Revisiting the 2023 Jimmy G Sweepstakes as 49ers Look Like Super Bowl Contenders

Brad Gagnon@@Brad_GagnonFeatured Columnist IVDecember 2, 2022

SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 27: Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers warms up prior to the game against the New Orleans Saints at Levi's Stadium on November 27, 2022 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The words "Jimmy Garoppolo sweepstakes" have been written many times before, and they will be written many times still. I also just wrote them now, and might as well do it again: Prepare for the 2023 Jimmy Garoppolo sweepstakes!

Yes, everyone's favorite in-limbo offseason quarterback is destined to hog speculative headlines through the first quarter of the 2023 calendar year as free agency awaits while Trey Lance's ankle recovers.

Lance, of course, remains the San Francisco 49ers' long-term future at the quarterback position. San Francisco gave up far too much for the 22-year-old, 2021 No. 3 overall pick to give up on him just four starts into his NFL career, which means the team will almost certainly —finally—lose Garoppolo.

Granted, that didn't happen last offseason despite the fact Lance was healthy and Jimmy G was featured in trade speculation throughout the spring. Indeed, the 49ers brought him back on a restructured one-year deal, which paid dividends almost immediately when Lance went down with that season-ending injury in September.

But now, Garoppolo is likely to be too expensive to keep around in a projected backup role simply because he's playing too well to be ignored by other teams that would be happy to make him their starter.

In what's becoming a career year at the age of 31, Garoppolo is the NFL's fifth-highest-rated qualified passer. He also ranks third in terms of DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) and DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) at Football Outsiders, and—while he might never be a prototypical gunslinger—he's one of just four qualified quarterbacks with a 112-plus passer rating on third down.

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - NOVEMBER 21: Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers calls a play during the first half of a game against the Arizona Cardinals at Estadio Azteca on November 21, 2022 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Maybe most importantly, he hasn't committed a single turnover over the course of a four-game winning streak that has moved the 49ers into "prime Super Bowl contender" conversations ahead of a high-profile Week 13 matchup with Tua Tagovailoa and the contending Miami Dolphins.

This week, DraftKings only listed the Philadelphia Eagles with (slightly) better Super Bowl odds than San Francisco in the NFC.

Of course, things could become super awkward if Garoppolo actually leads the 49ers to a Vince Lombardi Trophy. But because the team is loaded with talent and realistically married to Lance, anything short of a championship likely means Garoppolo—who cannot be slapped with the franchise tag again—hits the market after this campaign.

Where might he land? Let's run through some options, from most to least likely landing spot.

New York Jets

Duh. Jets head coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur came from San Francisco, and Zach Wilson is the league's lowest-rated qualified passer. It might feel early for the Jets to cut bait on Wilson—who was drafted right before Lance in 2021—but we're talking about New York, and patience levels are at an all-time low in this league already. Wilson has already been benched this season, so it's easy to see the Jets swapping him out for the veteran Garoppolo in March.

FLORHAM PARK, NJ - JULY 29: Head coach Robert Saleh, left, of the New York Jets stands next to offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur during a morning practice at Atlantic Health Jets Training Center on July 29, 2021 in Florham Park, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Rich Schultz/Getty Images

New York Giants

Daniel Jones has had some moments this season, but we've officially reached a point at which the Giants are contending despite Jones, who has a mere 88.1 passer rating during a 1-3 stretch for Big Blue. Meanwhile, according to Spotrac, only two teams are slated to enter the offseason with more cap space than the G-Men.

Washington Commanders

I think the NFL might be ready to give up on Carson Wentz as a starter, and the Commanders can't possibly be convinced Taylor Heinicke is the solution beyond this season. It's still possible he grabs the reins entirely, but it's just as possible he fails to take over consistently and Washington is left wondering what could have been as a talented defense puts them into contention following a poor start to 2022.

New Orleans Saints

Jameis Winston just hasn't worked out, and I don't think anyone expects Andy Dalton to remain in the Saints' starting role indefinitely. And this is a team that still has plenty of talent—too much to be 4-8 coming entering December. That has to move them into Garoppolo's realm, but the problem is they are on track to be in salary-cap hell (again). If that's the case, they won't likely be capable of winning any bidding wars for Jimmy G.

SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 27: Jameis Winston #2 of the New Orleans Saints shakes hands with Andy Dalton #14 during warm ups prior to the game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on November 27, 2022 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Las Vegas Raiders

It hasn't been a good year for veteran Derek Carr, and the Raiders aren't in the mix despite plenty of talent. They just gave Carr a new contract in the 2022 offseason, but the Raiders can save $29.3 million of his $34.9 million projected 2023 cap hit by moving on. And if they do that, it would make a lot of sense to chase Garoppolo. They should have the cash to do it, too.

Indianapolis Colts

It's possible Matt Ryan is one-and-done in Indy, but the Colts have enough talent to remain competitive with a veteran under center. They can also afford to be involved in veteran quarterback sweepstakes, but they might prefer to avoid that route after being burned to various degrees by Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz and Matt Ryan in 2020, 2021 and 2022, respectively.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs won't likely have much money to spend either, but who knows if Tom Brady will be back. And if he isn't, it's entirely possible they coax Brady's former understudy to relieve him with a stellar supporting cast in Florida.

FOXBORO, MA - OCTOBER 22:  Tom Brady #12 and Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the New England Patriots walk through the tunnel before a game against the Atlanta Falcons at Gillette Stadium on October 22, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Carolina Panthers

The Baker Mayfield experiment has failed, and Sam Darnold isn't the answer, so it's not out of the realm of possibility. However, a rebuilding team like Carolina that is likely to have a high draft pick might not care to pay for a nine-year veteran.

Green Bay Packers

If by chance this is Aaron Rodgers' last year in Green Bay, a Packers team looking to save face and bounce back quickly could try to smooth things over with a veteran like Garoppolo.