The 49ers and Jimmy Garoppolo appeared to be headed for a divorce in 2022 ever since San Francisco moved up to the third-overall pick prior to the 2021 NFL draft to select his successor at quarterback, Trey Lance. The 49ers expected to trade Garoppolo in mid-March during the early part of the offseason, with late April’s draft as the outside timeframe for his departure.
Everything changed when Garoppolo had surgery in early March on his throwing shoulder because of an injury sustained during a wild card playoff win over the Cowboys. A trade was put on hold because interest in Garoppolo waned with him rehabbing his right shoulder.
Garoppolo just started throwing a football earlier this month. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Tuesday that Garoppolo should be fully cleared by mid-August. The 49ers report to training camp on July 26. On Wednesday, ESPN reported that Garoppolo has been cleared to start practicing. CBS Sports NFL Insider Jonathan Jones reported that Garoppolo’s agents have been given permission to seek a trade, while ESPN reported that Garoppolo has been cleared to start practicing.
Garoppolo is scheduled to make $25.6 million in 2022, which consists of a $24.2 million base salary, a $600,000 workout bonus and $800,000 in per game roster bonuses where $50,000 is earned for each of the first 16 games active. $7.5 million of the $24.2 million is guaranteed for injury. Once Garoppolo passes his physical, the injury guarantee will be void. Garoppolo’s 2022 salary cap number is $26.95 million, which includes $1.4 million of signing bonus proration.
Presumably, Garoppolo wouldn’t be able to pass his physical when training camp opens. The 49ers excused Garoppolo from the mandatory June minicamp. It would be unusual for a team to excuse a player from the start of training camp, although he wouldn’t be a participant because of an injury.
Normally, when a player is unable to participate at the start training camp because of a football injury from the previous season, like in Garoppolo’s case (although he is apparently cleared to start practicing), he is placed on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform list. Once cleared by the team’s medical staff, he can come off PUP and will be eligible to practice.
If the timing for when Garoppolo should be healthy is in fact the middle of August, that isn’t ideal. It would be challenging for Garoppolo to compete to be the opening day starter in San Francisco or anywhere else with the regular season beginning approximately three weeks later.
The team with the most obvious need for a starting quarterback after the Browns recently dealt Baker Mayfield to the Panthers is the Seahawks, who are also in the NFC West with the 49ers. Typically, teams don’t trade starting-caliber quarterbacks to division rivals. The Patriots dealt Drew Bledsoe to the Bills in 2002 for a 2003 first-round pick after he lost his starting job to a young Tom Brady while injured during a Super Bowl-winning 2001 season. The Eagles shipped Donovan McNabb to the Commanders in 2010 for a 2010 second-round pick and 2011 fourth-round pick.
Putting the intra-division aspect aside, the Seahawks don’t have the cap room to take on the remaining $25 million of Garoppolo’s contract. According to NFLPA data, Seattle has just under $17 million in cap space.
The only team in a position to absorb Garoppolo’s full salary is the Browns, who have nearly $49 million in cap space, per the NFLPA. A lengthy suspension for Deshaun Watson under the NFL Personal Conduct policy for his alleged inappropriate sexual conduct during numerous massage sessions might spur some interest from the Browns. Realistically, Garoppolo taking or a pay cut and/or the 49ers absorbing some of his salary will be necessary in a trade.
A team losing a starting quarterback for an extended period of time or for the entire season during the preseason would be a game changer for Garoppolo. The Dolphins coaxed a newly retired Jay Cutler to come out of the broadcast booth in 2017 to make $10 million for the season when Ryan Tannehill tore his left ACL early in training camp. The Vikings gave the Eagles a 2017 first-round pick and a 2018 fourth-round pick for Sam Bradford when Teddy Bridgewater suffered a gruesome, career threatening knee injury at the end of the 2016 preseason.
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Another potential game-changing scenario would be the 49ers not having confidence in Lance taking the reins at quarterback because of him having an unimpressive training camp and preseason. As a team coming off an NFC Championship game appearance, the 49ers might be more comfortable with Garoppolo playing out his contract rather than suffering growing pains with an inexperienced quarterback that isn’t ready.
The key date
The situation could come to a head by Aug. 30 provided the 49ers are committed to Lance. That’s when NFL rosters must be cut to 53 players. A decision must be made on a player still on Active/PUP during which he is put on Reserve/PUP, waived or has his contract terminated (whichever is applicable), traded, or counts on the 53-man roster.
Some NFL team executives are anticipating that Garoppolo will eventually be released. Cutting Garoppolo probably wouldn’t be an option if the timetable for him being cleared is wrong. The 49ers would be on the hook for the $7.5 million injury guarantee with Garoppolo being released rather than going on Reserve/PUP because he still couldn’t pass a physical.
If released healthy, the 49ers would pick up $25.55 million of cap space. Garoppolo would need to be gone by the regular season opener on Sept. 11 at the latest. With Garoppplo on the opening day roster, his $24.2 million base salary would be fully guaranteed through termination pay if subsequently released.
Should Garoppolo go on Reserve/PUP, it would buy more time for the 49ers to find a trade partner. The earliest Garoppolo could be activated to the 53-man roster would be Oct. 4, the day after San Francisco’s fourth regular season game. A player can be traded while on Reserve/PUP. That was the case with Stephon Gilmore when the Panthers acquired him from the Patriots last October.
There’s been some speculation that the 49ers could keep Garoppolo if a trade market doesn’t materialize. The 49ers would easily have the NFL’s most awkward quarterback situation with Garoppolo, who has been San Francisco’s starting quarterback since acquiring him from the Patriots in a 2017 midseason trade, still around given the intention to play Lance. It’s hard to imagine Garoppolo remaining in San Francisco under that scenario without accepting a substantial pay cut.