The New England Patriots made it known a year ago that backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was available on the trade market and that their asking price was a first-round draft pick and a fourth-round pick.
Garoppolo, just 25 years old at the time, was an attractive commodity on that market. He had schooled behind Tom Brady for three seasons, played well before getting hurt when Brady was suspended, and everyone around the league knew Bill Belichick thought Garoppolo could be a star in the league.
Plus, the upcoming 2017 NFL draft had some decent quarterback prospects – three would eventually be taken in the first round – but none who could step in and play right away, and possibly no one with the same upside as Garoppolo.
All of that for a first-rounder and a fourth, and the Patriots couldn’t find a partner before the draft, during it, or all through the summer and into training camp. Finally, on Oct. 30, the Patriots sent Garoppolo to San Francisco in exchange for a second-round draft pick.
We’ll leave aside whatever palace intrigue in Foxborough led to the trade and the theory that Tom Brady somehow manipulated the move. The fact is that Garoppolo was going to come off his rookie contract soon, the Pats didn’t see their starter preparing to retire, and the market dictated the deal they had to take.
The story of Jimmy Garoppolo is instructive to anyone in Philadelphia who would like to sanely assess the trade value of Nicholas Edward Foles, a 29-year-old backup quarterback who did just happen to be named Most Valuable Player of the Super Bowl.
There’s no question that those two things – “backup” and “Super Bowl MVP” – don’t go together, and, when they do, it usually indicates that one or the other is either faulty or a fluke. If what Nick Foles did in the postseason wasn’t a fluke, then he’s not really a backup. If Foles is a backup, then he’d be hard-pressed to replicate his heroics. Probably one or the other.
The rest of the league is certainly studying this conundrum, because Super Bowl MVP quarterbacks are a nice thing to have, and Foles, who will be a free agent in a year, figures to be on the trade market immediately for the right price.
Here is where things have gone slightly off the rails in Philadelphia, pushed by various hot-takers and the likes of former NFL general manager Bill Polian, who said the Eagles should start the bidding at two first-round picks and two second-round picks.
Even if Foles didn’t have a career track record that was hit and miss, even if his performance in the NFL had described a steady upward arc leading to U.S. Bank Stadium, even if all that were true, it is very unlikely the Eagles could get a single first-round pick for him, let alone two and a couple of other nice picks to boot. It’s ludricrous.
In this case, Foles is heading into a contract year, and he will be unrestricted when it is over, and the upcoming NFL draft will contain four or five first-round quarterback prospects, including three who might go among the top five picks.
The Eagles are, therefore, not in much of a leverage position, and they might not be inclined to trade him, anyway. Foles has proved capable in Doug Pederson’s system of leading the team when Carson Wentz isn’t available. He might well be needed in that capacity next season, should Wentz need extra rehabilitation time or should some other misfortune befall the young starter.
It is true that the Eagles covet draft picks and are a quart low on them in the April draft. It also true that every other NFL organization covets its draft picks and are chary of giving them up. Young players are cheap players, and the way the salary cap is constructed, teams need to have good, cheap players for balance. In the old days, when seat-of-the-pants football men and not analytics experts put together the rosters, draft picks were tossed around like dinner mints. That’s not how it goes these days.
Going back to 1970, 31 quarterbacks have been moved in deals that included at least one first-round draft pick. Seventeen of those trades took place in the 1970s and 1980s, nine in the 1990s, and just five since 2000. That is only counting trades for an actual NFL player, not trades for a draft pick to select a player.
That diminishing trend is no coincidence. Smart teams guard their picks jealously. The days are over when a team might give up three first-round picks and a second-round pick for a quarterback – which the San Francisco 49ers did in 1976 to get Jim Plunkett from the Patriots. (Plunkett was 11-15 in two seasons with the Niners and was released. He went on to win two Super Bowls with the Raiders, who got him for a phone call.)
The gaudiest recent trade came in 2009, when the Bears gave up two first-round picks, a third-round pick, and Kyle Orton to get Jay Cutler from the Broncos. Was it a good trade? The Bears got a starter for eight years; he played 102 games; and the Bears went 51-51 in those games. You decide.
The logical conclusion is that the Eagles are not going to get an offer for Foles that will knock them over. A team could dangle a second-round pick, perhaps, and, depending on how the team feels about Nate Sudfeld, maybe they would bite.
It comes down to value and need, and the other 31 teams would all rate things differently. What we learned in the last month is that the value of Nick Foles to the Eagles shouldn’t be judged by what he can get them, but by where, in a pinch, he can take them.