Garoppolo, Watson remain top available options to fill QB voids


There are more openings for NFL starting quarterbacks than there are starting quarterbacks.

That simple math was the reason the 49ers felt confident through most of the season that they would be able to recoup some of the draft capital they sent to Miami a year ago in order to trade up to No. 3 to select Trey Lance, the team's next quarterback.

Tom Brady’s decision to step away from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers created one opening. Russell Wilson and Carson Wentz going to Denver and Washington filled two vacancies but created needs in Seattle and Indianapolis.

Jimmy Garoppolo’s candidacy to fill one of those quarterback slots became a lot more complicated with the shoulder surgery and anticipated four-month road of rehabilitation in order to again throw a football.

Any team that is interested in Garoppolo has to get the OK from their medical experts before deciding to acquire him from the 49ers.

Garoppolo -- assuming he makes a full recovery -- is a better option to be a starter than any of the rookies coming out in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Garoppolo would have to also rate ahead of the currently unattached players who saw action in 2021, too. That group includes once-starters Teddy Bridgewater, Jameis Winston, Andy Dalton, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Marcus Mariota and Mitchell Trubisky.

Now, Deshaun Watson, who remains under contract to the Houston Texans, could be back in the mix for a team willing to consider only his skills as a player. The Texans are looking to find a taker in a trade.

Watson has been radioactive for most of the past year after being accused of harassment and sexual assault in lawsuits filed by 22 women. A Texas grand jury on Friday declined to indict Watson on any criminal charges.

Watson is still subject to discipline under the NFL’s personal conduct policy. It is likely he will face a suspension -- like Ben Roethlisberger and Ezekiel Elliott -- even without a conviction.

An applicable portion of the policy states, “It is not enough simply to avoid being found guilty of a crime. We are all held to a higher standard and must conduct ourselves in a way that is responsible, promotes the values of the NFL, and is lawful.”

Watson, 26, is a three-time Pro Bowl player, but some teams simply want no part of him. And for good reason.

Garoppolo, 30, ranks somewhere in the middle of the pack when it comes to NFL starting quarterbacks. The 49ers hope to find a team that will take him “as is” before Wednesday, when the new league year begins.

The 49ers are approximately $5 million over the salary cap, and they must reduce their payroll before that time. There are other ways for them to slash costs but none as simple as the act of trading Garoppolo.

Garoppolo served his purpose last season as he remained the starter while Lance was being groomed behind the scenes. Now, all indications out of Santa Clara are that Lance is expected to be ready to take over as the starter.

Two days after the 49ers’ season ended with a loss to the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship Game, Garoppolo said there is “absolutely” a part of him that is looking for a fresh start with a new team in 2022. It's best for all sides if the union comes to an end sooner rather than later.

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At this point, Garoppolo is probably more important to the 49ers being somewhere else. The organization’s offseason plan consists of being able to reinvest the $25.5 million in savings his departure would create. The 49ers must redistribute that money into players who factor into the future of the team.

Watson’s situation might not directly impact the timing of Garoppolo finding a new home. But such teams as Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Seattle and Tampa Bay must have a sense of urgency to figure things out before all their reasonable options run out.

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