Jimmy Garoppolo will be out of San Francisco within the next 11 months. Come February 2022, if not sooner, he is gone.
The 49ers' recent massive trade to move to the third overall spot to take a quarterback basically cements that (barring major injury to the QB they draft, or the 49ers winning a Super Bowl with Jimmy G this year). We know that much. Everything else in this Jimmy G saga, however, remains in flux. It's open to interpretation. This is not quite the usual situation when a team makes a bold move to go grab one of the top quarterbacks in the draft. There doesn't have to be an immediate reaction. There isn't, frankly, a reflexive knee-jerk reaction in this instance.
San Francisco will trade him … but the team doesn't have to do anything for a while. They can afford the salary – $25M – which is hardly unwieldly for a winning QB in this league. They don't need to slash him for cap space. His trade value – coming off yet another significant injury – isn't exactly at its peak. And, especially if they select one of the less-seasoned college quarterbacks, the case for them redshirting him for his rookie year in the Bay given the win-now composition of this roster is actually quite strong.
That doesn't mean I am entirely buying what coach Kyle Shanahan is selling. It's not in his best interest to be brutally honest, and when I reported back in November the organization was dead-set on seeking potential QB upgrades, I didn't expect him to confirm it. Of course they poo-pooed the notion and talked up Jimmy G. And as much as I do believe that the 49ers are being at least quasi- truthful when they talk about the prospect of Garoppolo still being their guy for 2021, I also have been around this league more than long enough to know if someone offers them what they think he is worth, then all plans are off and they'll try to win with that rookie, ASAP (Sam Bradford in Philly, with Carson Wentz rushed into service, anyone?). I also am skeptical they will get the kind of value they covet.
So there could any number of plot twists ahead. But let's take a step back and look at it from the player's perspective. What would be best for his development and production, both short and long term? Could the landscape for a potential landing spot in 2022 be far more robust than it is currently, with most teams' budgets already set by now and spending already done, a flurry of QB trades just completed and five kid passers at least about to be selected in the first round of the draft this month?
If you were advising Garoppolo, what would you suggest?
I can assure you this much – based on many of the factors at play, of which we will delve into, don't expect to hear any trade demands coming from him. I'd be pretty surprised if things went that way. The number of current potential suitors is not that deep; the number of truly coveted potential destinations is even shorter. And while Garoppolo has deep ties to the Patriots organization where he was drafted, and to Houston via their general manager Nick Caserio, who was in personnel in New England when he was drafted, the Texans are a total mess right now in pretty much every way possible, and it's not like everything was totally hunky-dory when Jimmy G was with the Patriots – the potential Lou Gehrig to Tom Brady's Wally Pipp.
So let's keep that in mind. There isn't anywhere he would be begging and pleading to get to, and the roster in San Francisco is stout. And while his win-loss record is suspect, Kyle Shanahan is one of the brightest minds in football, a master play-designer and play caller, and this combo of QB and coach was just in the Super Bowl (with a second half lead!) just a few years ago. One could make the case that the best thing possible for Jimmy G would be to have another year like that, hit the trade market in 2022 – when the cap will expand and there won't be nearly as many QBs available for trade – and be in better position to call his shot (and perhaps even get a revised contract, too – or at least one with new incentives).
One could certainly concoct far worse scenarios for a young, veteran, lame-duck starting quarterback to be in. It worked out pretty darn well for Alex Smith his final year in Kansas City as a placeholder for Patrick Mahomes (with a trade to Washington and a big payday to boot). Of course, Smith was older at the time and had played far more football to that point, when you factor in the years Jimmy G spent sitting on the bench in New England plus all the games he has missed due to injury in San Francisco. Smith was entering his age 34 season when the Chiefs sent him to Washington, with 151 starts under his belt; Garoppolo is entering his age 30 season with just 32 starts – the equivalent of two seasons – to his name.
Jimmy G needs to play, and playing somewhere he is viewed as the long-term solution would be ideal, though it's not imperative right now. Especially after teams that very well could use a new QB a year from now – like New Orleans, coached by mastermind Sean Payton, a fellow Eastern Illinois QB alum, or Chicago, Garoppolo's hometown team – already have stopgap QBs for 2021 on one-year deals, but very well could be looking to upgrade come 2022. Among teams with recent success, the Steelers, Eagles and Washington (it's a division title, even if it's the NFC East) could also very well be in that market next year, along with the aforementioned Patriots and Texans.
I'd keep this in mind as well -- even if Shanahan ends up going with a polished and potentially game-ready QB with the third-overall pick, like Alabama's Mac Jones, the rush to play him might not run deep. For all of the accolades, Shanahan has churned through a ton of quarterbacks and his record as a head coach with Garoppolo is 17-8; without him it is 12-27, Hue Jackson territory, almost beyond comprehension.
Don't think that is lost on him, or his staff. Outside of that Super Bowl run, it's been bad ball. Yes, in part due to some bad breaks and some horrible injury luck, but last time I checked ProfootballReference.com it shows W, L, T, and not how many awesome plays you called and how many guys were on IR. This is a results-based business, and the 49ers are comporting themselves and messaging themselves as a Lombardi contender, so I suspect Jimmy G wouldn't have to be looking over his shoulder ASAP no matter whom is selected with that third pick.
Then factor in that this offseason will very likely be compromised at least some degree from a teaching and practicing standpoint, with the pandemic still ongoing, and more virtual work likely in store. And the case for sticking with what you know and staying in San Fran for another year may resonate even more loudly. Think about how many free agents opted to return to their teams despite testing the open market, very many on one year, "prove-it" deals, tantamount to Garoppolo's contract situation, given that all the guarantees have been paid out and it's simply pay-as-you-go from here with no bonuses of lump payments.
So one more year of a marriage of convenience shouldn't shock anyone. Nor should the 49ers dealing him if the marketplace and demand changes significantly. If Jimmy G's last season in San Francisco mirrors Smith's in Kansas City, then it's a win-win. And either way, Shanahan's perpetual search for his forever QB continues.