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Why the 49ers Opted to Keep Jimmy Garoppolo After an Offseason of Trade Talks

San Francisco couldn’t find a trade for the veteran. Plus, why Bill O'Brien didn’t return to New England, what Giants fans should expect this year and more.

Cutdown Day is in the books, and the countdown is on—and all of you gave me plenty to get to in this week’s mailbag. Let’s dive in …

From Jesse Reed (@JesseReed78): 49ers keeping Jimmy G … More about Trey Lance, or more about having a legitimate backup plan in case of emergency? (I believe it’s the latter).

Jesse, I genuinely think this was about a unique opportunity that arose because of the circumstances of Jimmy Garoppolo’s situation the last six months. It starts, of course, with his decision to try to rehab his shoulder, which delayed surgery by about six weeks and, in turn, drove his recovery timetable into training camp. That changed the complexion of his trade market. It’s hard to trade for a guy with a year left, and install him as starter at the most important position, with so much uncertainty on how that year will look.

Even still, I know the Niners were surprised they couldn’t find a trade partner at some point over the last six weeks, based on what they think of Garoppolo as a player, and what he’s accomplished the last five years. The reality of it forced the team to think creatively.

So the options were, really, to cut Garoppolo and get nothing back, or maybe give him away to someone, or … explore some sort of alternative that would work for the Niners and for Garoppolo. That alternative began with discussions with the veteran quarterback, and then Trey Lance, and then team leaders on what it might look if Garoppolo was back. San Francisco was clear with both quarterbacks over the last few days that Lance would be the starter if it could work out a deal with Garoppolo, and that it’d stick with Lance through any early bumps.

That left, significantly, the contract.

49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo warms up before a game.

Garoppolo will serve solely as Lance’s backup this season in San Francisco after Lance spent a year sitting behind the veteran.

The key parameter in negotiations was, I’m told, that Garoppolo’s base pay be less than Lance’s. Lance’s rookie contract is worth $34.1 million over four years—an average of $8.53 million per. And so the landing point for Garoppolo’s new deal came in well under that, with a guaranteed base of salary of $6.5 million and $500,000 in per-game roster bonuses (with another $8.45 million available in play-time incentives).

The Niners know they’ll have to play offense a certain way to get the most out of Lance in his first year as a starter. They also know that Lance could be exposed to injury as part of that. And because of that, with a championship roster in place, having someone like Garoppolo in reserve has great value.

This works for Garoppolo, too, because if his eyes are on 2023 (and he wasn’t guaranteed a chance to start elsewhere), it’s best that whatever limited action he gets comes in San Francisco, where he has a comfort level and a really strong scheme and supporting cast.

Orr: Why Keeping Jimmy Garoppolo Is a Bad Idea for 49ers

And if there’s a quarterback injury elsewhere? Then maybe the Niners get the return they wanted all along for him, while Garoppolo’s no-trade clause allows him to veto a deal to any spot he doesn’t want to go to. If they play the year out, on the other hand, Garoppolo gets to free agency healthy, and San Francisco could get a third- or fourth-round comp pick back in 2024 (because, interestingly, he’s a year short of the 10-year mark at which teams can’t get more than a fifth-round comp back for a lost free agent).

Now, to be clear, no one drew it up this way. If everyone had their druthers, Garoppolo never gets hurt, the Niners get their price back in March (two second-round picks was the ask at the time), and Jimmy’s someone’s starter now. Absent that, and given all that’s happened, though, it’s fair to say this is an attempt to straighten out a sideways situation.

From BradyForcesJetsFansToCry (@Pats_1988): Hello, why didn’t the Patriots try to get Bill O'Brien? Seems like a huge mistake from BB. Will you have your own pod in the future? I truly miss your pod and @GreshKeefe. Best regards from Austria.

First of all, Brady, a big shout-out to you and everyone else in my motherland.

Second, a lot of this boils down to the relationship dynamics at play. I don’t think O’Brien was ever going to campaign to be the replacement for Josh McDaniels in New England (even though I think he’d have liked that) because he understood that if that was going to happen, it’d have to be brokered by his current boss, Nick Saban, and his former boss, Bill Belichick. And the concern for Belichick, I’m told, was O’Brien might be just a one-year fix as McDaniels’s replacement, and thus there were never serious discussions with Saban on it.

Now, I’d argue that it’s wrong to approach things like that, and O’Brien doing a great job with Mac Jones and getting a head coaching job in 2023 as a result would be a good problem to have. And that’s even though I do understand that Belichick’s had to deal with a lot of attrition in both coaching and scouting, and why he’d want to stem the tide of it.

Bottom line, I think O’Brien was the best man for the job, and I would’ve worked with Saban to get him to Foxborough if I were Belichick. We’ll see whether Belichick regrets not doing that.

Third, yes, I hope to have some podcast news soon.

From Skye Luque (@LuqueMeatSauce): How bad will the Giants be? I wouldn’t be surprised if we have the #1 pick in 2023. I’m guessing 3–14 but I can see worse. 5 winnable games at best. We need to cut bait with DJ, Saquon, Golladay and definitely get rid of Williams and his ridiculous contract.

All right, Skye, so there’s a lot to get to there. Let’s start with expectations—back off setting a wins-losses marker (I know it’s not easy to do that), and focus on what the team looks like in December vs. where it is in September. I’ve used the 2018 Bills a lot to try to illustrate where Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll are with the ’22 Giants, because I think it’s the right comp, especially with the draft approach they took and the dead money they’re carrying.

Those Bills hit a four-game midseason losing streak to fall to 2–7. In there were consecutive blowout losses to the Colts (by 32), Patriots (by 19) and Bears (by 32). But Sean McDermott never lost the team, Brandon Beane never wavered from the plan and Buffalo closed the year out with four wins in its last seven games. The last two games were a competitive loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Patriots and a home rout of Miami.

Raiders defensive end Yannick Ngakoue sacks Giants quarterback Daniel Jones.

Jones and the Giants are still in the midst of a rebuild, but this year will be under new leadership in Daboll.

The Bills came out of that year with a clean salary cap, a full complement of draft picks, and they’ve been a rocket ship since.

Now, having Josh Allen has sure helped. But the rest is doable. And the key, like it was for the Bills in 2018 with guys like Allen, Tremaine Edmunds, Matt Milano and Tre’Davious White, is that the team’s young core consistently gets better over the course of the year. So I’d judge the Giants on how guys like Kayvon Thibodeaux, Evan Neal, Xavier McKinney and Azeez Ojulari come out of the ’22 season.

As for cutting bait on the guys you mentioned, the team’s going to spend the year getting a final answer on Daniel Jones, and the contracts of the other three guys you mentioned will make them really hard to move. I’ve heard the staff really likes Leonard Williams, so I think he’ll stick around. I’d bet Jones, Saquon Barkley and Kenny Golladay aren’t around in 2023.

From Capt. Jonas Grumby (@pmrbes): Raiders … 11–6 … wildcard?? Also, any teams in on Boomer Brave?

Jonas, first of all, Boomer Brave is an absolute beast, and teams should be in on him.

And I’m with you on the Raiders as a pretty overlooked group. They were in the playoffs in January after an absolute bleep-storm of a year (business ops drama, Jon Gruden, Damon Arnette, Henry Ruggs III, etc.) under an interim coach. And since, they’ve added legit franchise-level players on both sides of the ball, in Chandler Jones and Davante Adams, and two of the league’s most respected play-callers, in head coach Josh McDaniels and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham.

Now, I get the skepticism on McDaniels, given how his short stint in Denver played out. I think he’ll be a lot better the second time around, and that it was a brilliant hire by Mark Davis, but I understand if you don’t. I also know there are questions up the middle of the defense and along the offensive line, particularly at right tackle.

I just think McDaniels and his staff will coach to the talent they have, and I think the front end of the roster has a lot of it. So McDaniels and GM Dave Ziegler may be an offseason or two from having the team where they really want it. But the cupboard wasn’t left bare for them, and I think guys like Derek Carr, Kolton Miller, Darren Waller, Hunter Renfrow and Maxx Crosby took a lot from last year’s experience that’ll do them good this year.

From Mark Vincent (@Mark_Vincent8): James Cook scores how many touchdowns?

Mark, give Cook six touchdowns this year—four through the air and two on the ground.

The Bills love what they’ve seen from their second-round pick thus far, and it’s not just as a receiver (though that’s where, for his position, he sets himself apart). They also think he’s got skill and ability as a runner, and looks, stylistically, a lot like his brother Dalvin, only about 12 pounds lighter (which obviously would affect whether he’d physically hold up).

With that in mind, I think the Bills will deploy him judiciously in a platoon with Devin Singletary and maybe Zack Moss, too. He should become a real big-play threat, and also a safety valve for Josh Allen, maybe in the way that Cole Beasley was the last few years.

From Dan Spencer (@Spence1013): Who are the Eagles playing in the Super Bowl?

From Jesus Jimenez (@86Chuy68): With the Eagles trade, do you think they might have seen something in Hurts?

Dan and Jesus, I’d love to be the contrarian here against a rising narrative, but I don’t think I can be. The Eagles have real strength along the lines of scrimmage, with an uncommon combination of foundation pieces who’ve been around for a decade (Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson, Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox), in-prime guys (Jordan Mailata, Josh Sweat, Javon Hargrave) and young talents (Jordan Davis, Landon Dickerson, Cam Jurgens).

Having that kind of makeup along the lines usually means, at a baseline, you’re going to be in just about every game and, as the 2017 Eagles showed, can mean a title run is possible.

So to get to the second question, I do think some of the aggressive moves of the offseason (A.J. Brown is another, in addition to Tuesday’s trade for Chauncey Gardner-Johnson) are GM Howie Roseman signaling that he likes where his quarterback and roster are. It’s also true that Jalen Hurts has improved in areas that are really tough for a quarterback to improve in, like accuracy, anticipation, and pocket presence. Which is a credit to him.

But I also know that a big piece of this is philosophical for Roseman and the Eagles. So while maybe they wouldn’t make moves like that if they thought they were going 4–13, I do think a lot of it is just how the Eagles amass, and ultimately choose to use, their assets.

From Dexter Williams (@scandalsavage13): Is the Pickens hype actually real? Will he ascend to WR1 by end of year 1?

Dexter, I certainly think it’s possible. And while the Steelers have such a great track record at the position, I don’t think they’re reinventing the wheel with this one.

The bottom line is if George Pickens was healthy last year, and had no off-field questions, there’s a really good chance he’d have been the first receiver taken in last year’s draft and a top-10 pick. There’s never been a question about his physical tools. In this case, though, there were some minor off-field worries (he was ejected from a game for fighting as a freshman, and infamously squirted his water bottle on an opponent as a sophomore), and the torn ACL he was coming back from that cost him most of last year. Both of those things contributed to him falling to the 52nd pick, where the Steelers made him the 11th receiver taken in his class.

This, to me, is a good example of another advantage having Mike Tomlin as head coach gives the Steelers—they can take chances like this that other teams can’t. Martavis Bryant was a great example of that years ago, and this one is along those lines in that if Pickens hits, he could hit in a very, very big way.

From Kevin Zipps (@KevinZipps): Has an NFL team ever allowed their backup QB to be the play-caller during the season? Asking for a friend.

Kevin, that’s a fun question—not that I know of. But there are a few guys kicking around now that I’d probably trust to give it ago, with the Patriots’ Brian Hoyer (I’m assuming that’s who you’re referencing), the Chargers’ Chase Daniel and Cardinals’ Colt McCoy among them, and maybe Teddy Bridgewater, Andy Dalton and Nick Foles, too.

It’s also happened before, to a degree, with backup quarterbacks. In fact, back in 2003, the Patriots put Kliff Kingsbury on injured reserve and, as the story goes (and Kliff confirmed this one for me), Belichick turned him into a quality control coach for the season. Which, obviously, helped set the stage for Kingsbury to climb the coach ranks at warp speed once he decided to hang up his cleats for good.

At any rate, guys like that are often great resources for starters, in that they can see things from a different angle than their coaches can. So … maybe someday it’d be worth considering the player/play-caller (although I’m sure there are reasons not to do it that I’m not thinking about at all).

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