Jimmy Garoppolo might be the last remaining quarterback trade domino to fall this offseason.
On Wednesday, the Carolina Panthers acquired Baker Mayfield from the Cleveland Browns for a conditional fifth-round draft pick.
Mike Garafolo @MikeGarafolo
More: The <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Browns?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Browns</a> will pay Baker Mayfield $10.5 million this season, which means they trimmed over $8 million in cash and salary-cap space. The <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Panthers?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Panthers</a> will pay Mayfield ~$5 million. Mayfield agreed to trim ~$3.5 million off his base salary.
Mayfield and Garoppolo have been the two most-talked about trade chips left in the NFL. A divorce between Mayfield and the Browns has been in the works since March when they first pursued Deshaun Watson in a trade, before they eventually acquired him from the Houston Texans.
The San Francisco 49ers started the countdown clock on Garoppolo's tenure with the organization last year when they traded up in the draft to select Trey Lance third overall.
Things have been far more amicable between Garoppolo and the Niners throughout this saga. The two sides were initially working together to find a situation that would benefit him.
Garoppolo underwent shoulder surgery in March that complicated things. Head coach Kyle Shanahan recently told reporters the 30-year-old quarterback was on track to be medically cleared in July.
Assuming the medicals check out for Garoppolo soon, these teams would make sense as potential destinations as the 49ers prepare to hand their offense over to Lance.
The Seahawks have been one of the most popular landing spots for either Mayfield or Garoppolo. They certainly have the need for a proven starter with Drew Lock and Geno Smith as their top two quarterbacks right now.
Garoppolo may not be a viable trade option for Seattle since the 49ers might not want to give a division rival a starting quarterback.
But given how few teams seem to be looking for a starter at this point, San Francisco could eventually have to outright release Garoppolo. His contract is structured so the 49ers would save $25.4 million against the cap this season whether he's traded or released.
The 49ers' best approach would be to trade Garoppolo, but waiving him would be better than holding on to him through the 2022 season because of the cap implications.
A Seahawks offense led by Garoppolo would look much better than it figures to with Lock or Smith. They have playmakers on the outside in DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett.
Seattle offensive coordinator Shane Waldron spent two seasons as the Los Angeles Rams' passing-game coordinator in 2019 and 2020. Jared Goff has some similar limitations as a thrower that Garoppolo does, but Garoppolo can be one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the league under the right circumstances.
The biggest concern for Garoppolo in Seattle would be playing behind an offensive line that looks like one of the worst units in the NFL. He doesn't play well out of structure and is limited as a scrambler when plays break down.
Depending on how many games head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider want to win in 2022, Garoppolo could be the quarterback to lead them if he's available.
New Orleans Saints
It would be easier to make the case for Garoppolo ending up with the Saints if Sean Payton was still the team's head coach.
Garoppolo is basically a poor man's version of late-career Drew Brees. He has pinpoint accuracy to make up for him limited arm strength. Offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, who has been in that role since 2009, knew how to maximize Brees' talent in the latter stages of his career.
As is the case with the Seahawks, New Orleans would probably have to wait to d see if Garoppolo gets released before potentially making a move. The team only has $10.7 million in cap space, and he is owed $26.95 million in 2022.
The Saints don't necessarily need to add a quarterback. Jameis Winston is penciled in as the starter, assuming he doesn't suffer any setbacks in his recovery from the torn ACL and damaged MCL that he suffered in Week 8 last season.
They also signed Andy Dalton as a free agent in March to give them a veteran backup.
Winston did show promise in his eight games as a starter in 2021. The 2015 No. 1 overall pick threw for 1,170 yards, 14 touchdowns and only three interceptions. However, some of that performance looks unsustainable going forward. His touchdown percentage of 8.7 would have led the NFL by nearly two full points (Aaron Rodgers led all quarterbacks with a 7.0) if he had enough passing attempts to qualify.
Winston also has a long-established history of volatility. He threw at least 14 interceptions in four of his five seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, including a league-high 30 in 2019.
None of the offseason moves that the Saints have made suggest they are interested in any kind of rebuild. Many of the pieces they have in place would give Garoppolo a safety net not dissimilar to what he has had in San Francisco.
They added Chris Olave and Jarvis Landry to their receiving group with Michael Thomas, and their defense finished third in the league in Football Outsiders DVOA in 2021. Alvin Kamara is arguably the best dual-threat running back in the NFL, though he could be facing a suspension after he was charged with battery causing substantial bodily harm and conspiracy to commit battery in the assault of a man in Las Vegas in February.
The NFC South isn't a strong division going into 2022. The Saints probably can't catch the Tampa Bay Buccaneers no matter what they do at this point, but they have more than enough roster talent to compete for a playoff spot if they get good quarterback play.
Garoppolo doesn't have the type of ceiling that Winston does, but his floor is much higher because he won't make many of the mistakes down the field that Winston has throughout his career.
This is a cop-out answer, but it's also the only real option that makes sense. Circumstances would have to line up perfectly for either the Seahawks or Saints to get Garoppolo.
The 49ers have not given any indication they are rushing to trade Garoppolo as soon as he's cleared. In fact, it might work to their benefit if they continue to slow-play things.
Some team's starting quarterback might suffer a season-ending injury during the preseason. A club going into training camp with high hopes for its quarterback competition might be disappointed by the results from the options it has available.
Whatever the situation ends up being that leads to Garoppolo ending up with a new team, we don't know what it's going to be or where it's going to be.
There has been speculation that the 49ers could enter the season with Lance and Garoppolo on the roster. It doesn't make sense for them to do that to either player, though.
Lance needs to get starting reps to show what he's capable of doing in the NFL. Even if he doesn't end up becoming the franchise player whom the Niners hoped for when they traded multiple first-round picks to the Miami Dolphins to get him, they have to let him prove that on the field.
The pressure of Lance trying to lead a team with Super Bowl aspirations in 2022 is already enough to put on his shoulders. Keeping the quarterback who led the 49ers to two NFC Championship Games in the past three seasons is just asking Lance to fail.
Garoppolo has proved he's worthy of being a starter in the NFL. He isn't a top-tier quarterback who is going to win games in the way that players like Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen can, but he can elevate a good team to being a championship contender.