After driving last offseason rumor mill with speculation about which quarterback prospect the San Francisco 49ers would select with the third overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, they are back in the center of speculation mania as they decide the future of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. With Trey Lance waiting for San Francisco to move on from Garoppolo so he can take his place atop the Niners’ quarterback depth chart, a trade is presumably on the horizon.
Garoppolo’s long-term prospects with the 49ers were torpedoed when San Francisco traded up to draft a quarterback last year. While the Niners opted to retain Garoppolo in 2021, it has looked inevitable for some time that he will be wearing a different uniform next season. Yet as trade talks presumably continue between the 49ers and quarterback-needy teams, several prominent NFL experts claim that San Francisco is legitimately considering retaining Garoppolo for another year.
None of this is entirely new. The 49ers have, in many ways, brought this upon themselves, openly insisted throughout the process that they had no definitive timeline in mind to transition to Lance. Late in the regular season, NBC Sports’ Peter King reported that the 49ers still had not decided how to handle Garoppolo’s future.
The offseason hiatus between the Super Bowl and the start of free agency has only put more focus on Garoppolo’s situation, and it’s brought a lot of questionable takes with it. Over the past couple of weeks, several of the most prominent NFL reporters and analysts have begun circulating the possibility that the 49ers hold onto Jimmy G for one more season.
In the week leading up to the Super Bowl, 49ers legend (and Hall of Famer) Joe Montana said he would not move on from Garoppolo at this point on Slow News Day with The Ringer’s Kevin Clark. Profootballtalk’s Mike Florio stopped by KNBR and said he would not be shocked if Garoppolo was in San Francisco for another season.
On The Ari Meirov NFL Show, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter openly questioned Lance’s readiness and pushed back against the idea that Garoppolo was “likely” to be traded. On ESPN’s GET UP on Thursday, NFL reporter Diana Russini added that she had heard similar murmurs independent of Schefter’s report. Ryan Clark quickly voiced his support for retaining Garoppolo as well.
Here’s the thing, there are two words that none of the NFL reporters and analysts have mentioned when they have suggested the 49ers could retain Garoppolo: the salary cap. If the NFL had a spending system like MLB or even the NBA, San Francisco would have more options. Keeping Jimmy G probably would not impact the rest of their roster in those leagues. However, that’s not how the NFL operates.
The NFL salary cap functions like water in a swimming pool. Every team will spend roughly the same amount of money every year. Every dollar an NFL team spends on one player would likely be spent on another if they cleared that money for their books. That’s even more true for competitive teams pushing near the salary cap like the 49ers.
Garoppolo used $26.85 million of the Niner’s cap space last season and is currently on the books for $26.95 million next season. If the 49ers trade or release him, they will clear $25.55 million off the books. That would be a significant amount of savings for any NFL team, but a closer look at San Francisco’s books reveals that savings are necessary for the 49ers to have a complete offseason.
Even if the Niners release Dee Ford under a June 1st designation, restructure Arik Armstead’s contract, and extend Jimmie Ward to create more cap space in 2022, San Francisco would still have less than $10 million in effective cap space to try and add talent or re-sign players like Laken Tomlinson, D.J. Jones, Arden Key, Jaquiski Tartt, Daniel Brunskill, and Azeez Al-Shaair.
If the 49ers retained Garoppolo under his current contract, they would likely have to create more holes on their roster by trading players like Mike McGlinchey and Samson Ebukam to have the cap space to manage the offseason. That seems like an obvious no-go for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
These rumors and reports are probably emanating from the 49ers themselves. Potentially underwhelmed by the offers they have received, the Niners could benefit by creating the belief that they will hold onto Garoppolo, trying to force interested teams into upping their offers. However, reporters and analysts should be informing their audience of those incentives as well.
Is it technically possible that the 49ers could keep Garoppolo for another season? Yes. Someone discussing that possibility, though, needs to honestly engage with the consequences that would have on a franchise that has so clearly constructed its long-term salary cap viability around moving on from their incumbent starting quarterback this offseason.
So until we know otherwise Niners Faithful, there’s no reason to stop the waiting game. At some point soon, likely in the days following the NFL Draft Combine, the 49ers will trade Jimmy Garoppolo to his next team.