The 49ers did not expect to keep Jimmy Garoppolo.
As Kyle Shanahan described it on Tuesday, the organization was nearly as surprised as the rest of us to find out Garoppolo would remain with the team for another year.
He and Lynch discussed the stunning move in a conference call that painted a picture of how the 49ers went from nearly certain they’d cut ties with Garoppolo to constructing a reworked one-year pact to keep him as the team’s backup for the upcoming season.
How on Earth did this happen?
Again and again, Shanahan repeated that the 49ers were stunned to find Garoppolo available.
He said it was “pretty shocking” that no team made a legitimate trade offer for the quarterback.
But after the offseason began with a musical chairs of QB moves, and it wore on with no starting quarterbacks getting hurt, it became evident that no team was going to trade for Garoppolo.
Sure. But how did Garoppolo, and his agents, Carter Chow and Don Yee, not find a suitable free agency destination? They were able to talk to other teams throughout the process to try and find an alternative situation. It seems no outside team indicated it would be willing to make a sizable contract offer in a role Garoppolo was interested in.
Once the third preseason game ended with no major quarterback injuries, Garoppolo decided staying with the 49ers was his best option.
This all came down to him.
Shanahan made it clear from the outset that if nothing materialized, Garoppolo would be welcome to return in a backup role, assuming he and his agents negotiated a substantial pay cut.
“I remember the first week of training camp, me saying to Jimmy, ‘Hey, if you don’t like any of these opportunities, if you don’t go to the place you want, you can’t get the contract that you want, we would love to have you here in a backup role,'” Shanahan said. “‘I want you to know that we feel that way, but I also think there’s no way you’re not going to get something as this goes throughout training camp.’ And Jimmy agreed with that.”
Lynch explained the timeline and reaffirmed the old point that, “with a player of his caliber, you don’t just allow him to walk.”
Other teams refused to take that statement at face value. But the 49ers were serious and stubborn. While it’s a roundabout way to keep Garoppolo, the timeline and cause for him to return were pretty straightforward:
- Garoppolo got surgery in early March, halting trade talks that the 49ers believed would have resulted in him being dealt
- After a host of other QBs were dealt, there were limited spots for Garoppolo to go, and teams didn’t feel confident dealing for him after surgery
- Given that he still had to rehab and those options shrunk as the preseason wore on, teams believed the 49ers would just cut Garoppolo
- Lynch said he and Shanahan “started floating the idea probably a month ago” about keeping Garoppolo as a backup, and ran it by both Garoppolo and Trey Lance
- Garoppolo’s agents wanted to make sure they waited as long as possible to find the right situation, and with nothing coming to fruition, came back to the table with the 49ers
- The deal concluded after practice on Monday just after the team got off the practice field
The net is that Garoppolo is back on a base salary lower than Lance’s, saving the 49ers anywhere from $10 million (at minimum) to $20 million in cap space, depending how much Garoppolo plays.
The rationale, and Shanahan’s shade at other teams
While there are takes aplenty on the decision, for Shanahan, it’s a pretty straightforward move. The 49ers have had issues with their quarterbacks getting injured. Jimmy Garoppolo is a starting-caliber NFL quarterback. He was available for cheap, and willing to come in strictly as the backup.
It wasn’t about creating competition for Lance.
“I don’t think Trey needs much pushing,” Shanahan said. “This was, ‘Oh my god, Jimmy Garoppolo is available as a backup quarterback for us. And that makes sense for him and it makes sense for us. What else is there to think about?”
There was no need to mend the relationship with Garoppolo, Shanahan said, because the 49ers remained open with him and his agents throughout the entire process.
But when it became clear it was an option to have Garoppolo back, he jumped at the chance.
“We never believed this ever possibly could have happened because who believes — there are 32 starting quarterbacks in this league and we believe we have two of them now,” Shanahan said. “And that’s really rare to have them in this situation.”
When he could, Shanahan made sure to throw some not-so-subtle shade at other teams.
He felt that teams were confident the 49ers would cut Garoppolo, which was absolutely on the table. But that was never a certainty.
“It didn’t seem realistic that he would sign here in this situation,” Shanahan said. “So I think a lot of teams were just hoping that he’d fall in their lap for an easier situation. And he didn’t. And so I think this is why it transpired that way.”
SF didn’t feel compelled to depart with Garoppolo for nothing, and once it became clear retaining him as a No. 2 was an option, Shanahan was, in no uncertain terms, ecstatic.
He made clear it’s Lance’s team — and consulted Lance before making the decision — while again pointing out that other teams erred in allowing the 49ers to keep two starting-caliber quarterbacks for cheap. They have a sizable chunk of cap space now, and at the very least, the 49ers should expect to get a compensatory third-round pick next offseason for Garoppolo.
“We feel very strongly giving the keys to Trey. We felt that at the end of last year,” Shanahan said. “We were really excited about what we thought that could do for our team as a whole and we’re excited about everything he’s done and all these opportunities he’s gotten throughout this offseason. I can’t wait to get him started on our team in Week 1.
“And having Jimmy there as a backup makes us feel really good because we have a starting quarterback as a backup. The rest of the league had a chance to get him and I’m just so fortunate that he’s still here in that case. And in no way does that hurt our team. It’s only helped our team.”
Why Garoppolo didn’t practice
If the 49ers were going to keep Garoppolo, though, why didn’t he practice? Why was he only warming up on the side field? Why were reporters not allowed to record video of him practicing in front of fans on a main practice field, despite him being cleared by team doctors?
Put simply, the 49ers didn’t think Garoppolo would return, and it was in everyone’s best interest to minimize the visibility of the situation, while allowing Garoppolo to ramp back up from his injury.
Shanahan described the early odds of him returning as “slim to none,” so having him involved with the team didn’t make sense.
“We love getting Jimmy back, but to have him there earlier in camp wasn’t an option,” Shanahan said. “I mean, we weren’t gonna put him out there in practice for his sake and for our sake. I mean, he was on a $24 million contract and he was gonna go somewhere else. But none of that came to fruition and we would have ended up having to let him go under that current deal, that wasn’t an option. We were always clear to Jimmy that him, salary-cap wise and stuff in a backup role and supporting Trey and if that worked for him, that was a no brainer for us. We just didn’t think the chances of that happening were going to happen.”
Garoppolo didn’t have a playbook and wasn’t involved in team meetings this offseason. Shanahan’s not exactly stressed about him getting up to speed.
“We have zero worries about him not having a playbook,” Shanahan said.
Lynch also added that while he was cleared without restriction, “There was the added caveat that it would be a smart thing to really build him up and this allowed him to do that and not be rushed on the field.”
Plus, if Garoppolo was injured in practice, his full salary would have become guaranteed. That was a pretty substantial factor.
Brock Purdy made the team, and the QB depth chart
Nate “starter potential” Sudfeld is out. Brock Purdy is in.
The QB2 discourse was a bit odd after the 49ers guaranteed Sudfeld $2 million, with the intention of him becoming the team’s backup. But Purdy apparently impressed the coaching staff enough that he was going to be the backup to Lance going into the year.
As John Lynch put it, Purdy “earned his way on the roster” and made the team, even with the 49ers retaining Garoppolo.
If Garoppolo was around, taking reps, the 49ers might not have come to this conclusion about Purdy. But with so many reps available in camp, they saw enough of Purdy to feel good about his potential.
To be clear, Garoppolo is the No. 2 with immediate effect, and Purdy is No. 3.
Garoppolo and Lance’s relationship
The most obvious question about all this is the pressure it could put on Trey Lance.
What if he struggles early? How long of a leash does Shanahan give Lance if he struggles? He nearly replaced Garoppolo around Week 7 last year, before he and the 49ers righted the ship.
Is it the same sort of rubric for Lance? Obviously none of this matters if he impresses, but if there are clear struggles and the 49ers aren’t winning, well, this could all get very uncomfortable.
What Shanahan pointed to, in terms of giving him comfortability with the decision, is that Lance and Garoppolo have a solid relationship. He said Lance had no issues with the move.
“Trey was great. I mean, there was no problems with it at all,” Shanahan said. “I mean, I told him the exact same things that I told Jimmy, the options of bringing Jimmy here, that it had to be in a backup-type deal, which Jimmy knew that was his option. And that was the only option. And we told that to Trey also. And Trey and Jimmy have a great relationship.”
Shanahan painted a picture of the two that is relatively stress-free, despite the obvious change in hierarchy and the discomfort that the situation could naturally present.
“I think they like being around each other. They enjoyed each other last year despite the fact of that they’re competing, especially in training camp,” Shanahan said. ‘But they were really good with each other. And I think Jimmy, once he did get that starting role, enjoyed Trey all year, and when I told Trey that Jimmy’s gonna come back he’s like, ‘Awesome, that dude was awesome for me last year. I can’t wait to be the same way.'”
The 49ers will hope that relationship stays as amicable as it was last year, when it was Garoppolo’s team and Lance’s team to be. With the dynamic flipped and Garoppolo’s time dwindling (at least, theoretically), will they stay on the same, positive terms? Only time will tell.