It’s certainly a strange time for the New England Patriots. This time a year ago, they were on the doorstep of winning the sixth Super Bowl title in franchise history and further cementing the legacy of quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick. Now, less than 365 days later, the Pats are on the outside looking in of the Super Bowl for the first time in four years and Tom Brady is about to hit unrestricted free agency for the first time in his two-decade career and appears ready to walk away from the team if the right offer comes across the table

The kicker in all of this is not only is that all going on with New England, but when they do sit down to watch Super Bowl LIV down in Miami, they’ll see former Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo leading the 49ers on their Lombardi bid. 

Given the uncertainty at quarterback with the Patriots going into the new decade and the fact that Jimmy Garoppolo is the man under center for San Francisco in its latest Super Bowl run, it seems only fitting to check in on that infamous trade from 2017. 

The deal

New England made the rather shocking move to trade Garoppolo to the 49ers on Oct. 31, 2017. The Pats received a 2018 second-round pick (No. 43 overall) in exchange for Garoppolo. At the time, the haul for the young, possible franchise quarterback didn’t seem to be too substantial for the Patriots by any means and is still criticized to this day. Yes, Garoppolo was about to enter free agency, but it was rather curious that Belichick didn’t try to spark more of a bidding war between San Francisco and the Cleveland Browns, who were without Baker Mayfield at the time and reportedly very interested in Garoppolo’s services. 

Nevertheless, the Patriots didn’t even end up selecting a player at that No. 43 spot at the 2018 NFL Draft. Instead — in typical Belichick-ian fashion — they traded down and thus started to used that pick to create even more capital, which was tracked by The Athletic’s Jeff Howe.  

So, either directly or indirectly, this is how the Jimmy G trade ultimately shakes out for both sides: 

49ers receive: QB Jimmy Garoppolo 
Patriots receive: CB Duke Dawson, LB Christian Sam, CB Joejuan Williams, RB Damien Harris, OT Yodny Cajuste, QB Jarrett Stidham, DT Byron Cowart and a 2020 fourth-round pick. 

As it relates to the Patriots’ return, Sam and Dawson have already been cut by the club and the rest of this group is rather unproven as they either played sparingly in 2019 or didn’t play at all. If Stidham does end up becoming the franchise quarterback that the Patriots undoubtedly hope, then this collection is a bit more palatable.

Why this was a win for the 49ers 

I mean, this part is pretty obvious, right? San Francisco got its franchise quarterback, handed him a five-year contract worth up to $137.5 million, and is now knocking on the door of a Super Bowl title. It’s kind of the dream scenario if we’re being honest. And it was all part of a larger plan — outlined in depth by Patrik Walker. 

Of course, Garoppolo did miss the bulk of last season because of a torn ACL and has shown some inconsistencies as a starter in 2019, but has largely performed well. The 49ers didn’t need him in this NFC Championship Game win as he threw just eight passes, but he did complete nearly 70% of his throws during the regular season for 3,978 yards, 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Not too shabby for a QB coming off a torn ACL. 

The fact that they only needed to give up a second-round pick to stabilize the most important position in the sport makes this a slam dunk trade for the Niners (you’re welcome for not using a “struck gold” pun). 

Why this was a win for the Patriots

This is where folks might scratch their heads, but I would argue that has more to do with recency bias than anything else. 

With Garoppolo on the doorstep of free agency that offseason, and with the Patriots on the verge of losing their former second-round pick for nothing, they had to make a deal. Now, you can argue that the return wasn’t nearly enough for a player of Garoppolo’s caliber, but there was no way that Robert Kraft was going to franchise tag him for $23 million to sit on the bench behind Tom Brady. 

New England also couldn’t do the more drastic move of parting ways with Brady because he was playing at an elite level. Not only was he hot off the heels of a Super Bowl LI MVP performance that featured a 25-point comeback over the Falcons, but he was also in the midst of an NFL MVP season in 2017. A move of that nature would have been earth-shattering, to say the least. 

So, while the return hasn’t been as fruitful as the Patriots would have liked to this point, you do have to factor in that they were able to reach two Super Bowls with Brady following Garoppolo’s departure. They were able to beat the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII to give not only the franchise its sixth title but also Brady’s, which made him the only player in NFL history with six Super Bowl titles to his name. 

There’s no doubt that the Patriots would have loved to have been able to keep Garoppolo to slide in as Brady’s successor whenever he decides to walk away, but the pieces simply couldn’t fall into place at the right time. Sure, it may sting a bit more for those in New England if Garoppolo goes on to be a perennial Super Bowl winner with San Francisco, but, when you consider all the factors that surrounded the Patriots at the time of the deal, they had to choose Brady over the unproven Garoppolo.