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Jimmy Garoppolo trade talk is hardly over for Patriots
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INDIANAPOLIS – There’s no place quite like the NFL’s scouting combine when it comes to setting the market and striking deals inside pro football’s universe.

Every general manager, coach, scouting director, agent – pretty much everybody who’s anybody in the personnel sphere – has converged here for the league’s annual meat market. There are deals to be had.

Yet as the combine opened on Wednesday, the most significant buzz was generated about a player theoretically not on the market: Jimmy Garoppolo.

According to an ESPN report, fueled by a team source, the New England Patriots are not expected to trade Tom Brady’s backup after the market opens on March 9.

In quarterback-starved places like Cleveland and Chicago, this might be viewed as a bummer.

But don’t believe the hype.

The Patriots might not expect to trade Garoppolo, but Bill Belichick surely reserves the right to change his mind. All of this chatter about Garoppolo? That’s a good thing for the New England coach. It raises the perceived price tag, which you would think already would include at least one first-round pick.

Sure, there’s a reason to keep him in the fold. Garoppolo, the Patriots’ second-round pick in 2014, is in line to be Brady’s successor. Until he isn’t.

Brady, 39, has said he feels good enough physically to play until he’s in his mid-40s, which means Garoppolo might be pushing 30 if he ever takes over the reins in Foxborough.

Shoot, by then Garoppolo’s rust might be the big issue. Of course, even as healthy as Brady has been over the course of his 17 years in the NFL, you can never really predict anything when it comes to the longevity of bodies in the NFL. It’s football. You never know.

I’m guessing, though, that it won’t come down to the Patriots ultimately weighing Brady’s timeline against a future with Garoppolo. The Patriots are operating on this Garoppolo front as if it’s business as usual because apparently they don’t have a trade proposal in their hands to consider.

In other words, there’s no need to waste time on the matter until someone makes an offer.

Which is why the latest word on the Patriots’ intentions – echoing an ESPN report earlier this month that maintained the team viewed Garoppolo as the heir at quarterback – might have also been interpreted like a memo directed at the Browns or Bears any anyone else looking for a quarterback.

Make us an offer we can’t refuse.

Someone asked Browns general manager Sashi Brown about Garoppolo on Wednesday. Brown chuckled because he knew he wasn’t going there.

“It would be against the rules, anyway,” Brown added.

Cleveland has two first-round picks, including the No. 1 overall, and a crying need at quarterback. With two picks in the second and third rounds, too, no team is better equipped to create a package of picks for a trade like the Browns. If they can stomach the inherit risks, it could be sensible. Even with Garoppolo’s limited playing time as Brady’s understudy, he’s so much further along in his development than any quarterback – including Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky – the Browns could possibly land in the draft.

It’s difficult to project the long-term impact of quarterbacks, when that coincides with variables like the supporting cast and coaching. Yet an emerging theme about this year’s quarterback crop coming from team personnel experts is that it doesn’t include any ready-made starters.

Last year, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz went 1-2 at the top of the draft and both started as rookies, although it took Goff a few weeks longer to crack the starting lineup. Then again, fourth-round pick Dak Prescott had more success than any other rookie quarterback. And back in 2000, Brady was a sixth-rounder.

But at least in comparing Garoppolo to any quarterback in the draft, he’s had tutelage under Brady and Belichick.

He also carries some risk, given his limited game action (94 career passes) in three seasons. And for all of Brady’s durability, Garoppolo couldn’t finish two starts after filling in during the Deflategate suspension, suffering a shoulder injury in Week 2 as he was driven into the turf by a Miami Dolphins linebacker.

But Belichick knows. If the Patriots don’t deal Garoppolo this year, they will lose a significant amount of control next year, when he’s set to become a free agent. If Brady stays healthy and Garoppolo stays, the Patriots could see him walk … while getting only a compensatory draft pick in return.

If they deal him this year – and conditions are ripe for talks to heat up during the combine – they can do so much better than a compensatory pick.

The Patriots might not be shopping Garoppolo, but they’ll listen. That’s good football business, which Belichick has done better than anyone. If a desirable offer comes, he’ll certainly adjust his thinking, just like he’d adjust the energy needed to further develop Jacoby Brissett, now the No. 3 quarterback.

Just know the window for trading Garoppolo won’t truly be closed. In fact, that window is seemingly just really opening and could remain that way for several weeks, until the NFL draft.

No way we’ve heard the end of Garoppolo trade talk.

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