The 49ers not being to trade quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo wasn’t necessarily a bad plan, it was just truly awful timing in light of the rest of the league.
The plan the San Francisco 49ers set in place to make the quarterback transition from Jimmy Garoppolo to Trey Lance wasn’t a bad one. In fact, it worked out better than the team might have imagined, at least during the course of the 2021 season.
But ever since the Niners fell apart in the final minutes of the NFC Championship game and Garoppolo said his goodbyes to the team and fans on Feb. 1, it feels like Murphy’s Law is in full effect.
In what once looked like a robust, quarterback-needy market with teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers, Washington Commanders, Denver Broncos, Carolina Panthers, Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints, and others all looking for new signal-callers, the only stability in the market has been, rather oddly, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers staying put, while seemingly every other team has made some kind of move to make San Francisco’s ability to move on from Garoppolo via trade harder.
Former Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is now in Denver via a massive trade. The Commanders sent picks to the Colts for — and took on all of the remaining contract of — Carson Wentz to make him the first QB of their new era. Pittsburgh opted to bring in Mitchell Trubisky on a modest contract, while the Saints eventually brought back Jameis Winston.
Jimmy Garoppolo trade impacted by unforeseen developments
The biggest domino to fall, outside of Rodgers and Wilson, however, was the Browns’ surprising and much-maligned trade for Deshaun Watson, leaving incumbent Cleveland starter Baker Mayfield out in the cold. This was followed by the Atlanta Falcons sending Matt Ryan to Indianapolis for a 2022 third-round pick (and taking on a $40 million dead cap hit) and Atlanta’s subsequent signing of former Tennessee Titan and Las Vegas Raider Marcus Mariota to fill its quarterback hole.
All this to say, the once meaty market that might have existed for Garoppolo appears to have evaporated in just a few weeks. Maybe it had to do with the quarterback opting for shoulder surgery on his throwing arm after the season was over, meaning he won’t even be available to throw until later into the summer.
Or maybe the market was never as vast as the 49ers expected. There are certainly plenty of reasons the trade hasn’t happened and doesn’t appear to be on the horizon either.
But the Niners, specifically general manager John Lynch, should be facing the ire of fans for not getting the job done.
49ers merely experienced bad timing trying to trade Jimmy Garoppolo
The plan was fine. It just happened to be taking place in the middle of one of the wildest offseasons in terms of quarterback movement the league has ever seen, where former MVPs and Super Bowl champions were made available, and where the Watson situation suddenly cleared up enough for the Browns to pull the trigger on the massive trade.
If you remove those factors, there’s a solid chance San Francisco’s brass would have already found a trade partner for Garoppolo, recent shoulder surgery or not, because NFL teams have shown their cards regarding competent (and sometimes slightly less than) quarterback play: They will pay for it.
Just look at what the Panthers did last offseason. They traded three picks, including a second-rounder in 2022, to the New York Jets for Sam Darnold, a former first-round pick who had never lived up to his draft status and would go on to have a bad season in Carolina. On top of that, they immediately picked up Darnold’s fifth-year option, meaning they’ll pay him $18.585 million this season, according to Over The Cap, no matter what happens in 2022.
Ironically, the Panthers are one of the few teams, outside of maybe Seattle, who could still be in for Garoppolo, but it would mean doing some fancy cap dancing to keep roughly $43.5 million worth of quarterbacks on their roster.
But there was no way anyone could have seen this level of quarterback movement coming at the same time the 49ers were looking to trade a capable starter.
For that reason, it’s hard to put all the blame on Lynch and the rest of the front office for not being able to move Garoppolo thus far.
Could they have miscalculated his value to other teams? Absolutely. But we also don’t know for sure if there were ever any offers on the table or if all the other moves simply made Garoppolo, with his $25 million cap hit, having to give up picks to get him, and a bum shoulder, a harder pill to swallow for quarterback-needy teams.
Could the 49ers have opted to get rid of Garoppolo last year and run with Lance in 2021? Sure they could have, but that part of the plan worked out quite well for the Niners. The second part, however, ran into a brick wall, mostly due to bad timing.