The Panthers may end up being the 49ers’ lone trade partner for Jimmy Garoppolo, but there are ways to make a deal happen this offseason.
The San Francisco 49ers watched a potential trade market for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo dry up awfully quick.
There were more quarterback-needy teams this offseason than quarterbacks available. But teams in need of a signal-caller were quick to explore options other than sending out capital to the Niners for a 30-year-old middle-of-the-pack Garoppolo coming off shoulder surgery.
Just take a look at the notable non-Garoppolo transactions from said teams:
- Denver Broncos: Russell Wilson
- Washington Commanders: Carson Wentz
- Cleveland Browns: Deshaun Watson
- Indianapolis Colts: Matt Ryan
- Atlanta Falcons: Marcus Mariota
Those moves effectively mean only the Seattle Seahawks, Houston Texans and Carolina Panthers are arguably in on upgrading under center. It doesn’t seem likely San Francisco would trade Garoppolo to Seattle (inter-division moves are rare), and Houston seems fine with developing second-year pro Davis Mills under center in 2022.
Perhaps the Panthers are the only ones left.
Could Panthers realistically trade with 49ers for Jimmy Garoppolo?
On the surface, Carolina should have no issues trading for Jimmy G. If for no other reason than he’d be an upgrade over the Panthers’ current projected starter for the upcoming season, Sam Darnold, the former No. 3 overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft by the New York Jets.
Darnold, for whom Carolina traded an offseason ago, flamed out again with his new team, and the Panthers surely have to be regretting the trade and picking up his fully guaranteed fifth-year option, worth $18.585 million, according to Over the Cap.
Carolina went 4-7 during Darnold’s starts last year, as he completed less than 60 percent of his passes and tossed nine touchdowns against 13 interceptions. Even though the NFC South is weak, Darnold offers up almost nothing valuable under center.
Simply put, moving on from him might be a necessity for head coach Matt Rhule to retain his job through 2022 and beyond.
The Panthers have cap space, too, $24.6 million of it, which would be almost enough to absorb Garoppolo’s $25.5 million post-trade cap hit with some minor roster jockeying on the back end.
A couple of problems, though.
Carolina would be silly to keep an $18 million quarterback, Darnold, as a backup to Garoppolo for that amount, and simply cutting Darnold would result in all of that being dead money.
On top of that, the Panthers wouldn’t trade their top pick from the 2022 NFL Draft, No. 6 overall, to the 49ers for Garoppolo, and Carolina isn’t slated to pick again until Round 4.
What if there’s a way around all that, though?
49ers trade scenario with Panthers for Jimmy Garoppolo
The Niners, without a first-round pick in this and next year’s drafts, would nevertheless love to get their hands on the No. 6 overall selection. Somehow. But it would take some craftiness on the part of general manager John Lynch to make it happen.
In a would-be NBA-esque move, San Francisco could look to move Garoppolo to Carolina in exchange for Darnold, trading off $25.5 million in cap space while absorbing Darnold’s $18-plus million cap hit for 2022.
It wouldn’t be as ideal as trading Garoppolo outright for draft picks and saving $25.5 million in the process. But there’s a way to make it all worthwhile.
The 49ers win this trade by finally offloading Garoppolo, paving the way for 2021 rookie Trey Lance to cement his starting role in 2022, all the while landing a first-round draft pick in return by effectively trading up from Round 2.
And while the move only saves $8 million more in cap space, managing to get a Round 1 pick in return makes it worthwhile. Darnold will be an expensive backup, yet the Niners can easily let him walk as a free agent in 2023 with the outside shot of potentially generating a compensatory selection, should he qualify.
Carolina, meanwhile, wins because it’s able to offload the remainder of Darnold’s contract while also upgrading at quarterback with Garoppolo. Sure, it forces the Panthers to part ways with their first-round pick. But getting that signal-calling upgrade and a second-rounder back makes it much easier.
If only we could get both San Francisco and Carolina’s general managers on the phone to broker the trade idea.