Through eight games, it’s already clear the New England Patriots struck gold with their selection of Mac Jones in the 2021 draft.
As things stand, Jones ranks first amongst rookie quarterbacks in completion percentage (68.1%), passing yards (1,997), touchdowns (nine), fewest interceptions (six), passer rating (90.1) and wins (four).
However, the Patriots almost made the mistake of trading for Jimmy Garoppolo on draft night, as ESPN’s Seth Wickersham reported in his new book It’s Better to be Feared about New England’s dynasty.
That report sent shockwaves around the fan base, and rightly so. Imagine if the Pats passed on Jones in favor of a middling, injury-prone QB? For all his success, not even Bill Belichick would’ve been able to live it down.
Incredibly enough, though, there’s another twist to this bizarre tale.
Per NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport, the Patriots didn’t attempt to trade for Garoppolo. In fact, the veteran report asserted that New England’s cap situation made it impossible to absorb his contract.
The Patriots reportedly weren’t eyeing Jimmy Garoppolo prior to the 2021 draft.
It’s impossible to know the truth, but Rapoport is as well-informed as any insider in the industry, so we like to think his intel is accurate, especially if it came down to a matter of cap space and Garoppolo’s contract.
After their free agent spending spree, there’s no way the Patriots would’ve been able to take on Garoppolo’s deal. Coming into the 2021 season, the former second-round pick had two years left on his contract. His combined salaries totaled $48.3 million and his cap hit for the current campaign sits at $26.38 million.
To put New England’s free agent splurge into context, they smashed the previous record of guaranteed money in unrestricted free agency. The previous record was set by the 2020 Dolphins, who spent $147.2 million. The 2021 Patriots, meanwhile, doled out $163 million.
By the time Belichick wrote his last check, which came well before April’s draft, there was no cap space left to strike a blockbuster trade for an overpaid QB.
Having said that, are we supposed to assume that Wickersham’s insight was totally defective? Here’s what he wrote in his book.
"“There was an informal call between a high-level representative of the Patriots and a high-level 49ers official. What was Garoppolo’s price? New England wondered if a second-rounder would suffice—calling it even from 2017. But the 49ers wouldn’t take less than a first.”"
Again, it’s tough to say.
Whether the teams held formal or informal negotiations, it appears the Patriots were never really interested in a Garoppolo reunion.
No sense mulling over which side of the story is true. What matters is that New England’s current quarterback has the team playing .500 football and right in the middle of the playoff conversation in a wide-open AFC.