The quarterback position is the most important in football, and when a team finds a great one, it ends up costing them an arm and a leg. The San Francisco 49ers are hoping they’ve found a great one in Jimmy Garoppolo, and they have paid up as if he will be the guy.
Garoppolo signed a five-year extension this offseason worth up to $137.5 million. The 49ers entered the current offseason with a ton of cap space, and so they front-loaded his deal with bonus money. He received a “mere” $7 million signing bonus, but then also received a $28 million roster bonus. The signing bonus prorates over the five years of the deal, while the roster bonus rolls up entirely on the 2018 cap. His deal results in a cap hit of $37 million the first year, but then $20 million in year two, followed by $26.6 million, $26.9 million, and $27 million.
NFL analyst Bucky Brooks recently took a look at quarterback contracts around the league to consider who is spending a huge chunk of their salary cap on the quarterback position. Garoppolo has the highest 2018 cap number among quarterbacks. Accordingly, the 49ers are using the highest percentage of cap space on the QB, at 20.9 percent.
There are two issues I have with Brooks’ article. The first is how he assesses the deal. Yes, the 49ers are paying a large chunk of cap space to Garoppolo this year, but he ignores that they are paying considerably less in future years. Over The Cap projects a $190 million cap in 2019, and so the $20 million cap figure represents 10.5 percent of the cap. They project a $200 million cap in 2020, and so the $26.6 million cap figure represents 13.3 percent of the cap. Both are still the largest percentages on the roster, but they are considerably more reasonable. Considering the entire context of the contract is important.
The second issue relates to his assessment of Garoppolo’s career compared to the contract. Part of the thesis of his article is the concern about overpaying quarterbacks that need more support. He is fine with big paydays for “elite” quarterbacks who can elevate pedestrian players, but has a problem with paying quarterbacks who need marquee names on the perimeter.
While we saw Garoppolo elevate less than marquee names in those final five games, Brooks’ argument about Jimmy G seems to revolve more around only having seven career starts under his belt. He did not make the argument for using the franchise tag in 2018, which I think would actually have been somewhat reasonable.
Contracts do need to reflect what a player has done thus far, but more important is what you expect from them during the life of the deal. The 49ers saw enough from Garoppolo to think this projects well moving forward. It could very well prove to be a mistake, but in a league where quarterback player can be woefully inconsistent, if you think you’ve found your franchise quarterback, you latch on tight.
And I’d say Kyle Shanahan has gained some benefit of the doubt on this. He did great things with Kirk Cousins, had a strong year with Cleveland, and then helped Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons take a big step forward. Jimmy G may or may not work out, but in the overall context of things, I don’t see the deal as problematic.