How the Cam Newton contract with the Patriots impacts Jimmy Garoppolo and the San Francisco 49ers. … [+]
Coming off their first losing season since back in 2000, the New England Patriots’ quarterback situation has come into focus recently. During the early stages of the offseason, that has included a potential reunion with Jimmy Garoppolo.
Things seem to have taken a dramatic turn on this front with NFL free agency slated to open in the next few days. That includes New England opting to re-sign fellow quarterback Cam Newton to a one-year contract worth up to $14 million.
To say this is surprising would be an understatement. After suffering both a shoulder and Lisfranc injury during the latter stages of his career with the Carolina Panthers, Newton signed a mere one-year, $1.75 million deal with New England last July.
He responded by putting up eight touchdown passes against 10 interceptions in 15 starts while adding 12 scores on the ground. The former NFL MVP looked to be a shell of his former self, leading to speculation that New England would move off him after one season. That obviously did not happen.
It appears that New England did not want to take a wait-and-see approach at quarterback. The free-agent market at this position is slim. They also weren’t in on the likes of Matthew Stafford and Carson Wentz prior to blockbuster trades earlier in the offseason.
However, there’s a pretty big component to all of this. Newton’s new contract with the Patriots includes incentives. It’s not simply a one-year, $14 million deal. We’ll have to wait on the details, but it’s safe to assume that his base pay is merely backup quarterback money — a beefed up version of last year’s deal.
The Patriots have north of $70 million to spend under the 2021 NFL salary cap. Reality tells us that this Newton contract will cut into that by a very thin margin. What does that mean? New England is not done shopping for veteran quarterback options.
Jimmy Garoppolo could still be in play for the Patriots. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
That’s the major backdrop here for both New England and the San Francisco 49ers. The two have been linked together on a near never-ending loop after they finished up shop on disastrous 2020 performances. Obviously, the link includes one Jimmy Garoppolo.
Multiple former Patriots players have come out in support of the idea of trading for Garoppolo after they dealt him to San Francisco midway through the 2017 season. By now, it’s also clear that head coach Bill Belichick was not a proponent of trading Garoppolo. He viewed the former second-round pick as the heir-apparent to Tom Brady.
Fast forward a few years, and Garoppolo could potentially be had in a trade. Despite their public stance to the contrary, the 49ers have been looking for an upgrade since the offseason started. Garoppolo, 29, is coming off an injury-plagued 2020 season that saw him miss all but six games to injury. He has failed to morph into that elite-level signal caller San Francisco anticipated when it traded for him back in 2017.
Complicating things further from a 49ers perspective is the fact that Garoppolo is slated to count $26.4 million against the cap in 2021. For a team with 40-plus free agents and in a less-than-stellar cap situation, that doesn’t seem to be sustainable.
The issue here is that San Francisco does not want to restructure or extend Garoppolo’s contract because it would link him to the team financially beyond the 2021 season. Right now, general manager John Lynch and Co. would incur a mere $2.8 million dead cap hit by releasing or trading Garoppolo. That changes moving forward on an extension or restructure.
What does this all mean? If the 49ers can find an upgrade at quarterback, Garoppolo could still very much be available. It’s this delayed process that likely led to New England pulling the trigger on Newton in the first place.
In no way does that mean Garoppolo to New England is off the table. Assuming the Newton contract is structured in a manner I covered above, he’s likely looking at backup money without meeting most of those incentives.
A trade for Garoppolo would cost New England roughly $25 million against the 2021 NFL salary cap. That’s a non-starter. Rather, the veteran quarterback would have to agree to a smallish contract extension — lowering his cap number in the process. It is part of the talks when looking at a hypothetical trade.
The 49ers could still very well be in on Deshaun Watson. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
An Argument can be made that San Francisco’s lack of movement on the quarterback front has a direct correlation with the Deshaun Watson situation in Houston. Despite the Texans’ star having requested a trade, Houston’s brass has refused to even discuss deals with interested teams.
That’s a major backdrop here. Simply put, the timeline between San Francisco and New England to work out a Garoppolo trade just didn’t match. The 49ers are in on Watson. They have already likely prepared a trade offer for Houston.
At issue here is just how drawn-out the process has been between Watson and the Texans. San Francisco is not going to move off Garoppolo without a plan in place behind the scenes. The Texans’ unwillingness to talk about a Watson trade changed the dynamics behind the scenes.
The only way San Francisco would trade Garoppolo is if it quietly had a deal pretty much finalized for Watson or someone like New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold. Neither option has come to fruition as of yet.
Could Jets quarterback Sam Darnold be an option for the 49ers? (Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images)
Suggestions are that San Francisco is also high on the above-mentioned Sam Darnold. He could be brought in either to compete with Garoppolo for the starting job or replace the incumbent altogether.
However, having a quarterback competition between the two during the summer wouldn’t make a ton of sense.
First off, any team acquiring Darnold would have a $25 million decision to make on the final year of his rookie contract in 2022. No one of sound mind is picking up that option right now.
Secondly, adding Darnold to the mix would not sit well with Garoppolo. He’s just over a year removed from leading the 49ers to a shocking Super Bowl appearance. The team’s lack of confidence in him would be magnified under this scenario and might put an end to any restructure conversations.
Rather, the idea would be for Darnold to come in and replace Garoppolo under center. He’s set to count roughly $5 million against the cap in 2021, a number that would help San Francisco navigate through an offseason with a lowered NFL salary cap.
Even then, it’s an open question whether head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch view Darnold as an upgrade over Garoppolo. Objectively, that would be a hard sell. It just not that simple. The finances certainly would play a role in this situation. It’s not a zero-sum game.
With free agency getting going here, there’s going to be some sort of resolution to the Garoppolo situation in San Francisco. It could end up including the 49ers’ brass following through with their public stance that Garoppolo will be the Week 1 starter. It could also include a blockbuster trade for another quarterback. We’re no closer to a resolution simply because New England retained Cam Newton.
This is a long-winded way of concluding that Friday’s news does not move the needle too much for either New England or San Francisco.
The Patriots could still very well trade for Garoppolo while still having the financial assets to upgrade their fledgling roster during free agency.
As for San Francisco, it was not going to pull off a Jimmy Garoppolo trade without having a concrete plan in place behind the scenes. In fact, the 49ers’ pushback here could suggest two things. They are either really sold on Garoppolo returning to form in 2021 or believe a trade for Deshaun Watson could be in the cards.
Editor at Large of Sportsnaut, contributor here at Forbes. Seen on Fox Sports and MSN. Heard on Fox Sports Radio and ESPN Radio. Previous bylines include: Bleacher