On Friday, an unnamed 49ers source told ESPN, “Jimmy [Garoppolo] is here to stay. He’s our guy this year.”
On Monday, coach Kyle Shanahan and G.M. John Lynch met with reporters to discuss the decision to trade up from No. 12 to No. 3 for a quarterback. Neither said that Garoppolo is “here to stay” or that “he’s our guy this year.”
With no payments due to Garoppolo and no guarantees vesting until Week One (when Garoppolo’s salary for 2021 becomes fully-guaranteed, as a practical matter), the 49ers have time. They need time. They need to see whether whoever they take with the third pick in the draft is ready to go. If he is, the 49ers can make a move before Garoppolo’s $25 million compensation package can’t be avoided.
Shanahan made it clear that a trade is a possibility. Some would say they’re posturing for a trade (and they are).
“We’re not there yet right now and odds are, we probably won’t be,” Shanahan said. “That’s why we’re happy that we don’t have to be that way. We’ve got a guy in here who we know we can win with, a guy that our players love, that we love and we’re excited to have him this year and we’re excited to have a hell of a quarterback right behind him learning for when the time is his.”
When is the time his? It’s up to him. If he can show he’s ready, he’ll be the guy when Week One rolls around.
Regardless, it’s clear that, eventually, Garoppolo will be gone.
“It’s not like, we’re not giving up on Jimmy because he can’t play or anything,” Shanahan said. “Jimmy can play. He’s only gotten to do it one year. We also like the person, too. We also know we can’t go through a year of what’s happened two out of the last three years. So, that’s something we had to protect the organization with, and there’s lots of ways to go into that, but it wasn’t just a slam dunk decision on this guy can play, this guy can’t play. You’ve got a lot of options and you’re in a lot of different spots to acquire those and how does it all balance out? Trust me, I mean, my wife, when she listens to my phone calls with John when we’re trying to be on vacation, she thinks we’re having the same conversation eight times a day and we kind of are because we’re just circling through all this stuff. The first time I woke up with a little bit more clarity is when we made this trade, because it’s still not done like exactly where we’re going and stuff, but it was like, ‘All right, now it’s much more clear.’ There’s not as many dots to connect.”
One dot that doesn’t need to be connected is this: Garoppolo may react to the trade for the player who will supplant him in a way that helps him, and the team.
“I’m sure Jimmy was a little pissed off from it, just like I would be, too, but me knowing Jimmy, he’ll be fired up and come in and he’ll work his butt off,” Shanahan said. “Knowing Jimmy, the more mad Jimmy gets, usually the better he gets. So, if Jimmy just gets madder and he stays healthy, I mean, this is going to be a good thing for Jimmy, too, which could be a great problem for the 49ers.”
The best problem for the 49ers would be for Mac Jones or whoever they take at No. 3 to get up to speed quickly and for another team to develop a need at quarterback, allowing the 49ers to flip Garoppolo for value. In 2016, for example, a fluke injury to Teddy Bridgewater in late August opened the door for the Eagles to get a first-round pick and a fourth-round pick for quarterback Sam Bradford, opening the door for Carson Wentz to start as a rookie.
As long as the 49ers are willing and able to carry Garoppolo’s $25 million cap number throughout the offseason, training camp, and the preseason, they can bide their time and wait for: (1) the rookie to show that he’s ready; and (2) an opportunity to trade Garoppolo to arise. At some point, the 49ers also can go to Garoppolo and say, “Look, we can’t pay you $25 million this year. We just can’t. We need you to take a lot less, or we’re just going to release you and go with the rookie.”
If that ultimatum comes late enough in August, Garoppolo may have no choice other than to take $12 million or $15 million or whatever amount less than $25 million his performances and availability of the last three years justifies. Thus, for now, the best move for the 49ers is to love the one they’re with, and hope that they’ll love the one they’re about to draft even more.