By Mark Kreidler
Special to the Examiner
You may not be able to hear it through the shouting, but the 49ers’ quarterback situation is pretty nicely settled. Trey Lance is the starter. Nate Sudfeld, who was given a $2 million, fully guaranteed contract, is the backup. Iowa State’s Brock Purdy, whom the Niners made the final pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, will be an almost ideal practice-squad guy.
That part wasn’t hard.
Here are the hard parts, in order:
- We don’t know how long it’ll take Lance before he can truly lead the team for which he’s starting.
- That QB room looks a little, um, experience-thin in the event of injury.
- Do I have to say it? There’s still the other guy.
Life is moving on now for just about everyone, except one. And this is really the essence of NFL business: Jimmy Garoppolo controls remarkably little about his immediate future. He signed this monster deal with the 49ers, he profited very handsomely from this deal, and now he is bound by this deal. Bound pretty tight.
It’s easy to wish a smooth exit for Garoppolo, or at least it’s easy for me. The man has a 31-14 regular-season record as a starter for the Niners, 4-2 in the post-season. He played in two NFC title games and a Super Bowl. When healthy enough to play across his five seasons in Santa Clara, he was a bona fide winning starter, period.
Still, you know, it’s over. The Niners can’t move Garoppolo right now for a couple of reasons, only one of them related to his injury. It’s as much their fault as it is anyone’s. But only Garoppolo’s career is affected, and he has to nurse that knowledge along with his repaired shoulder while he waits for a better day.
It was the shoulder surgery that derailed off-season trade talks regarding Garoppolo. That’s what GM John Lynch said the other day on KNBR. Well, that’s what Lynch sort of said, though not exactly. What he specifically said was this: “I felt like we were close in some discussions, and then the decision was made to have surgery, and that brought things to a screeching halt.”
Lynch went on, but that’s the gist, and it’s worth reviewing: The GM “felt” like he was getting “close” in “some discussions.” That’s the sort of misdirection by language that front-office execs belch forth all the time because it’s almost impossible to knock that sort of fluff down. Who’s to say what constitutes close? If John Lynch felt he was close, can anyone definitively state that he wasn’t?
Still, we’re leaving out the good parts here. For example, it feels obvious that if Lynch was close to anything, it was to a near-giveaway of Garoppolo. That would be about the only move left to a franchise that absolutely, publicly devalued its quarterback while he was still its starter.
The 49ers moved heaven and earth about 12 months ago in order to trade up in the draft and select Lance. Lynch went so far as to throw in both this year’s and next year’s first-round picks. The front office could not have made it more clear to Garoppolo – and the rest of the NFL – either that it didn’t consider Jimmy G. capable of leading the team to a Lombardi Trophy or that it did not trust his injury history. Either way, it’s a mark on a quarterback.
So let’s not get too carried away with Lynch’s proclamation that a possible deal was close. When you tell the league that you want to dump your guy and his massive salary because you like a college player better, you have effectively diminished your own trade product. Injury or no injury, that is precisely how this thing would have played out.
I don’t want to get too deep into the concept of anybody owing Garoppolo anything. This isn’t the inside of a Mother’s Day card; business is rough, and guys get left behind. Jimmy G. had more than $48 million guaranteed upon signing his five-year deal in 2018 and more than $74 million guaranteed overall for injury (including $7.5 million this season). He played three games in ’18 and six games in 2020, hurt both years, but still collected.
So no, Garoppolo was by no means abused under the terms of his contract. His reality now, though, is that he can’t move on until somebody says he can. Either the 49ers execute a trade or, far more likely, wait for him to be medically cleared and then simply release him. If they do that before the 2022 season begins, he counts $1.4 million against the salary cap but frees up about $25 million in space.
That all sounds very contract-y and cap space-y, and not in any way reflective of the sendoff that some people might have imagined. It sounds that way because it is. Jimmy Garoppolo is having one of the longest goodbyes ever conducted in NFL history, and he doesn’t get to say when that stops. In other words, he’s definitively a professional.
Mark Kreidler is a freelance contributor to The Examiner. Read more of his columns at https://markkreidler.substack.com.