SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Contractually, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is still a member of the San Francisco 49ers, and somehow the teams have remained cordial throughout an offseason that was to see them separate in March.
So far, neither the Niners nor Garoppolo have been in a rush to find a solution, largely because Garoppolo’s right shoulder surgery derailed early offseason trade plans. But Garoppolo and the Niners are growing increasingly eager to part ways with a 53-player deadline looming on August 30. Making the initial list would guarantee his salary against the cap.
“I think everyone does [want to find an answer]”, coach Kyle Shanahan said. “I think he handled it very well, but that’s the reality of this business. This is the reality of everything. Sometimes you have to expect things, and I think he understands that. You always want it to be different, but it’s business and he understands that.”
Garoppolo showed up for the start of training camp on Tuesday and passed his physical, which landed the Niners for the $7.5 million injury guarantee in his contract. He does not train with the team but participates in a detailed throwing program designed to be ready when he lands elsewhere.
Garoppolo has permission to come and go from the team facility as he pleases. He mostly does his rehab and throwing program and then leaves for the day. He was spotted in the team’s weight room on the day camp opened and was seen running and conditioning on a side court, but did not stay for practices or participate at meetings.
“Jimmy is working hard, throwing the ball off the charts,” Shanahan said. “I’m not going to tell you everything that’s on my mind, but you can understand when I say we have to do what’s right for this organization. And we’re going to do everything we can to make it as well as good as possible for Jimmy, while still doing what’s good for this organization at the same time.”
With Deebo Samuel’s contract over, all eyes are now on Garoppolo’s situation. Here’s what we know and what comes next:
Why does an exchange take so long?
The combination of shoulder surgery and the number of healthier top quarterbacks available in the offseason made it difficult for the 49ers to make a trade. Early interest disappeared when Garoppolo opted for surgery in March and by the time he started pitching in late June, most open quarterback seats were full.
Despite speculation the Niners kept Garoppolo due to second-year quarterback Trey Lance doubts, Shanahan made it clear that was not the case by stating Lance had taken over as quarterback #1 the day the team showed up at camp.
Will Garoppolo play in 49ers preseason games?
There is little reason to believe Garoppolo will train or play for the Niners again. Shanahan said so, and there are financial ramifications if Garoppolo suffers another injury. He is expected to be $26.9 million over the 2022 salary cap with a base salary of $24.2 million. However, none of this money is guaranteed.
But Garoppolo’s salary could be guaranteed if he gets injured again, which is why Shanahan dismissed most scenarios of him playing for the 49ers again.
“I’m giving absolutely nothing, so yeah, I’m sure I could come up with the script,” Shanahan said. “But I think I said earlier it would surprise me and I still feel that way.”
What are the potential landing spots?
The list of possibilities dwindled considerably throughout the offseason, culminating in the transfer of Baker Mayfield from the Cleveland Browns to the Carolina Panthers.
Coincidentally, the most likely remaining landing spot appears to be Cleveland, though that hinges on a potential suspension — and how long that potential suspension lasts — for quarterback Deshaun Watson. The Browns would offer Garoppolo the opportunity to join a contender and rehabilitate his value while providing the Browns with a proven option.
The Seattle Seahawks could also be an option, although their place in the NFC West complicates a deal. But there is Shanahan-led precedent for a quarterback trade within a division. When Kyle and Mike Shanahan were in Washington, they made a deal with Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. Such agreements can be more difficult to conclude, but are not impossible.
Other teams that may be interested in Garoppolo at a discount (in commercial and financial compensation) include the Miami Dolphins, Atlanta Falcons, New York Giants and Houston Texans.
“We’re not trying to cheat or play any game,” Shanahan said. “I think the whole league understands that. But you also can’t give away one of the best quarterbacks in the league just to make him available for no reason to the whole world.”
The idea that the 49ers would need to eat some of his salary like the Panthers did with Mayfield doesn’t take much into account that Mayfield’s salary was guaranteed while none of Garoppolo’s is. It makes sense that Garoppolo would rework his deal in the event of a swap, giving him the chance to get some guaranteed money, which he currently has none.
Will the Niners finally have to release Garoppolo?
Shanahan and general manager John Lynch insisted they would not give Garoppolo for free. But it has dragged on so long that a deadline is now looming on the horizon. Beyond an injury, the only other way Garoppolo’s salary is guaranteed in 2022 is if he makes the initial roster of 53 players on August 30.
If a trade hasn’t been completed by then, it’s hard to imagine the 49ers will keep Garoppolo on such a high guaranteed salary.
For his part, Garoppolo has so far avoided asking for his release but the longer he waits to join a new team, the less likely he will be to land a job or be ready to play at his next destination.