SANTA CLARA, Calif. — To the surprise of many, perhaps even some of those inside the walls of team headquarters, Jimmy Garoppolo is still a member of the San Francisco 49ers.
The first week of the new league year has come and gone and the Niners have yet to find a taker for Garoppolo on the trade market. As the game of quarterback musical chairs continues, the amount of open seats has significantly dwindled and the final tunes are about to be played.
All of which begs one big question: Why have the Niners been unable to deal Garoppolo?
Too many other dominoes
After the 49ers fell to the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship Game, general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan mostly played coy about Garoppolo’s future, but it was clear from Garoppolo’s own news conference that he believed his days as a Niner were all but over. Garoppolo offered an emotional goodbye and acknowledged that he and Lynch discussed trade destinations.
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The hope for both parties was that Garoppolo would be one of the best quarterbacks available in a market full of teams in need. For a moment, at least, it looked like that might happen. Tom Brady retired from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson appeared to be staying put in Green Bay and Seattle, respectively. Nobody knew what to make of Deshaun Watson’s pending legal issues.
It all changed when Wilson was traded to Denver and Brady announced he was coming back. Wilson was a double whammy for the Niners, removing the Broncos as a potential suitor and leaving a quarterback void on the division rival Seattle Seahawks, a team the 49ers would prefer not to trade with.
Dominoes continued to fall elsewhere as the Washington Commanders traded a pair of third-round picks to the Indianapolis Colts for Carson Wentz, in no small part because of Garoppolo’s pending right shoulder surgery.
When a Harris County grand jury declined to indict Watson on sexual misconduct allegations, he immediately became the object of the remaining QB-focused teams’ desire. Watson’s trade to the Cleveland Browns tipped over even more unforeseen dominoes, leading to Jameis Winston’s return to the New Orleans Saints, Matt Ryan’s trade to the Colts and Marcus Mariota’s signing with the Atlanta Falcons.
As it stands, the Browns are seeking a home for Baker Mayfield with the Carolina Panthers and Seattle as the two most logical landing spots remaining for him and Garoppolo.
It always made sense that teams in need of quarterback help would want to pursue bigger and better options than Garoppolo. Few could have foreseen that so many would be available, though.
Shoulder surgery snag
Even if the 49ers had found offers for Garoppolo in, say, February, news of his right shoulder surgery and inability to throw until early July would have tossed a wrench into any deal. Trades agreed to at that time could not be made official until March 16, and trades also require physicals, which Garoppolo probably wouldn’t have passed. The reset button could have easily come into play on any agreed-upon pact.
Garoppolo’s shoulder injury means he would likely miss the entire offseason program for a new team, no small thing for a quarterback learning a new system. That’s something that concerned the Colts and at least one other interested team.
The shoulder surgery also added to a lengthy list of injuries on Garoppolo’s résumé. A big part of the reason the Niners are moving on from him is his inability to consistently stay on the field.
That’s also the chance the Niners took by hanging on to Garoppolo, starting him throughout the season and hoping he could reestablish his trade value. He almost made it, but his latest injury happened at the worst possible time for a trade to come together.
‘At his ceiling’
Of course, there are football reasons that a deal for Garoppolo hasn’t come together. Multiple sources outside the organization wondered whether Garoppolo is already “at his ceiling” and suggested that moving away from a good situation with Shanahan designing and calling the plays and the talent surrounding him would make it difficult to get commensurate production elsewhere.
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Since Garoppolo doesn’t rise to the level of a Wilson or Watson, it’s understandable why a team would be hesitant to give up much in compensation and salary (roughly $25 million for an acquiring team) for a player who might be no more than a one-year placeholder.
It’s why, when combined with the shoulder injury, a team such as the Pittsburgh Steelers would rather roll the dice on upside with a younger, cheaper and more athletic player in Mitch Trubisky.
The Niners could still find a trade partner for Garoppolo, though when and for what are increasingly difficult questions to answer. Hanging on to him for now is possible and would provide some financial benefit since he is due a $7.5 million injury guarantee. On the field, keeping Garoppolo wouldn’t technically interfere with the transition to Trey Lance since Garoppolo isn’t able to participate in the offseason program anyway, leaving Lance to get the starter’s reps.
Eventually, though, something is going to have to change. It’s hard to envision a scenario where Garoppolo is back on his current contract, though retaining him to gain more certainty about Lance’s progress is an option.
Releasing Garoppolo would save about $18 million, with the other $7.5 million to come back once he signs with another team for up to that amount. That’s an outcome that seems unlikely, at least for right now, since things can change elsewhere with injuries or draft plans or both. It can’t be ruled out down the line, however.
One way or the other, it appears more patience is required before a resolution is found.