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Are Patriots preparing to trade Jimmy Garoppolo?

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The New England Patriots have designated rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett to return from injured reserve, officially eliminating any remaining chance of a Rob Gronkowski reappearance during the postseason.

Why did Bill Belichick opt to burn his one injury reprieve on Brissett when he already has the luxury of early-season sensation Jimmy Garoppolo behind MVP candidate Tom Brady?

"Nobody needs insurance until you need insurance," Belichick offered in trademark taciturn fashion.

New England is the lone NFL organization boasting a pair of early-round draft picks on the bench for quarterback-insurance purposes. Activating Brissett suggests the team's decision-makers want him to get as much practice as possible in case a Garoppolo trade thrusts him into the backup role next season.

"I think practice helps everybody. That's why we do it," Belichick added, via NESN.com.

"Jacoby got better every day for several months. He didn't miss anything in terms of meetings or preparation. ... He just wasn't able to do much. Now that he's come back, he's working his way back in. You don't just pick up where you left off without having an opportunity to have the timing with all those plays."

Even if the Patriots don't plan to actively shop Garoppolo in March, it stands to reason that they will listen to strong offers. As Gregg Rosenthal recently pointed out in his preview of the 2017 quarterback market, Garoppolo and Tony Romo -- a pair of former Eastern Illinois stars -- will be the most coveted trade candidates for QB-needy franchises such as the Bears, Jets, 49ers and Bills.

The last time Belichick found himself with a similar quarterback largesse, he flipped Matt Cassel to the Chiefs for the draft's No. 34 overall pick back in 2009.

Garoppolo's price tag should be even higher than Cassel's. He has a better draft pedigree, was tutored by a universally respected offensive mind in Josh McDaniels and picked the brain of football's venerated QB technician for three years. Even better, he directed an upset of the Cardinals in the season opener and authored one of the most impressive first-half performances by any quarterback all season in his second career start versus the Dolphins.

Brady is wrapping up the greatest age-39 campaign in NFL history. His pocket movement and deep ball have actually improved over his recent runs at the MVP award. Still passionate about every aspect of the game, he's made no secret of his goal to play into his mid-40s.

Belichick has every reason to believe Brady will spend the next few seasons rewriting expectations for twilight-year quarterbacks, ensuring that the AFC road to the Super Bowl continues to go through New England. If Brissett convinces the coaching staff he's ready for the understudy role, those Garoppolo trade offers are going to be awfully tempting come the start of the new league year in March.

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