Why Are the 49ers Hesitant to play Garoppolo

Had an email question yesterday regarding Jimmy Garoppolo and what the 49ers are doing. This question came before the 49ers were forced to bring him in for two or three plays late on Sunday due to injury. I had a few comments on Twitter about this a few weeks back when they made the statement that they might not play him and I think my feelings remain unchanged since then.

As far as trades go this was one of the odder ones in the NFL and I think showed a bit of the inexperience of 49ers GM John Lynch. A bad team should never be a buyer at the deadline for a contract year player, especially if the team is salary cap rich and capable of signing that player in free agency. The only logic in the move is if you know you are considered such a bad organization that you have to sell this player on the team and this is the best way you can do it.

Last season the Browns made a similar head scratching trade when they made the move for Jamie Collins for, I believe, a third round pick. That was also a very inexperienced front office and its not surprising to see the Patriots exploiting these situations, but I guess that is a discussion for another time. Beyond that trades like this are pretty rare.

The one difference between the Browns and 49ers is that the Browns are big spenders (yes I know that sounds crazy but no team doled out more than the Browns this year and Collins was one of those guys getting that cash) and the 49ers are far more calculated. When the 49ers were at their peak a few years ago I think their front office was one of the best in the NFL at working contracts and strong arming really good players into team friendly contracts.

The problem for the 49ers is that when situations change you sometimes have to change with them and they haven’t thus far. While we did see San Francisco make more aggressive pitches for Pierre Garcon and Malcolm Smith in general they continue to be a bit more frugal. When you are a bad team with loads of cap room and a bad reputation you have to sometimes switch up. The Browns did that because it was the only way to make them an attractive destination. The Raiders had to do that too in the past.

There is a big part of me that says the 49ers are trying to cover themselves to eliminate any scrutiny for the trade and to try to set themselves up for a better contract with Garoppolo that fits more with their organizational philosophies. There is really no other reason for sitting a guy you just gave away a 2nd round draft pick for who has the right to walk in a few more weeks.

In many ways, though, this was a no win proposition for San Francisco. Moving into a starting role at QB for a new team in the middle of the season is not an easy job. There is probably an excellent chance that even if he ends up being a good QB down the line he wasn’t going to look that good this year. So lets assume that happened. In this scenario the 49ers give up a 2nd round pick for a guy that looks awful.

What do you do at that point?  Sure you can lock him up to a contract similar to or slightly lower than Mike Glennon’s $15 million a year contract but the media and fanbase is probably going to crucify you for it. You probably aren’t even that confident anymore after watching him play when you offer him that contract. Basically you just Rob Johnson’ed yourself.

Option 2 is less likely and that is that Garoppolo balls out of his mind. Now you compromise your contract guys. His stock goes sky high leaving you with two options- the franchise tag or a $20+ million a year contract. Seeing him throw a touchdown today and all the tweets that followed should only reaffirm how crazy people go for a small sample of good throws. You still gained nothing in 2017 other than a few wins since you were already more or less eliminated from the playoffs. You could have signed that contract in free agency and had a better draft pick to trade away.

So I think what we have right now is the 49ers simply being risk averse and trying to maintain as much contract leverage as possible while also making sure they maintain a top 3 draft pick that is very valuable to another team looking to trade for a QB.

The NFL is a weird place. A guy like Garoppolo can gain a ton of potential value off a few decent games and the pedigree of backing up Tom Brady. Go to a team like San Francisco and look like you can’t get off the bench and teams start to question your ability. My opinion is that by sitting on a bad team he is losing value. I could be wrong and may be wrong about that but the 49ers are hoping to force him into a game of chicken at this point.

The 49ers were the 2nd to last team in the NFL to sign a potential franchise QB to a team friendly contract extension (the Bengals were the last) and are looking to do the same here. Their job from this point out is to convince the Garoppolo side that in light of the Osweiler and Glennon flops that free agency will not be lucrative for him. It’s a far argument since NFL failures generally see a leaguewide pullback and we already saw that when Glennon signed for far less than Osweiler just one year before.

They can probably compromise on a deal somewhere between both of those contracts that guarantees him a touch more than the franchise tag (call it $23 million) but far less than if they had to tag him next year and then sign him again in 2019 if he played well. They can probably do all that at an APY in the $16=$17M range which is a big discount if he turns out to be a good player and do it without the offseason scrutiny saying the deal was a mistake.

For his part he probably has to hold firm on making them tag him, but that can be a scary proposition. Osweiler lasted one year and was gone. Glennon will be cut next season. Nick Foles was gone right away. Guys like Matt Moore never made it off the tag. The 49ers probably have the leverage to get that decent deal.

Outside of that I cant see any logic in them continuing to sit him on the bench rather than playing him. The more you can see of the player the better off you are. Get him familiar with the system and have skin thick enough to deal with the criticism if you are worried about that in the offseason. Those critics wont be there if he plays well in September anyway.

  • Brandon Darby

    I like to think of this as being able to test drive a QB before buying him long term and it’s all about the leverage. They get to play him for 5 more games in their system to see if he pans out. If so, then sure, they’re going to pay him. But having a franchise QB is worth every penny. If he stumbles and performs medium well, then maybe you take a chance and get a discount on a long term deal and he pans out, or you’re not out ridiculous money if he ends up being Cassel-esque. And the schedule the 49ers have left is a good barometer to find out how good Garoppolo is…starting with a couple of easier games in the Bears (just bad) & Texans (depleted), followed by competent competition in the Titans & Jags, followed by a tougher test against the Rams in LA to finish the season.