The gap between the image of Jimmy Garoppolo and the reality of Jimmy Garoppolo has always been vast. With Friday’s news that San Francisco is aggressively in the market for a rookie quarterback — any rookie quarterback that’s available at the 3 spot — reality has come calling at last for Garoppolo.
In a quarterback-rich draft, the 49ers have paid a heavy price to move from 12th up to third, giving them an array of post-Trevor Lawrence choices. Where does that leave Garoppolo, a quarterback just a year removed from the Super Bowl, a quarterback once hailed as the heir apparent to Tom Brady?
Maybe nowhere. The 49ers reportedly aren’t interested in trading Garoppolo, meaning Kyle Shanahan will likely go into the 2021 season with two quarterbacks. It’s a formula that can work — Kansas City with Alex Smith and Patrick Mahomes being the best recent example — but teams don’t generally trade away multiple future first-round picks with the expectation of drafting a long-term project.
The key question is how enticing Garoppolo would be in trade. He’s three years into a five-year contract that will pay him $24 million annually in 2021 and 2022. His contract’s average annual value ranks 11th in the league, which is not quite his production level.
On the other hand, he carries a dead cap hit for the 49ers of just $2.8 million in 2021 and $1.4 million in 2022, meaning a cut or trade wouldn’t be crippling for San Francisco.
The Garoppolo storyline sure didn’t look like it was going to go this direction. The Patriots selected him in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft, the fifth QB off the board after Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr. He looks more like Superman than Clark Kent does. He had enough talent to warrant the faith of Bill Belichick and unnerve Brady. A union in San Francisco with Kyle Shanahan, the architect of an Atlanta Falcons offense that came within one quarter of dominating the entire 2016 season, appeared to bode well for Jimmy G’s future.
It hasn’t worked out that way. Injuries have pockmarked his three-plus years in San Francisco, costing him almost all of 2018 and much of 2020. In his only full season, 2019, the 49ers went 13-3 and reached the Super Bowl. But the way the team worked around him — Garoppolo averaged less than 143 yards passing per game in the three playoff games during that Super Bowl run — raised concerns.
It was in that Super Bowl, against the Chiefs, that Garoppolo may have sealed his San Francisco fate. He took over the ball with a 10-point lead and about 12 minutes remaining, and proceeded to go three-for-nine with 36 yards passing over the next three drives. With just 1:39 left in the game, he blew a chance at Super Bowl immortality by overthrowing an open Emmanuel Sanders.
If Garoppolo makes that connection, it’s possible the 49ers win the Super Bowl, the Chiefs are two-time Super Bowl losers, and Garoppolo isn’t as expendable as he appears right this moment.
Garoppolo has a no-trade clause, but with the right destination, he could waive that in a heartbeat. Where could he end up, if-and-when his career in San Francisco ends?
The obvious answer is New England. The Patriots have Cam Newton under contract, but after 2020, there’s no way Belichick thinks Newton is a long-term answer, or even an exclusive one. The Panthers, Broncos and the Washington Football Team are three other potential destinations, given that they have good-but-not-great options in-house at quarterback at the moment. And, depending on any number of ways the Deshaun Watson situation turns out, the Texans could have a need for a QB as well.
Regardless, it appears Garoppolo’s time in San Francisco is growing short. At that point, we’ll see if the guy with the Hollywood good looks can write a Hollywood ending after all.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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