It’s one thing for the 49ers to make clear their desire to keep quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo indefinitely. It’s another for them to work out an acceptable contract that properly compensates Garoppolo, without paying him too much.
Garoppolo is represented by Don Yee, who has represented Patriots quarterback Tom Brady through a series of below-market deal. But there’s a belief that Yee, who was more of a bystander for most of Brady’s negotiations with the Patriots, will be looking to swing the pendulum in the other direction with Garoppolo. (Indeed, that’s likely one of the reasons for the New England decision to trade Garoppolo during the 2017 season in lieu of attempting a wait-and-see scenario in 2018. If Garoppolo/Yee are committed to breaking the bank, it becomes hard to finesse a tag-and-trade.)
The first step for Garoppolo/Yee will be (or at least should be) to not do a deal until the 49ers apply one of the three available tags: exclusive franchise tag, non-exclusive franchise tag, or transition tag. If, as most expect, a version of the franchise tag is used, it’s important for Garoppolo to absorb his first career franchise tag now, given that the third career franchise tag unlocks a whopping 44-percent increase over the prior year’s cap number.
Some believe that the 49ers will have no choice but to use the exclusive tag, given that Garoppolo’s late-season performance in 2017 would prompt another team to gladly give up two first-round picks to get him (more on that later). But the exclusive tag could get very expensive; it’s based on the average of the top five quarterback cap numbers, as determined in late April. Currently, that’s $24.88 million. (The top five quarterback cap numbers for 2018 are $26.5 million (Matthew Stafford), $25 million (Derek Carr), $24.75 million (Joe Flacco), $24.4 million (Andrew Luck), and $23.786 million (Russell Wilson).)
With $24.88 million as the starting point, the second year (at a 20-percent raise) becomes $29.86 million. The third year (at 44 percent) spikes to $43 million. That’s $97.7 million over three years.
The non-exclusive tag, which currently is expected to be in the range of $23 million, projects under the same formula to $90.3 million over three years, a drop of $7.4 million. But the non-exclusive tag invites the risk of another team trying to sign Garoppolo to an offer sheet.
Consider two factors in that regard. First, no one offered two first-round picks for Garoppolo a year ago; no one apparently offered even a first-round pick or more. Would someone willingly part with two first-round picks (and a huge contract) now? Second, if another team were to sign Garoppolo to an offer sheet (with a willingness to give up two first-round picks), the 49ers have the cash, cap space, and motivation to match. Which would quickly conclude the negotiations, and place Garoppolo under contract in San Francisco for, presumably, three or four or five years.
If the 49ers truly are committed to matching any offer made to Garoppolo, the transition tag could be tempting. However, since it carries no draft-pick compensation, a team would presumably be willing to offer much more via an offer sheet crafted under the transition tag, since it wouldn’t be giving up two first-round picks.
However it plays out, Garoppolo and Lee should let the next several weeks play out, and wait for the tag to be applied. Given that Garoppolo entered the league via a slotted second-round draft pick, he’d quite possibly pounce on any tag immediately, fully guaranteeing the compensation for the current year, foreclosing the possibility of an offer sheet, and setting the calculations in motion at either $97.7 million or $90.3 million over three years.