The 2022 NFL draft has come and gone, and Jimmy Garoppolo remains a member of the San Francisco 49ers. This probably wasn't the plan when the team used the third overall pick in the 2021 draft on Trey Lance, and it might be a disappointing development for some fans.
Garoppolo has played well enough, when healthy, to keep San Francisco in title contention. However, the 49ers targeted Lance because of the North Dakota State product's upside and because of Garoppolo's extensive injury history.
Over the past four seasons, Garoppolo has missed 25 games. "Well enough" is not quite what San Francisco is hoping to get from the quarterback position.
Lance—who racked up 2,786 passing yards, 1,100 rushing yards, 42 combined touchdowns and no interceptions in his last season as a collegiate starter in 2019—has all the tools required of a modern and elite NFL quarterback. However, he came out as an unfinished product, and allowing him to sit behind Garoppolo for a year was always the plan.
Keeping both quarterbacks in 2022, however, wasn't part of San Francisco's strategy. The 49ers have weighed trade options for the veteran this offseason but have been unsuccessful in moving him. This has left a situation in which Garoppolo and Lance may have to vie for the starting job in 2022.
Fans ready to see Lance take the reins wish the 49ers weren't here. Members of the organization hoping to flip Garoppolo for valuable assets don't either. However, the 49ers could face much bigger problems than having to pick between the future and the placeholder in the coming months.
Why Is Garoppolo Still a 49er?
Throughout the 2021 season, it felt like Garoppolo was making his final San Francisco run and auditioning for a future employer. Lance was waiting in the wings, occasionally seeing the field as a change-of-pace quarterback, and he made a pair of starts when Garoppolo was unavailable.
The eventual torch-passing was apparent, and Garoppolo certainly sounded like a player who didn't expect to be back after the season.
Yet, he is still on the roster, and there are a few reasons why. For starters, the 49ers brass may have misjudged (or perhaps wildly overestimated) his trade value early in the offseason. General manager John Lynch tried to create the impression that he could get at least a pair of second-round picks for the 30-year-old.
According to ProFootballTalk's Mike Florio, Lynch was "telling interested teams" that he had an offer of two second-round picks for Garoppolo on the table in March. It's unclear who those interested teams were, but none of them bit with an offer good enough to force Lynch's hand.
If Lynch really did have that offer, he probably should have taken it. If he was simply trying to raise Garoppolo's value, it didn't work. Florio later provided some insight into why:
"The biggest problem, as one league source explained it on Saturday, is the shoulder surgery Garoppolo underwent earlier this month. No one will trade for a quarterback with a $25 million compensation package after he underwent surgery to repair the labrum in his throwing shoulder, the source explained."
On one hand, Garoppolo has shown that he can win. He's gone 33-14 as a starter with San Francisco and posted a solid 98.7 passer rating last season.
However, Garoppolo's recovery, coupled with his $27 million 2022 cap hit, does present a problem. Teams know that he can be a solid starter, but they don't want to overpay for a guy who has struggled to stay healthy.
The other big factor hurting Garoppolo's market was the flurry of quarterback trades we saw this offseason. Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan and Deshaun Watson were all moved, which left few potential landing spots for San Francisco's trade chip.
There are even fewer quarterback-needy teams now that the draft has passed. The Pittsburgh Steelers took Kenny Pickett in the first round, while teams like the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons took fliers on quarterbacks on Day 2.
This has left San Francisco with a firm grasp on Garoppolo's 2022 rights heading into OTAs and minicamp, but the 49ers do have other options.
What's Next for Jimmy G?
The first thing to note about Garoppolo's immediate future is that he's still recovering from shoulder surgery. Assessing his accurate trade value will be difficult until/unless he's healthy enough to pass the required medical checks.
However, trading Jimmy G before the start of training camp is still a possibility, and one the 49ers are reportedly eyeing.
"Garoppolo's shoulder is slated to get the all-clear in late June or early July, at which point the Niners will again seek a trade partner," ESPN's Nick Wagoner wrote.
Once Garoppolo is back near 100 percent, the next step will be finding a potential trade partner unhappy enough with its quarterback situation—or one that has experienced a significant injury at the position—to pull the trigger on Jimmy G.
If, for example, rookie Matt Corral and Sam Darnold both fall flat in OTAs and minicamp, the Panthers may consider making a reasonable offer for Garoppolo. Of course, the Cleveland Browns have a potential quarterback trade chip in Baker Mayfield, which complicates matters.
If a team like Carolina does reenter the quarterback market, San Francisco will have to strike a balance between beating Cleveland to the punch and setting a favorable asking price. Selling low just to undercut the Browns would be a mistake.
The 49ers should not be willing to move Garoppolo for proverbial pennies just to get him off the roster either. While his cap hit isn't a bargain, it's not outrageous. Neither is the idea of keeping him on the roster for one more season.
This is the other option San Francisco must consider, and given the state of the franchise, it's one that actually makes a ton of sense.
Keeping Both Quarterbacks Could Be Right Move for San Francisco
At some point, the 49ers are going to turn things over to Lance. This isn't a situation like the one the Green Bay Packers have with Aaron Rodgers and Jordan Love. Garoppolo is an above-average game manager at best, and he's not going to keep Lance on the bench forever.
In today's NFL, young quarterbacks simply don't sit for long, the Packers' case being a rare exception. Quarterbacks do their developing on the field and in live game situations, and for that reason, going to Lance now would make some sense.
However, the 49ers aren't like most franchises looking to groom a first- or second-year signal-caller. They have a roster ready to compete for Super Bowls, as evidenced by last year's trip to the NFC title game.
San Francisco's window is open, and the 49ers need to take advantage by playing the quarterback who gives them the best chance to win now. As tight end George Kittle recently pointed out, that's going to give coach Kyle Shanahan a tough decision to make if both quarterbacks are on the roster in Week 1.
Kittle recently said the following, per Florio:
"That's one reason I'm glad I'm not the head coach of the 49ers. That's all on Coach Shanahan. I'll give you both ways. Jimmy G, awesome in the huddle, great leader, directs guys. People go to attention when he's talking. He's got a quick release, he knows the offense. Like I said, been to two NFC Championship games, knows what he's doing. Trey Lance can run, extend plays, does all the play-action stuff incredible, could throw the ball 70 yards. I don't know. It's a toss-up for me."
Lance showed flashes as a rookie, passing for 603 yards, rushing for 168, tallying six combined touchdowns and throwing two interceptions in six appearances with two starts. Is he ready to start on a full-time basis, though? Keeping Garoppolo gives San Francisco a tremendous insurance policy if he isn't.
The challenge will be deciding whether to make Garoppolo an insurance policy as a backup or allow him to start early while working Lance into the lineup as a situational quarterback. That's a decision Shanahan and Co. can answer with an honest and open camp competition.
If Lance is the better quarterback in camp and is ready to take over, great. If he isn't, that's OK too because the 22-year-old still has a tremendously bright future. Keeping Garoppolo doesn't change that fact, and that's what San Francisco should do if an enticing trade offer doesn't come down the pike in the next few months.
Lance has all the physical and mental tools needed to eventually be among the league's best quarterbacks. Garoppolo doesn't have the ceiling Lance does, but he's proved he can successfully lead San Francisco deep into the postseason.
Having to pick between the two is a good problem to have for a 49ers franchise hoping to reach the Super Bowl this season and for multiple seasons in the future.