Where will Jimmy Garoppolo wind up? Decision time nears for Niners

By Eric D. Williams
FOX Sports NFC West Writer

As the San Francisco 49ers enter their final preseason game on Thursday, former starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo remains on the roster.

After having shoulder surgery in March, Garoppolo passed his physical when reporting to training camp last month and has been cleared to throw. Having installed second-year QB Trey Lance as the starter, the Niners appeared hopeful they could trade Garoppolo and his $24.2 million, non-guaranteed salary in exchange for some type of draft compensation. 

But so far, there have been no takers throughout the league. 

49ers have no clear trade partner for Garoppolo

Emmanuel Acho, Bucky Brooks and Joy Taylor discuss where 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo will play this upcoming NFL season.

Garoppolo has been seen throwing and working out at the team’s facility, and head coach Kyle Shanahan said he remains in touch with the veteran QB.

“I communicate with Jimmy all the time,” Shanahan told reporters this week. “He looks the same as he always has. He always throws it really good. So he looks exactly the same.”

From the sound of things, the Niners’ brass will hold on to Garoppolo as long as possible in the hope of getting some type of compensation for him.

“Any scenario is possible,” Shanahan said when asked if it’s possible that Garoppolo will be on the team’s Week 1 roster. 

Team owner Jed York seemed to echo those sentiments in a podcast last week.

“I watched it with Joe [Montana] and Steve [Young] and I realize the salary cap is different today than having no salary cap,” York told The Athletic. “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.”

Teams must cut their rosters to 53 players by Tuesday, Aug. 30. If the Niners do not have any trade suitors by then, they likely will release Garoppolo next week. 

However, the more pressing deadline is 4 p.m. ET on Sept. 10, a day before the start of the regular season for the Niners. If Garoppolo is on San Francisco’s 53-man roster at that point, his $24.2 million salary is guaranteed for the 2022 season. 

“He’s a starting quarterback all day long in this league, and I think proven to be a really good one,” San Francisco general manager John Lynch told Bay Area radio station KNBR. “Just look at the record, look at where he’s taken us. So, for guys like that, you don’t just give it away.”

Potential suitors include the Cleveland Browns, New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, Houston Texans and Seattle Seahawks

With Deshaun Watson suspended for 11 games by the NFL — longer than the initial ruling of six games that Cleveland anticipated — it makes sense for the Browns to consider Garoppolo, who would be an upgrade over Jacoby Brissett.

The Browns have $45 million in cap space, so there’s room to add Garoppolo on this year’s roster. But Cleveland already has $16 million in total compensation allotted to quarterbacks on the roster — plus another $10.5 million for Baker Mayfield to play for the Carolina Panthers after trading him in early July. The Browns might not want to add another significant salary with Watson waiting in the wings.

Jets quarterback Zach Wilson suffered a right knee injury in the team’s first preseason game that required surgery, putting his availability at the start of the season in question. New York coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur were formerly part of San Francisco’s coaching staff, so the transition would be an easy one for Garoppolo. The Jets, however, appear committed to veteran Joe Flacco as the team’s starter until Wilson returns.

Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel served as the Niners’ offensive coordinator and would know how to best use Garoppolo. But if he were to go to Miami, would Garoppolo most likely back up Tua Tagovailoa

Texans GM Nick Caserio has ties to Garoppolo from his time working as a personnel executive with the New England Patriots. And Garoppolo would seemingly be an upgrade over second-year QB Davis Mills

The most intriguing scenario is Garoppolo to Seattle, where the Seahawks have been running a middling quarterback competition between Geno Smith and Drew Lock. Head coach Pete Carroll has not named a starter, and he has even joked about the old cliché of having two quarterbacks means you don’t have one. 

“I’m wide open for whatever happens,” Carroll told reporters about the QB competition, which was further complicated when Lock contracted COVID-19 last week. “Geno’s been the guy in the lead position the whole time, and I’ve protected that throughout. He’s done a really nice job. He’s been very consistent.

“So, we’ll just see what happens. There’s two more weeks of practice. I had a set thought on what we would do with this timeline, but that got disrupted. So, we’re going to use all the time we need.”

That could mean waiting to see when Garoppolo shakes loose from San Francisco. Or maybe the Seahawks get desperate enough to make a trade — if San Francisco would even deal Garoppolo within the division.

Niners coach Shanahan has been involved with a quarterback trade within the division. He was Washington’s offensive coordinator in 2010 when the team acquired Donovan McNabb from the Philadelphia Eagles. The Niners have moved on to Lance and know the strengths and weaknesses of Garoppolo. So why should they be worried about facing him twice a year with the Seahawks?

Further, the Niners should want to do right by Garoppolo for the way he has handled the situation and for what he has meant to the franchise. That means finding him a new team he wants to play for — sooner rather than later now that he’s healthy. 

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.

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