The San Francisco 49ers have a decision to make this offseason with regard to pending free agent quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. He has played extremely well in his first three starts, and both general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan have been effusive in their praise. I imagine Garoppolo’s agent, Don Yee, has taken plenty of notes.
The 49ers have said they are not negotiating a Garoppolo contract extension yet. John Lynch said there is regular communication with Yee, but they are waiting until after the season to open up formal negotiations.
There is always a little concern that this will get screwed up, and the 49ers will be without a quarterback. And yet, at the moment, I’m actually not at all concerned about this situation. Whether the 49ers sign Garoppolo to a huge extension or franchise him this offseason, I believe everything will turn out fine if Garoppolo keeps performing the way he has. I realize he will have some bad games, but generally speaking, if we see what we’ve seen thus far, this should all work out fine.
I think that because unlike most contract issues, this is entirely in a vacuum separate from the rest of the roster. The 49ers could have upwards of $116 million in cap space this offseason. If they want to get the nine-figure extension done this offseason, they’ve got more than enough space. And what they pay Garoppolo will have virtually no bearing on any other contract talks. The entire NFL world knows the quarterback market is at a whole different level than every other position. You can pay Jimmy Garoppolo, $25 million or $26 million, or really whatever per year, and I don’t think it will have a significant impact on other negotiations.
That aside, there is always the question of sample size. John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan seem plenty happy with what Garoppolo has done thus far, but it is possible they are still seeing the sample size issue and are not comfortable giving him a monster guarantee. That’s a conservative approach that they have not really shown in this first year, but it would not be entirely out of line.
If the 49ers decided instead to franchise Garoppolo, he would get his $23 or $24 million, or whatever it ends up being, and the 49ers would get a year to see if he can build on 2017. If he does continue to progress, cap space shouldn’t be a problem in the 2019 offseason. Even if they are aggressive in free agency this coming spring, they likely will have plenty of cap space to roll over to be in position to remain aggressive. There are certainly no guarantees on what 2019 cap space will look like, but given where they currently stand, it’s hard to see them pissing it all away and being in a position where they cannot give Garoppolo the kind of deal he might earn while on the 2018 franchise tag.
This is all to say that whether it happens this offseason based on five 49ers starts, or whether it happens in the 2019 offseason, the 49ers are in a position to give Garoppolo just about whatever he wants. It certainly would not be a fully guaranteed contract, but if it reaches a point of $50 million or $60 million guaranteed (or more), the 49ers can afford it without feeling too much pain in the short term.
Their frugalness in cap space in recent years is finally set to pay off in a big way. If Garoppolo backslides next year, so be it, but if the 49ers franchise him and he plays well, you pay the man his money. There’s no need for pinching some pennies on a deal. If you think he is going to be the guy you can build a franchise around, and that very much seems to be the case, there is zero reason to play games with this.
If the 49ers think he is their guy, you pay him this offseason, and you pay big. Yes, you work in roster bonuses and the like to protect against injury, but for the most part, you pay up. If you are not totally sure, you franchise him, and if he continues playing well, you pay big in 2019. I don’t see using the franchise tag as some kind of game in this case, because if he builds on 2017 in a big way, there is no reason not to make him one of the highest paid quarterbacks in the league. It’s quite simple at this point.