Now that the buzz surrounding the Browns trading Baker Mayfield to the Panthers is settling, the spotlight shifts to Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers.
Many are waiting for the other shoe to drop because San Francisco has hinted they will be moving forward with the 2021 No. 3 overall pick Trey Lance. The North Dakota State product performed adequately in limited action last season, while mostly serving as a backup to Garoppolo, logging a second-ranked average depth of target and a 16th-ranked NFL Passer Rating while showing significant upside.
Keeping Garoppolo is not ideal from a salary cap perspective, and it is clear that the 49ers want to move on from the oft-injured quarterback’s $26.85M cap hit in 2022 to free up cap space for significant extensions with Nick Bosa and Deebo Samuel. At this point, they likely need to look elsewhere to cut spending.
To me, Lance has not yet proven that he is a 17-game starter who can perform well consistently. Garoppolo, on the other hand, brought the 49ers to an NFC Championship Game two of the past three seasons and punched their ticket to Super Bowl LIV.
With Garoppolo as their starter they have won 31 of 45 games, reaching a 68.8-win percentage. The only quarterbacks with a higher rate since 2018 are Patrick Mahomes, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Lamar Jackson. Though he may flash the ‘win because of’ ability of those aforementioned five players, Garoppolo has demonstrated high-level individual play at times.
In 2019, he ranked in the top five in yards per attempt, adjusted completion percentage, and passing touchdowns. He also led the league in fourth-quarter comebacks that season. In 2021, Garoppolo missed two games and still passed for 3,806 yards and 20 touchdowns.Furthermore, Garoppolo gained the most yards per pass attempt and completed pass attempts at the second-highest rate on play-action passes among quarterbacks with at least 100 play-action drop backs.
In light of the Panthers’ trade, in which they sent a fifth-round pick that only becomes a fourth-round pick if Mayfield plays at least 70% of the Panthers’ snaps, the 49ers are unlikely to receive a deal they cannot refuse. To make matters worse, Garoppolo’s recent shoulder surgery complicates an already suboptimal situation regarding his durability, as he played in just over half of his possible 80 games with San Francisco. The Athletic reported on July 12th that Garoppolo has been throwing for “two to three weeks,” which may be beneficial for his value if he is ready at some point during training camp.
There are logical trade candidates, though. At this point, the Texans, Giants, Buccaneers, and even the division rival Seahawks appear to be the most sensible. While Garoppolo would not bring in anything close to the Deshaun Watson haul, teams may be willing to pay more for him than the Panthers did for Baker Mayfield due to his proven record of winning.
One potential option is the Seahawks, who are amidst a quarterback battle between Drew Lock and Geno Smith. Bringing on Garoppolo would settle that uncertainty. One proposal that makes sense for both sides would be for Seattle to ship off a 2024 or 2025 third-round pick conditioned on Garoppolo playing at least eight games in 2022. The Seahawks and 49ers could work out a similar arrangement as the Browns and Panthers did, though that could be counterproductive for their precarious cap situation.
Instead, the Seahawks could extend Garoppolo’s contract beyond 2022 and convert his base salary of $24.2M into a signing bonus, which would be prorated over the length of the extension, therefore softening Garoppolo’s cap hit. This is a standard cap maneuver, and the most basic form of restructuring an expiring contract is called a maximum restructure.
Teams may be hesitant to restructure Garoppolo’s deal, however, because converting his base salary into a bonus to be prorated over the length of an extension would mean that his once unprotected cash flow becomes 100% guaranteed.
On top of that, this would send Garoppolo to a division rival, and the 49ers would have to face him twice a year. Not to mention, Garoppolo would have to agree to terms with the club before that kind of restructuring can take hold. Alternatively to combat this, teams may add void years to Garoppolo’s contract. Void years do not extend the contract but simply create placeholders for a prorated bonus. This often results in teams taking on dead money for players that are no longer on the roster.
Similarly, the Texans could trade for Garoppolo if they feel unsure about Davis Mills and whether he can be the starting quarterback for their football team. Mills showed promise last year and was debatably the second-best rookie quarterback last year behind Mac Jones. Still, a conditional pick could sway the 49ers to send Garoppolo out of the division while also slicing into his lofty cap hit.
The 49ers need to keep their young stars, such as Bosa and Samuel, but pursuing the trade avenue is not likely to garner more than a conditional third-or second-round pick. The Texans are not a team that is just a serviceable quarterback away from playoff contention, either. They may throw sheets to the winds and see what they have in Mills before surrendering draft capital and restructuring a veteran quarterback’s contract.
New York Giants
The Giants strike me as another team that could, or should, pursue Garoppolo. The team did not pick up current starter Daniel Jones’ fifth-year option, and he is set to hit the open market next March. Bringing in Garoppolo would make sense in a way because they do not seem to have a contingency plan. And as such the mid-round conditional pick cost for Garoppolo might be worthwhile.
The Giants have a variety of receiving weapons and one of the most talented running backs in the league.They also recently added Kayvon Thibodeaux to a young and budding defense. Garoppolo may fit their competitive timeline more comfortably as the Giants wade through a weak NFC East. If the Giants feel that bringing in a veteran bridge quarterback such as Garoppolo to shepherd a future draft pick into his starting role is worthwhile, they may try to pounce at the opportunity to acquire Garoppolo a year early.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Lastly, the Buccaneers are a contending team who could use a player like Garoppolo to be a successor to Hall of Famer Tom Brady. It would be interesting to see Garoppolo rejoin Brady in Tampa Bay, as Garoppolo was once thought of as a potential heir apparent in New England. Nonetheless, Brady is not getting any younger, and after he retired shortly in February it is not unrealistic to think that this could be his last year in the NFL.
Trading a mid-round pick for Garoppolo could ease the transition between Brady and the Buccaneers’ next era. Garoppolo would likely welcome the opportunity to extend his contract with a contender such as the Bucs as well, alleviating any potentially tumultuous restructuring negotiations.
In the Mayfield trade, the Panthers are only absorbing $4.5M of Mayfield’s $18.85M next season, leaving the Browns with ~$14.45M counting against the cap next season. At some point, you have to wonder whether keeping another viable quarterback on your roster is worth the price tag considering the meager value players such as Garoppolo and Mayfield command in the trade market. Many teams who do not feel that acquiring Garoppolo is urgent could cleverly wait and see if the 49ers cut him.
It would be a risky move for the 49ers to move Garoppolo, leaving Lance as their Plan A and Plan B. Although, it surely is a vote of confidence for the sophomore signal-caller. In my opinion it is too much to gamble to make at the game’s most crucial position for a contending team. There are options elsewhere, such as restructuring Trent Williams’s or Arik Armstead’s contract, if San Francisco must pry open some cap room in 2023.
The NFC West became less competitive the day the Seattle Seahawks dealt Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos, and the 49ers can capitalize. Kyler Murray’s situation in Arizona is ambiguous, and the Los Angeles Rams cannot dodge the consequences of their “win-now” strategy forever. On a team that ran the 8th-most play-action passing plays, it would be ill-advised to dispense of a quarterback who gels with the team’s offensive scheme and structure. Keeping Garoppolo despite his price tag could benefit the 49ers more than a potential trade would.