Now that the NFL's two-day negotiating period has opened, inquiring football minds want to know if the Patriots will consider parting with backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo for the right price.
NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported last week that New England's brass is not comfortable turning the team over to 2016 third-round pick Jacoby Brissett in the event of a serious Tom Brady injury.
The upshot is that coach Bill Belichick views Garoppolo as a valuable piece of the team's nucleus rather than a trade chip used to stockpile draft picks.
Might Belichick reconsider that stance if a desperate general manager makes an offer he can't refuse?
After speaking with a source "somewhat connected to the situation," NFL Network's Mike Garafolo suggested on Tuesday's edition of Free Agency Frenzy that it would take a 2017 first-round pick and perhaps another first-rounder in 2018 to get Belichick's attention.
"Now that is an extremely high price to pay. That is franchise-tag high pricing right there," Garafolo acknowledged. "No one expects that a team is going to be willing to part with that. If it's a first-round pick this year and then a sweetener next year -- maybe not a first-round pick but something else -- could that start things going? Yeah, possibly it could.
"As it stands right now, Garoppolo is expected to be a Patriot for this upcoming season."
If Garoppolo's rookie contract expires after the 2017 season, why isn't Belichick approaching trade scenarios with a greater sense of urgency?
By all accounts, Belichick views Garoppolo as not just a future star, but also the best possible Brady insurance as the Patriots attempt to defend their Super Bowl LI title.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, Garafolo emphasized that the team's decision makers aren't looking at this year as the deadline for a Garoppolo decision.
"They're really looking at next year," Garafolo explained, "because they can always tag Garoppolo next year and then trade him. So it's not like they're looking at it saying, 'We've got to get value for this guy now.'"
Even if Brady is showing no signs of decline and expects to play at a high level for at least the next three to five years, the Patriots understand injuries blindside key players every season. They are perfectly content to holster Garoppolo and revisit quarterback plans once Brady makes it through 2017 unscathed.
While there's an undertow of suspicion among casual observers that Garoppolo is no different than Matt Cassel, Brian Hoyer or Ryan Mallett as a Brady backup due to be exposed as a fraud outside of New England's system, that's simply not the case with the 2014 second-round pick.
Belichick paid his No. 2 quarterback the ultimate compliment last November, insisting the transition is "really seamless" when Garoppolo stands in for Brady during first-team practice drills.
"Certainly we have a good quarterback in Jimmy," Belichick added, "and Jimmy could go out there and run everything that Tom can run. We've seen that."
So what is Garoppolo's value in a vacuum?
"If Jimmy Garoppolo was in this draft right now," NFL Network analyst David Carr recently opined, "he would be the second pick."
In his first career start, Garoppolo went on the road in a nationally televised season opener and mowed down a consensus Super Bowl contender without the services of the NFL's premier tight end. Two quarters into his second career start, Garoppolo was the best player on field before a shoulder injury knocked him out of the game.
New Broncos coach Vance Joseph was Miami's coordinator when Garoppolo picked his defense apart in that Week 2 matchup.
"He was confident. He made good decisions. He made some awesome throws in that football game," Joseph said last week at the scouting combine. "I was really shocked how good he was against us."
Joseph isn't alone in that assessment. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said he was "very impressed" with Garoppolo's poise in the Patriots' season-opening victory at Arizona. The Ringer's Michael Lombardi, a Browns executive when Kyle Shanahan was offensive coordinator in 2013, noted that the 49ers new coach "loved" Garoppolo in Cleveland.
"I've watched this guy practice and play for too many practices. This guy is a good player," Lombardi said on a recent edition of The Ringer NFL Show. "And I'm not shilling for Belichick. ... I'm telling you, he's worth the Patriots to hold onto him. If I was in New England, I'd be telling Belichick every day, 'There's no way we can trade him.'"
Lombardi went on to relay stories of players and coaches walking off the practice field and shaking their heads in disbelief at Garoppolo's ability.
"Ask any player who leaves New England," Lombardi continued. "You can just randomly call a guy. ... They'll all tell you he's great."
Does that check out upon closer inspection?
When wideout Julian Edelman appeared on NFL Total Access last month, he labeled Garoppolo a "stud" with the "gunslinger confidence" reminiscent of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers.
"Jimmy's got a great arm," Hogan said. "He's an athletic kid, and he plays really well. So when he gets his chance in the NFL, I think he'll be real successful."
Armed with the unshakeable belief that Garoppolo has a bright future as a franchise quarterback, the Patriots will have the upper hand in any trade discussions. They want to keep their premium Brady insurance.
If a quarterback-needy team is just as bullish on Garoppolo's future, they will have to offer a package convincing enough to change Belichick's mind.