With the NFL finalizing the 2021 team salary cap at $182.5 million on Wednesday, the San Francisco 49ers, thanks to some rollover and additional adjustments, will head into the new season with a cap ceiling of $195.7 million.
Taking up the largest chunk of that allotment is none other than quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo at approximately 13.5% of the total cap. Having long been the subject of speculation, the decision to move on from the 29-year-old signal caller could nearly double the Niners’ available cap space from $25.2 million to $48.8 million, according to Spotrac.
Even with general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan showing some early verbal commitment to Garoppolo in February, rumors continue to swirl around the seventh-year veteran and potential alternatives who could be had around the league.
One of those options, New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold, gained another endorsement from an NFL insider this week.
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49ers a ‘Fascinating’ Team to Watch for Darnold
In his latest Monday Morning Quarterback column, Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer shared that “eight teams have called the Jets about Darnold with varying levels of interest.” Among the group is San Francisco, though it remains unknown if the John Lynch’s club is doing anything more than their due diligence.
Still, Breer seems pretty bullish about the potential fit between the 49ers and the 2018 third overall pick:
As for teams to watch, three in particular are interesting to me: Chicago, San Francisco and Washington. Two of the three, Chicago and Washington, were playoff teams in 2020, aren’t in striking distance to draft one of the top guys and may not think developing a rookie, given where they’re at, is the best play. San Francisco would be even more fascinating. Darnold’s a strong fit for Kyle Shanahan’s offense, and trading for him would make the Niners six years younger, and $20 million cheaper at the position in 2020. The Niners like Jimmy Garoppolo, as we’ve said here, and won’t move off him without a clear upgrade. Could Darnold be that?
Breer’s former colleague Peter King, now of NBC Sports, also called San Francisco his “personal favorite” landing spot for Darnold in his Football Morning in America column on Monday. In terms of the asking price, King also noted, “He’s worth, at least, a high second-round pick in this draft—39th overall to Carolina, maybe, or 40th to Denver, or 43rd to San Francisco.”
The duo aren’t alone, either. Former NFL general manager Michael Lombardi, now of The Athletic, highlighted Darnold as one of two quarterbacks he sees the 49ers targeting over Garoppolo.
Matt Miller Sounds off on Front Office, QB Options
Even though San Francisco has seemingly been linked to every available quarterback on the market, not all onlookers agree with the idea of replacing a middling starter with a cheaper, equivalently talented starter for the sake of saving some cash.
The Draft Scout’s Matt Miller dove into this idea in his new Scouting Notebook on Wednesday, where he offered his candid perspective of the state of the Niners.
“Two years ago the 49ers looked like an NFC powerhouse in the making,” Miller wrote. “Now they might be the fourth best team in the division. … But make no mistake, 2021 is a must-win year for Lynch. Another losing season likely wouldn’t result in the 49ers moving on from Lynch, but it would dim the shine on his resume that is somehow not receiving the scrutiny it deserves.”
Miller went on to describe the club’s recent team-building efforts as “poor,” while noting the solution starts with identifying the replacement at quarterback. Interestingly enough, his suggested options for addressing the position (outside of Garoppolo) took on more of a “go big or go draft” approach.
Drafting at No. 12 overall means it’s very unlikely that any of the top five passers—Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance or Mac Jones—will be available without a trade up in the round.
The 49ers’ options are:
1. Trade away major resources for Deshaun Watson.
2. Trade away slightly less resources to jump up in the draft order to select a quarterback.
3. Roll with Garoppolo in ‘21.
The pressure is on Lynch—and Shanahan—to make the right decision. Even if that means admitting they were wrong on Garoppolo and cutting him while he only costs $2.8 million against the cap.
Given the Houston Texans are not even entertaining offers for Watson and the Garoppolo cap savings that could be reinvested into impending free agents such as Trent Williams, a high draft pick or the Darnold’s of the world may be more in play than fans are currently being led to believe.
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