In any trade negotiations, the best leverage comes from a steadfast and credible insistence that the team doesn’t really want to trade the player. The 49ers, after moving up to No. 3 in the 2021 draft with the clear goal of acquiring a new quarterback, now must steadfastly and credibly insist that they don’t want to trade quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
The ruse already has begun, with the 49ers spreading the word to multiple reporters that “Jimmy is our guy,” even though he clearly isn’t.
Really, why would the 49ers swap three first-round picks and a third-round pick for the chance to draft their quarterback of the future if Garoppolo remains their quarterback of the present? If Garoppolo is the guy now, he’s the guy later. If he’s not the guy later, then he shouldn’t be the guy now.
But to get the most out of Garoppolo in trade, the 49ers need to convince everyone (or at least one other team) that they’ll keep him. Just like the Vikings when they had “no intent” to trade Percy Harvin or the Cardinals when Josh Rosen was “our guy” or when the Giants didn’t pay Odell Beckham Jr. to trade him.
Nothing prevents the 49ers from keeping Garoppolo and paying him the $25 million he’s due to earn this year. However, it would be stupid to do so. Nothing prevents another team from trading for Garoppolo’s contract and paying him $25 million this year. However, it would be stupid to do so.
The 49ers could keep Garoppolo at a dramatically reduced salary. They also could trade him, at a reduced salary.
With no guaranteed money vesting on April 1 and no roster bonuses due in the offseason and no other trigger forcing the 49ers to move quickly, time is on the 49ers’ side. Like the Raiders with tackle Trent Brown, the 49ers can tell Garoppolo and any interested team that they’ll just keep Garoppolo and cut him later. If another team wants him now, a deal can be done that would include compensation for the 49ers, a reduced salary for Garoppolo, and (quite possibly) an agreement to throw out the final season of his deal in 2022 and to make Garoppolo a free agent after the season.
Regardless, multiple past examples show us that the messages sent by the 49ers regarding their supposed desire to keep Garoppolo should not be believed. Every team wants to get value for every asset it has. A trade is always preferred to an outright release. Anything they get for Garoppolo is better than the nothing they’d get by cutting him.
Bottom line? No one is paying Garoppolo $25 million this year. The only question is whether he takes less to stay in San Francisco, whether he takes less to facilitate a trade, or whether he’s ultimately cut.