Jimmy Garoppolo‘s end-of-season comments point to a departure from the 49ers, who have Trey Lance readying to start in 2022. San Francisco’s four-plus-season starter indicated a trade could happen soon. Regardless of the statuses of Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson, Garoppolo looms as an upgrade option for certain teams.
Possible blockbusters involving Rodgers and Wilson, along with what happens with Deshaun Watson, complicate matters on this year’s quarterback market. So will an underwhelming rookie crop. Will AFC teams eyeing Rodgers or Wilson be willing to make an early move for Garoppolo, or will they end up waiting out the higher-profile (and more expensive) options?
Garoppolo, 30, has battled several injuries since becoming a starter, but the 49ers going 2-for-2 in NFC championship berths during seasons in which their QB1 was largely available probably cannot be ignored. Garoppolo holds a no-trade clause and is seeking a team prepared to compete, further complicating matters.
In the NFC, Washington has continued to strike out on long-term QB acquisitions and did not make such a move last year. Washington did try, via a Matthew Stafford offer, prior to signing Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Commanders have Taylor Heinicke signed for 2022 — at just a $2.9MM cap hit — but will almost certainly acquire a veteran or use a first-round pick on a quarterback. The Commanders are also set to carry more than $31MM in cap space, putting them among the league’s top 10. Garoppolo’s through-2022 contract calls for a $24.2MM base salary next season, though his ’22 cap hit could be lowered via an extension agreement.
The Panthers saw their QB situation deteriorate to the point Matt Rhule‘s job was in jeopardy, and Sam Darnold is on Carolina’s books at a fully guaranteed $18.9MM in 2022. Carolina could also loom for Watson. The embattled Texans quarterback is not believed to have waived his no-trade clause for the Panthers, but they were prepared to make a strong offer prior to the Pro Bowler’s off-field trouble surfacing. If the Dolphins are truly off the Watson market, the Panthers would seemingly re-emerge as perhaps his top suitor.
Tom Brady‘s retirement puts the Buccaneers in play, and early odds place Tampa Bay as one of the most likely teams to acquire Garoppolo. The 49ers quarterback, who is coming off a season in which he ranked 13th in QBR, following his former Patriots teammate would certainly make for an interesting scenario. A Garoppolo extension would be necessary for the Bucs, who have nearly half their starting lineup set for free agency. Even without that contingent on the payroll, the Bucs are projected to be barely $5MM under the cap.
Having not solidified a Drew Brees successor yet, the Saints can be also considered a candidate. Their cap situation, per usual, is not in good shape. New Orleans is entering a second straight offseason more than $75MM over the cap. The team made this work last year but did not have a franchise-QB salary factoring into the equation, with Jameis Winston signing for backup-level dough.
The Steelers should also be considered the mix as a Garoppolo suitor. Although Pittsburgh extended Mason Rudolph, it is difficult to view the former third-round pick as a viable Ben Roethlisberger successor. Still, the early offseason word pointed to the Steelers avoiding the veteran-QB market. But a veteran would make sense given the makeup of an experienced Steelers defense. The Steelers are also armed with far more cap space than they had in 2021, being set to hold more than $30MM.
The Broncos are probably the most interesting team here, given their connection to Rodgers. A late-season amendment on potential Wilson destinations also included Denver. The team that has needed a quarterback for six years could attempt to pry Kirk Cousins away from the Vikings, considering GM George Paton‘s previous run as Minnesota’s assistant GM. Garoppolo, however, has experience in the type of offense Nathaniel Hackett is set to install. Any Denver Garoppolo offer would surely be withheld until it is known Rodgers is off the table.
As of now, the Browns are prepared to keep Baker Mayfield for his fifth-year option season. Are there any other sleeper teams to monitor here? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.