterback would be a significant departure from NFL norms. It can’t simply be taken for granted.

To borrow a phrase from the political sphere: this is not normal.

When Carson Palmer was traded to the Raiders for a first-round pick and a conditional second, he had been a two-time Pro Bowl player, an eight-year NFL veteran, not to mention the former No. 1 overall pick and Heisman Trophy winner out of USC.

But a team is going to give up two firsts for a player who has started and finished precisely one NFL game in his career? They might, but history suggests that kind of price is only paid for a legitimate NFL starter with experience and pedigree. None of those describe Garoppolo.

Even if you assume what the Patriots fans in my mentions are saying is true (and I don’t), that Garoppolo had a higher grade coming out than any of the QBs in this draft, ESPN’s advanced metric guru Brian Burke suggests Jimmy G’s 94 career attempts aren’t particularly meaningful as “NFL experience” relative to a rookie. Furthermore, he only has about a 64 percent chance of being better than an average first-round signal caller.

In other words, it’s more likely than not he’s better than the guys in this class, but it’s hardly a lock, and is that extra 14 percent of certainty enough to give up a future second?

Two prominent backup QBs in recent history have been acquired for first-round picks, but that’s not quite true either. Matt Schaub was part of a pick swap in the first (just eight with 10), to go along with two second-round picks.

From a draft capital standpoint, this is the most ever given up for a backup. He had 134 career attempts — or about the equivalent of two extra games — on Garoppolo. Schaub was the 90th pick in the draft, so he had some pedigree, making him a decent comp for Garoppolo.

The other first-round pick given up for a backup was also a pick swap, the Packers moved up to 10th from 17th and got Seattle’s third-round pick for Matt Hasselbeck and all 29 of his career pass attempts. Given the move up in the first round, and the third, this was a close second to the Schaub deal in terms of draft capital.

Using Chase Stuart’s draft value chart, the value of Green Bay’s move in the first is roughly commensurate to a second round pick, although the value of first-round picks rises much faster than picks in the later rounds. In other words, the difference between the 10th pick and the 17th pick is less than between the first and second. The higher you go, the more valuable the picks.

FOXBOROUGH, MA – JANUARY 14: New England Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) gets fired up as the team enters the field during an AFC Divisional Playoff game between the New England Patriots and the Houston Texans on January 14, 2017 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The Patriots defeated the Texans 34-16. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)

Here’s the problem for the Patriots: they don’t have a first-round pick to swap thanks to the Brandin Cooks deal. In fact, they don’t even have a second-round pick to swap.

All the other recent trades for backup quarterbacks were for players with significantly more starting experience than Garoppolo. Kevin Kolb had seven starts and 319 pass attempts for the Eagles when he was dealt for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie with a second-round pick.

Alex Smith had been the entrenched starter in San Francisco — not to mention a former No. 1 overall pick — before getting hurt and losing his job to Colin Kaepernick. He was dealt for a second and a conditional second.

And Matt Cassel started an entire season for the Patriots before he was dealt to Kansas City for a second-round pick, plus New England sent Mike Vrabel to the Chiefs in that deal.

The 12th pick in the draft is worth roughly three second-round picks in generic value terms. That wouldn’t be terribly far off from the Matt Schaub deal which is worth around two seconds and a third (the value from moving from 12 to 10).

In terms of historically expected value, giving up that 12th pick for Garoppolo wouldn’t be far off, but in terms of practical value, teams generally view a certain amount of intrinsic value in a first over multiple seconds. The theory being the chance to get a blue chip player is worth having over the extra crack at a second-round talent.

One could argue inflation or some kind of market-based approach where Garoppolo’s value far exceeds historical norms. I’m not at all sure I would find those arguments compelling, but I’ve yet to hear a good one. And I’m not sure there’s an intellectually honest argument for Garoppolo being worth the No. 1 pick. It would be completely unsupported by any data or measure you want to use (cue the “eyeball test” crowd). And that’s before you consider the Patriots don’t really have any leverage here unless they’re willing to lose Garoppolo for nothing next offseason.

Just because the Patriots say they want two firsts (LOL) doesn’t mean he’s worth that. If history is any indication, he’s not. In fact, not even the No. 1 overall picks who were traded for multiple firsts end up being worth it. Especially one who will immediately demand a contract $70-plus million contract on the low end.

The financial investment required in addition to the draft capital can’t be discounted here.

Cleveland would essentially be paying an extra $45 million for a marginal increase in the probability of bringing in a good quarterback vs. simply drafting one at 12.

If the Browns got a player as good as Matt Hasselbeck or Matt Schaub, they would probably be happy. He’d be the best quarterback the team has had in my lifetime by a wide margin. That is probably worth the 12th pick, or if history is a guide, more likely a pair of seconds.

But we don’t know that’s what we’re getting. We can’t know. We haven’t seen it.

This is why the deals being bandied about on social media and NFL Network/ESPN/talk radio are fun: we aren’t the ones with our jobs on the line.

It’s easy to say “Oh yeah, the Browns should give up all the picks for Jimmy Garoppolo” knowing that if it doesn’t work out, it’s not your franchise you’ve ruined.

Maybe he is worth it. But paying the Patriots’ asking price would be a historical anomaly. A precedent-setting move.

Given how risk-averse the NFL is, I find it hard to believe a team, even the Browns, would buck years of historical trends. If you’re willing to go down that road, that’s between you and your own hot takes.

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