Jimmy Garoppolo’s days with the San Francisco 49ers look numbered. He’s lost the starting job for 2022 to Trey Lance, and Garoppolo carries a hefty base salary the Niners can avoid paying if they release him before Week 1.
Ideally, Niners general manager John Lynch would prefer to collect something for Garoppolo in trade. The chances of doing so look strong, particularly following Deshaun Watson’s 11-game suspension has left the Cleveland Browns short of a proven starter.
It may not be that simple though. Not if 49ers owner Jed York is to be believed. He’s offered a new slant on Garoppolo’s future, one that could see the veteran keep his place on the roster.
Garoppolo Rumors Take a New Twist
York sat down recently with Ted Kawakami of The Athletic for an episode of the writer’s podcast, The TK Show. Naturally, the subject of Garoppolo’s future became part of the discussion, and York offered the following response: “I’ve said this before, you can’t have enough good quarterbacks and good football players. I’m not going to get into roster discussions and what John and Kyle want to do. But I will support them in sort of anything that they want to make this team as good as it can possibly be.”
York even compared the idea of keeping Garoppolo and Lance on the roster to a time when the 49ers had two future Hall of Famers vying for snaps: “I watched it with Joe (Montana) and Steve (Young) and I realize the salary cap is different today than having no salary cap. But we’ve said it before: We’re happy to keep Jimmy. We’re happy to have him on the roster. And if that’s the case, then that’s the case.”
The comparison is a lofty one, but there’s no doubt York has thrown a curveball regarding Garoppolo’s status. He’s supposed to be ticketed for pastures new, with the Browns a viable candidate following the NFLPA’s decision to suspend Watson after he faced multiple allegations of sexual harassment, per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero:
Garoppolo was quickly mentioned as a name the Browns could pursue to avoid playing most of the season with longtime backup Jacoby Brissett under center. NBC Sports’ Matt Maiocco has called Garoppolo the Browns’ “only option.”
It’s a sentiment shared by Marla Ridenour of the Akron Beacon Journal. She believes the Browns “cannot afford to leave the offense in the hands” of Brissett.
Ridenour also thinks the Browns need Garoppolo and his proven track as a starter with a 33-14 record to avoid wasting a “prime season for Pro Bowlers (Myles) Garrett, (Nick) Chubb, (Joel) Bitonio, (Denzel) Ward, Jadeveon Clowney and Jack Conklin.”
There’s a strong case for the Brown putting a tempting trade package in front of Lynch sometime during the next few weeks. Yet, there’s an equally compelling case for the 49ers following York’s lead and keeping Garoppolo in the fold, despite the cost.
It Makes Sense to Keep Garoppolo
Of course, the Browns aren’t the only team who may be keen on exploring a deal for a starting quarterback with Super Bowl experience. The New York Jets are also a viable suitor following Zach Wilson’s knee injury, according to Kawakami’s colleague David Lombardi:
Lombardi’s theory is an interesting one because it speaks to the value of having two starter-ready quarterbacks on the depth chart. The Jets, like the Browns, would only pursue a trade if they’re not confident in their current backup, in this case, 37-year-old Joe Flacco.
It’s not a scenario the 49ers would welcome if they dealt Garoppolo only to find out Lance isn’t up to the job. There’s currently no reason to believe the third-overall pick from the 2021 NFL draft will falter, but Lance is a young player still developing as a passer, and one who has started just two games since entering the pros.
Lance will inevitably encounter growing pains as he refines his game for a bigger role. Those pains were obvious during one particularly trying day at training camp, per The Ringer’s Nora Princiotti:
He regularly threw high that day, mostly on passes outside the numbers, but one low point was an especially high throw over the middle intended for Brandon Aiyuk. The receiver was hit hard in the air by safety Jimmie Ward and landed badly on the ground. Aiyuk walked it off, but it was another incompletion for Lance, and the textbook definition of a hospital ball. On the following play, Lance’s pass, intended for tight end Tyler Kroft, was intercepted by linebacker Fred Warner.
As an insurance policy against Lance struggling to make the grade once the action is real, Garoppolo would be better than most. He led the 49ers to Super Bowl LIV following the 2019 season and took his team to another NFC Championship Game last term.
There’s no problem with Garoppolo’s track record. Nor with his career completion rate of 67.7 percent, per StatMuse.
Garoppolo’s efficiency helped transform the 49ers during the second half of last season, when Pro Football Reference ranked him among the league’s most productive passers:
The 30-year-old doesn’t have access to a playbook while he’s in limbo with the 49ers, but there wouldn’t be much catch-up time for somebody who’s been the starter since 2018.
There is really only one compelling reason for ditching Garoppolo. It concerns his $24.2 million base salary that’s guaranteed if he isn’t moved on before the regular season’s first week, according to Joel Corry of CBS Sports.
That’s a cost worth absorbing if it means safeguarding football’s most important position. The 49ers are a legitimate Super Bowl contender everywhere else on the roster, but poor quarterback play would derail those title ambitions.