The New England Patriots won their first game of the season, beating the Arizona Cardinals without a suspended Tom Brady and with a solid effort from 24-year-old Jimmy Garoppolo.
It now looks like the Patriots have two good quarterback options, and this is a problem.
On the one hand, it is a good problem for the Patriots for their immediate future. But that good problem is going to very quickly turn into a headache when the Patriots have to decide between Brady and Garoppolo and that decision is coming much sooner than most realise.
If the Patriots want to keep Garoppolo, the 2017 season could be Brady’s last in New England.
On the surface, it is easy to say the Pats have their quarterback situation set for the next 10-15 years. Just keep playing Brady for now and when he finally decides to retire, the Pats can then just slot Garoppolo in as the starter.
But there is a problem with that: Garoppolo is a free agent after the 2017 season.
Unless Garoppolo completely falls apart in the next three games, he has already shown enough that he can be, at the very least, a decent NFL starting quarterback. On top of that, when he hits free agency he will have had four years of tutelage under Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
That is a pretty good CV.
Somebody is going to offer Garoppolo a monster contract. Just look at the deal Brock Osweiler struck with the Houston Texans under similar circumstances: 4 years, $72 million.
Meanwhile, Brady is seemingly nowhere near retiring. He is signed through the 2019 season and at different times he has said he wants to play until he is 45 (through the 2022 season) and that he wants to play ten more seasons (through the 2025 season).
So the Patriots are going to have to make a decision after the 2017 season. Do they want to keep rolling with Brady and keep gambling against Father Time? Or do they cut ties with Brady earlier than they may like and make Garoppolo their starting quarterback for the next decade?
In theory, the Patriots could sign Garoppolo to a long-term deal and keep Brady. But it is hard to pay two starting QBs under the salary cap (possibly $30-32 million per year for both), even if one is offering a discount. And that also presumes that Garoppolo is willing to remain a backup while another team is offering a huge contract and a starting job.
That scenario seems unlikely.
The other option is the Matt Cassel plan. After Cassel performed well filling in for an injured Brady in 2008, Cassel was a pending free agent. At the time, the Patriots gave Cassel the franchise tag, and then traded him to the Kansas City Chiefs for an early second-round pick.
That scenario could land the Patriots a good draft pick or two for Garoppolo, possibly even a first rounder. But it still means their quarterback situation is not as set long-term as many people seem to think today.
For now, the Patriots have a good quarterback problem. But they can’t keep both indefinitely and at some point in the next 18 months, the Patriots are going to have to decide if Brady will still be their quarterback in 2018.