Could Patriots add enough to help Jimmy Garoppolo with a $180M cap floor?

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Phil Perry
·6 min read
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Perry's hypothetical Pats offseason: Building a supporting cast for Jimmy G. originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Here we go. Time for another offseason exercise.

Let's say the package the Colts gave up for Carson Wentz impacts what the 49ers could realistically expect for Jimmy Garoppolo in a trade.

Though Wentz is coming off a bad season and has a worse contract than Garoppolo -- with significantly more guaranteed money coming his way -- he has at least proven himself to be a top-end quarterback when he was in a good situation in Philadelphia in 2017. Garoppolo's injury history is more significant. He's older. He doesn't quite have the skins on the wall, so to speak, that Wentz does. 

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Factor it all together and the Niners probably have to expect less for Garoppolo than the package the Colts gave up for Wentz. 

Say the price tag for Garoppolo in a trade would be a 2021 third-rounder and a 2022 third-rounder. (Future picks are docked a round in terms of trade value by the NFL, so that haul would be the equivalent of a 2021 third and a 2021 fourth.)

Say the Patriots would be OK making that move for Garoppolo. How would they then try to build around him?

Given that the floor for the 2021 cap has been set at $180 million -- it could rise from there -- that means the Patriots would have at least $63.5 million in cap space. Garoppolo's cap hit if traded looks like it would be about $25 million, which would then leave the Patriots with about $38.5 million to play with. (The Patriots could knock down Garoppolo's cap number once he's on the books, but for the sake of this exercise let's assume he stays on his current deal.)

Now let's get to the theoretical building...

First, let's trim a bit. Trading Stephon Gilmore would result in the Patriots eating about $9 million in dead money, but it'd also save them about $7 million on the cap. (It'd also help them reload in the draft after dealing for Garoppolo.) Releasing Marcus Cannon would give them another $7 million to play with.

Now they have about $52.5 million in space.

The Patriots would need at least one veteran pass-catcher, one would think. Maybe two. And this year's class is loaded with capable weapons. But so too is the draft. So there's a decision to make here: Pay one pass-catcher big money and draft another one or two? Or pay two vets and use a pick elsewhere?

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Paying one is not a bad idea, in theory. There are high-priced talents available like Chris Godwin, Will Fuller, Kenny Golladay and Allen Robinson. But those players might a) get franchised or b) cost twice as much as adding two capable but less-explosive vets. The two-for-the-price-of-one route feels a bit more Belichickian, doesn't it? 

Let's stick with that and see where it leaves the Patriots.

Tennessee's Corey Davis wouldn't be a bad place to start. He's a big body to play outside the numbers, providing a more-than-capable option for the Patriots out there. But he could command a deal that pays him about $13 million or more -- let's say he gets the Alshon Jeffery contract from a few years ago -- giving him a 2021 cap hit of about $11 million. 

Little too much, maybe. 

Instead, maybe the Patriots could get away with paying Curtis Samuel the John Brown contract from a couple of years ago, giving him an average of $9 million per year. The Year 1 cap hit for Brown on that deal was $5.3 million for the Bills. Not bad. 

Add a versatile inside-out threat like Keelan Cole of the Jaguars -- maybe on a one-year $5 million contract so he can hit the market when the cap should jump up in 2022 -- and that's another $5 million gone.

That leaves the Patriots with $42.2 million in space.

Next, let's add veteran tight end Jonnu Smith in free agency in order to buttress the tight end room. Pro Football Focus says he's worth about $9.5 million per year. We're crossing positions, but that's a little more than what Adam Humphries got in free agency from Tennessee. Humphries' cap hit in Year 1 for the Titans was $5 million. If that's all it costs the Patriots in cap space for Smith? They could do much worse.

That leaves the Patriots with about $37 million in space.

Now, let's set aside about $2 million in cap dollars for the Patriots to sign their rookie class.

That leaves the Patriots with $35 million in space.

JC Jackson, a restricted free agent, could pull in about $5 million guaranteed on a first-round tender.

That leaves the Patriots with $30 million in space.

Re-signing David Andrews and Lawrence Guy could cost the Patriots about $9 million in cap space in 2021.

That would leave the Patriots with $21 million in space.

Adding a couple pieces to the defense like edge defender Tarell Basham and cornerback Jason Verrett might cost the Patriots about $8 million more in space.

That could leave them with about $13 million.

Getting a little tight, but still plenty of room. With that money, the Patriots should have the breathing room to fill out their roster -- maybe with a couple of their own free agents like Jason McCourty and James White -- pay their practice squad, and carry additional cap space into the season in order to handle some in-season maneuvers.

OK. Take a breath. Let's recap.

This is all a rough estimate, but it just gives you an idea of how quickly the money can go. In this scenario, the Patriots would have Garoppolo at quarterback with Samuel, Cole, Julian Edelman, Jakobi Meyers and N'Keal Harry at receiver. They'd have Jonnu Smith and last year's rookie duo at tight end. They'd retain some of their key free agents in the trenches in Guy and Andrews. They'd get a bargain on Jackson, who they'd be asking to be their No. 1 corner on the outside. And they'd add a couple of middle-tier free agents to fill out their depth defensively.

Is that enough for the Patriots to contend?

They've clearly upgraded at some key spots here, including linebacker if Dont'a Hightower returns. (His cap hit is factored in.) The question would be this: Might they go after a cheaper quarterback -- through the draft, via free agency (Ryan Fitzpatrick, for example) or trade (Marcus Mariota, for example) -- in order to make the rest of their roster even stronger?