Will he stay or will he go? That’s the biggest question in Jimmy Garoppolo’s life these days. After acquitting himself well in 1.5 games this past September, there isn’t a quarterback-hungry franchise that hasn’t been associated with rumored trade for Jimmy G.

A trade might be the perfect solution for Garoppolo and any team that acquired him. Jimmy G. can’t be happy sitting behind the ageless Tom Brady, and he must be itching to start after three years mostly on the bench. And the other team wouldn’t need to watch college tape to project how Garoppolo fits in their system; they have NFL film to look at.

Unfortunately for Garoppolo, he isn’t a free agent; he’s still under contract to the Patriots. And what is best for him and the other team won’t happen unless it’s also best for the Pats. And what’s best for the Patriots depends on a lot of factors.

The Background

Garoppolo’s potential destinations seem endless. The pathetic Browns, rebuilding 49ers, perennially quarterback-less Bears, Brock-hating Texans, Manning-mourning Broncos, and both division rivals from New York (the Bills and Jets) are all in play. In a 32-team league, it sometimes seems like 33 teams want Garoppolo.

But not all suitors are created equal. SanFran might make a run at Kirk Cousins, despite a hefty price if Washington places the franchise tag on him. Houston can’t let Brock Osweiler go for another year without clobbering their salary cap, so they are probably out of the running. And the Broncos… well, the Patriots are unlikely to trade Garoppolo to such a strong rival.

But the Browns, 49ers, Bears, Jets, and Bills all have the draft capital to pull off a trade. In order, they pick first, second, third, sixth, and tenth in the first round of this year’s draft. And don’t count out the two AFC East teams. The Patriots traded Drew Bledsoe to the Bills in 2002, so they do not fear dealing players within the division.

The Mainstream Media’s Take

If the pundits are to be believed, none of those single first-round picks would be enough to pry Garoppolo from the Patriots grasp. Local Boston hosts Michael Felger and Tony Massarotti nicely exemplify the opposite ends of the spectrum. Felger thinks that Patriots surrogates like Mike Lombardi are pumping up Jimmy G’s value so the Patriots can try to get multiple picks in return. Massarotti claims he wouldn’t trade Garoppolo for anything, preferring to keep him as an insurance policy against Brady injury or decline.

In between, there are those who think the Pats will wait for a desperate team to empty their draft vault for the backup QB. Others propose the Patriots keep Garoppolo through the 2017 season, franchise him in 2018 and trade him, much like Matt Cassel in 2009. And one or two think the Patriots should keep Garoppolo around to take over when (not if, when) Brady wins his sixth ring next February and retires.

The Pats could wait around for a blockbuster offer; this is a weak quarterback draft, after all. However, they can’t depend on winning Super Bowl LII (nor that Brady would retire if they won). And they can’t really franchise Garoppolo in 2018 to facilitate a trade. Cassell was franchised for less than $15 million next year’s projected franchise tag would be north of $23 million, making him much more difficult to move.

The Forgotten Man

Absent from almost every trade scenario you hear is one extremely important bit of context. The question of what the Pats do with Garoppolo and Brady depends very little on either player. It depends on someone else: third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett.

If the Patriots believe in Brissett, who played 2.5 games of his own last fall, then almost all the trade scenarios listed come into play. If they don’t, then there is no way they would trade Garoppolo and leave themselves without an able backup quarterback.

What They Should Do

Forget what the fans want, what the media thinks might happen, and even what the Patriots want to do. Here is what the Pats should do.

If they don’t trust Brissett, then develop him for another year and keep Garoppolo around for one more season. Assess the situation at the end of 2017. If it’s another QB-weak draft, franchise Garoppolo and trade him. If not, let him walk and take the compensatory pick (a third-rounder, I believe).

However, if they trust Brissett to backup Brady, then trade Garoppolo this off-season. Jimmy G. will never have more value on the trade market than this year.

Teams will offer more because 2017 is the last year of his rookie contract, so he’s getting paid peanuts. And that gives them a year to evaluate how he plays in their system and work on a long-term deal. After that, the team would still have two franchise tag years to do something long-term. And if he washes out after a year, you let him go and you get the compensatory pick instead.

Garoppolo loses value every year, because the risk of trading for him increases as his salary does. The Patriots can likely get a first round pick for him this year. It might not be one of those top-ten picks listed earlier; but Cleveland has another pick at #12. If the Pats can get that pick, they should take it.

Because unless Brady gets injured and Jimmy G. dazzles everyone in his stead, they will be lucky to get a third-rounder the following year under a franchise designation. It’s just too much money to take the financial risk; so the pick would be much lower.