It won’t happen today. It may not happen at all. At some point between now and the first weekend of the regular season, it could happen.
New England cut Cam because: (1) rookie Mac Jones won the starting job; and (2) it didn’t make sense to keep Cam around as the backup, due in large part to the extent to which he had become a leader on the team. His presence could have created (wait for it) a schism in the locker room.
If San Francisco would do it, it would happen because: (1) rookie Trey Lance wins the starting job; (2) the team finds no trade partner for Garoppolo; and (3) it doesn’t make sense to pay Garoppolo a salary of $24.1 million in 2021.
The 49ers previously have shrugged at Garoppolo’s high salary as part of the overall investment in Lance. That could be true. It also could be posturing, aimed at making other teams believe that Garoppolo’s release isn’t an inevitability. That if you want him, you’ll have to trade for him.
It’s unlikely that anyone would trade for Garoppolo without the player taking a significant pay cut. If he’s released, he’ll definitely take a pay cut. As a free agent, no one would pay him a $24.1 million salary for 2021.
The difference between the two situations starts with the fact that Lance has to win the job. Opportunities have emerged for him to do so, but he hasn’t done it. Now, he’s out for roughly another week with a chip in the index finger of his throwing hand. Nothing can happen until the 49ers are certain that Lance would be ready to go.
It doesn’t have to happen until, basically, the day before the first game of the regular season. At that point, the Week One rosters lock and Garoppolo’s base salary becomes guaranteed, as a practical matter, by the termination pay provision of the labor deal.
Another possibility exists. The 49ers could issue an ultimatum to Garoppolo. Take less or be released. At this point, Garoppolo would have a hard time finding a significant salary elsewhere. If he’s offered $10 million to $15 million, perhaps with a chance to make back the rest of it through playing time and incentives, maybe he will take it.
We’ll see whether any of it happens. However, if the 49ers have any faith in Lance as the potential starter, it makes plenty of sense to squeeze Garoppolo to take a lot less. It possibly makes sense to remove the Band-Aid in one motion, just as the Patriots did on Tuesday.
The fact that the Patriots did what the did serves as a reminder that, in the NFL, anything can happen. With San Francisco and Garoppolo, something could still happen.