Three ways 49ers-Garoppolo situation will play out this summer


The list of available veteran quarterbacks on the free-agent market is thoroughly underwhelming.

And starting-caliber quarterbacks currently on teams are not available.

Except one.

Coach Kyle Shanahan said last month he still expects the 49ers to trade Jimmy Garoppolo before the start of the season.

Two weeks before the opening of training camp and with Garoppolo soon expected to receive medical clearance from shoulder surgery, there is still plenty to be determined.

Is a trade possible so close to the starting of training camp? What would it look like? And if the 49ers are unable to trade Garoppolo, would they release him or retain him?

Here are the different scenarios with the club set to open camp on July 26 in Santa Clara:

Find trade partner

Any team that is willing to trade for Garoppolo would assume his scheduled base salary of $24.2 million for the upcoming season.

A week ago, the Carolina Panthers worked out a deal with the Cleveland Browns and Baker Mayfield by which they sent a conditional fifth-round pick to Cleveland in 2024. A potential Garoppolo deal could be a lot more complex.

Mayfield was originally scheduled to earn a fully guaranteed salary of $18.86 million this season. He accepted a $3.5 million pay cut, and the Browns agreed to pay $10.5 million of Mayfield’s salary. The Panthers will pay approximately $5 million.

If the 49ers want to get something — anything — in return for Garoppolo, they might have to do something similar. But the difference is that Garoppolo’s contract is not guaranteed. Any dollar the 49ers pay Garoppolo is one dollar more than what is necessary.

So the 49ers, in essence, would be paying for a draft pick.

The Browns would appear to be the only team that makes sense as a trade partner. They have a strong roster but uncertainty at quarterback. The league is soon expected to announce the result of its expected disciplinary action against quarterback Deshaun Watson.

If Watson is suspended for any length of time, the Browns could make a move for Garoppolo. Cleveland has $48 million in cap space, according to the NFL Players Association, so it could easily absorb the final year of Garoppolo’s salary.

Set him free

If the 49ers cannot find a trade partner before the start of training camp, the club would be placed in a difficult situation.

Garoppolo made it known immediately following the season that, in his mind, he had already played his final game with the organization. Recently, new 49ers quarterbacks coach Brian Griese said he had not spoken or had any contact with Garoppolo this offseason.

The 49ers could hold onto Garoppolo all the way up until Aug. 30 without any financial impact. At that point, the team could release him and still gain an immediate cap savings of $25.55 million.

That money is not needed to sign Deebo Samuel to a contract extension at the start of training camp, but unused cap money rolls over from one year to the next.

The savings from Garoppolo’s contract this year could help offset the rising costs in 2023 for Trent Williams ($26.2 million), Arik Armstead ($24.3 million), Fred Warner ($18.5 million), George Kittle ($18 million) and Charvarius Ward ($16.4 million). Additionally, Samuel and Nick Bosa are likely to sign big-money contracts, too.

General manager John Lynch said in March he does not plan to release Garoppolo.

“I don’t foresee that,” Lynch said. “He’s too good of a player. I don’t foresee that, and I think Jimmy will be playing for us or he’ll be playing for somebody else. He’s too good of a player not to be.”

The question is whether the 49ers can justify paying a backup quarterback that kind of money when Trey Lance appears ready to take over as the starter and the club guaranteed $2 million to Nate Sudfeld to be the backup.

The reality is that multiple “good players” get released every year when NFL teams determine their costs outweighs their expected contributions.

If Garoppolo sustains a significant injury in training camp or during the preseason, the 49ers would be on the hook for his entire 2022 salary. So it would make sense for the 49ers to never even take those chances.

The 49ers could provide Garoppolo with the courtesy of releasing him before the start of camp (after he is cleared) and allow him to find the best situation to advance his career. it's a win-win for the 49ers because of their cap savings.

Then, Garoppolo would be free to sign with whatever team gives him the best opportunity or contract offer, among such possibilities as Cleveland, Seattle or Houston.

Back for another year

Lance looked and acted like the starter during the 49ers’ offseason program, sure. But nobody knows how he will respond when reality hits and he jogs out of the tunnel as the Week 1 starter.

Garoppolo is a good starting quarterback in the NFL. He should be starting for some team this season, so it would be a luxury for the 49ers to have him as their backup.

Lance’s style of play makes him a risk for more physical contact and possible injuries. Garoppolo has played a lot of winning football for the 49ers, and he would be the best backup quarterback in the NFL.

However, Garoppolo’s presence could also serve as a distraction. Lance will unquestionably go through some ups and downs. A prolonged stretch of so-so play and consecutive losses could start the chatter of whether the team would be in better hands with Garoppolo.

That is drama the 49ers do not need with the organization fully committed to Lance as their franchise quarterback.

RELATED: Why Young believes Jimmy G could remain on 49ers' roster

But the whole idea is to build the best roster possible and win games.

Only 11 quarterbacks started all 17 games last season, so there is a good chance the 49ers will call on their backup at some point to win an important game.

The 49ers can afford to keep Garoppolo, but there are other questions that follow. Does it make sense to devote $24.2 million in base salary to Garoppolo when that money can be redistributed to other players down the line? And if the 49ers wish to retain Garoppolo but not at his current salary, would Garoppolo have any interest in accepting a pay cut to serve as Lance's backup?

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