In defense of the 49ers keeping Jimmy Garoppolo

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance (5) and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance (5) and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

An explanation for why the 49ers kept  Jimmy Garoppolo

Throughout the offseason and training camp, the 49ers made two things abundantly clear. It was now Trey Lance’s team, hence their desire to move Jimmy Garoppolo, and they would not move off a player they considered a quality starting quarterback without any compensation in return. Sometimes, the answer is as simple as the one given first.

The 49ers overplayed their hand, leaving them with a quarterback on a bloated salary with a team clearly moving on. No one believed they’d keep Garoppolo, so once he had surgery – surgery intentionally timed to scuttle a trade with any team, per Matt Barrows and Jeff Howe in The Athletic (sub req) – there was no leverage in a trade. So the 49ers, having their bluff called, followed through.

Garoppolo’s new deal cuts his $24.1 million salary, which would have become fully guaranteed on Sept. 10, right before the Week 1 opener, down to $6.5 million. It offers starting incentives that could push the value of the deal upwards of $19 million and both a no-trade clause and a no-tag clause. In short, it definitively ends Garoppolo’s tenure with San Francisco after this season, barring an unforeseen extension.

It’s a risky move for many reasons, one with clear negatives. The 49ers, for an offseason supporting Lance yet cautioning for instant success on his part, now have a former starter patiently waiting in case any blunders occur.

The last thing the 49ers need is Lance’s development to be stunted simply because any mistake will hyper-intensify his standing on the team. Regardless of Lance’s mental fortitude, that’s an unhealthy environment for a young QB who needs to be able to make mistakes and learn from them to operate in.

But beyond that, which the 49ers would never be able to rationalize away, most concerns have a defense built against them. Are they believable? That’s up to you to decide. But here’s a defense, from the mindset of the 49ers, on why they’d make this move.

The 49ers have publicly and privately committed to Trey Lance

The first defense is against the simplest argument – Garoppolo being a hedge to Lance being inexperienced. Obviously, it’s partially true – you wouldn’t see the Packers keep a guy like Garoppolo around only because Aaron Rodgers could be hurt in the future. There’s some warranted concern about Lance’s ability to lead this team to the promised land this year. That’s the key part – this year. Lance’s progression, for better or for worse, runs separately from the 49ers own goals of maximizing their loaded roster.

Obviously, keeping Garoppolo makes this issue magnified tenfold. Jimmy G has his problems as a quarterback, but there’s a familiarity that meshes with the team’s general averse nature to big risks, especially with a roster talented enough to win it all with competent QB play.

This is why Albert Breer’s report about the communication with both QBs is essential. The deal was struck on the basis of Lance staying as QB1 and Garoppolo taking less than Lance in base salary.

Shanahan’s comments on Tuesday’s presser reaffirmed the nature of the deal – Garoppolo was given complete freedom to find a trade, with him returning as a backup an option only if nothing could be found and he was willing to take the paycut and be a backup.

49ers quarterback health has been this regime’s Achilles heel

Concerns over a starter getting hurt are a legitimate issue, but most teams aren’t planning around such an unlikely contingency. Most teams aren’t like the 49ers though, who have seen two full years completely lost due to injuries to their QB1. Lance’s own injury last year likely didn’t alleviate any concern.

Salary cap flexibility from a rookie contract can be used in many different ways. Most expect teams to support their young QB by bolstering other parts of the roster – the 49ers chose to use some of the flexibility to insulate themselves at the backup position.

It’s a value play for the 49ers

The 49ers were clear – Garoppolo was worth enough to not give up for nothing. They’ve doubled down on that premise. Him being on the roster will assuredly give them a chance as a compensatory pick when he signs elsewhere, a worst-case assurance of some return. In the meantime, the no-trade clause gives Garoppolo the same control he had when he was initially searching for a trade or when he would have been a free agent on the open market.

Should a team’s desire for a quarterback skyrocket, the 49ers would have a starting caliber QB on an affordable contract ready to be moved. The 49ers essentially view whatever final return they’d receive from Garoppolo along with the assurance of a competent backup to be worth $6.5 million and the headache it creates.

The 49ers believe their locker room is strong enough to handle the chaos

This is the single biggest defense the 49ers have. No rational person will tell you keeping Jimmy Garoppolo doesn’t open a bevy of locker room concerns, from roster politics to personal friendships.

If the 49ers don’t believe that their locker room can be professional about the complications that will inevitably arise, they don’t make this move. At the end of the day, they believe that Garoppolo and Lance, Lance and the roster, and Garoppolo and the roster all have solid enough relationships to where the awkwardness of it all is meaningless.

It’s a huge gamble on the culture the 49ers cultivated. If it pays off, the 49ers may have struck gold.

Next. 49ers Jimmy Garoppolo restructures deal to back up Trey Lance in 2022. dark