Jimmy Garoppolo is the last man standing. After the Panthers acquired Baker Mayfield from the Browns earlier this month, Jimmy G is the best quarterback available on the market. Assuming the 49ers either trade or release him, where are the best landing spots for Garoppolo?
San Francisco held onto Garoppolo through free agency and the NFL draft, but after an offseason full of quarterback movement, there aren’t many obvious destinations remaining. Garoppolo is due a $24.2 million base salary next season. With 2021 first-round pick Trey Lance set to assume starting duties, it doesn’t make sense for the 49ers to keep Garoppolo on their books.
If he gets released, Garoppolo may have to accept a role as a well-compensated backup. Let’s run through all 32 NFL teams and figure out which clubs may or may not have an interest in acquiring Jimmy G.
Unlikely to have interest in Garoppolo
By our estimation, 19 of the 32 NFL teams would probably not target Garoppolo even if he were available on the free agent market. The majority of those clubs — the Jets, Dolphins, Bills, Colts, Chargers, Eagles, Giants, Commanders, Cardinals, and Saints — already have an established backup quarterback and thus wouldn’t require Garoppolo’s services.
Garoppolo would represent an improvement over Brian Hoyer in New England, but there’s too much baggage for him to return to the Patriots. The same goes for the Buccaneers — Tom Brady probably doesn’t want Jimmy G behind him again.
The Steelers are set with a Mitchell Trubisky/Kenny Pickett competition, the Panthers already made their move by acquiring Mayfield, and the Packers will stick with former first-round pick Jordan Love behind Aaron Rodgers. Tyler Huntley may not be a household name, but he’s a Diet Coke version of Lamar Jackson in Baltimore.
The Bears, Lions, and Falcons could use better No. 2 QBs, but none of those teams should be wasting assets on a backup signal-caller at this stage in their rebuilds.
Might make sense for Garoppolo
We’ve got 13 teams remaining. Five clubs stand out as possible landing spots, but the circumstances aren’t ideal. Let’s take a look at which ones would make sense for the 49ers quarterback.
Kansas City Chiefs
Chad Henne is a well-respected veteran in Kansas City’s locker room, but could the Chiefs count on the 37-year-old if something happened to Patrick Mahomes? Garoppolo has far greater upside than Henne. If he were forced into action for KC, Garoppolo could flourish under Andy Reid and set himself up for a payday in 2023.
Las Vegas Raiders
Derek Carr is locked in as the Raiders starting quarterback, but Josh McDaniels’ working history with Garoppolo means the 49ers QB could fit in Vegas. Although the Raiders just gave Carr an extension, they could easily release him next offseason with minimal dead money. Garoppolo would take over for Nick Mullens as Las Vegas’ top backup in 2022 and give the club optionality in 2023.
Sean Mannion is arguably the least productive backup QB in the NFL. He’s started three games through seven seasons, but he doesn’t have much to show for it. Garoppolo would be an upgrade, although it’s fair to wonder if Vikings fans would start clamoring for him to take the field if Kirk Cousins has a down game or two. Minnesota could compete for a playoff spot, but new head coach Kevin O’Connell might not want to cause dissension by adding a new QB on the eve of training camp.
San Francisco 49ers
No, your eyes are not deceiving you — there might still be a chance Garoppolo stays in San Francisco. However, there’s almost no possibility he sticks at his current salary. If he agreed to reduce his pay to $6-8 million (in line with the league’s other top backup QBs), Garoppolo could remain in scarlet and gold.
Still, do the 49ers really want to keep Garoppolo on the roster while turning the starting job over to Lance? The specter of Garoppolo could put undue pressure on Lance, who has made only three starts since 2020. Jimmy G would be a better No. 2 QB than Nate Sudfeld, but that might not be worth the added stress on Lance.
It’s unclear if veteran Logan Woodside or rookie Malik Willis will be Tennessee’s backup quarterback, but if Ryan Tannehill were to go down, the Titans would be well-served to see what Willis has to offer. In that case, Garoppolo would represent more of a “progress-stopper” than anything else. The Titans have to weigh their immediate contention possibilities against Willis’ long-term development.
Should pursue Garoppolo
Eight teams left. These clubs should go after Garoppolo if he reaches free agency. He’d be a backup for the majority of these organizations, but there are still a few teams that could use Jimmy G as a starter.
After reaching the Super Bowl earlier this year, the Bengals used free agency and the draft to fill most of their needs. But if Joe Burrow were to suffer a serious injury (as he did in 2020), Cincinnati would turn to Brandon Allen under center. While Allen made some plays filling in for Burrow two seasons ago, Garoppolo would be a better option for a Bengals team that hopes to contend again.
If Deshaun Watson is suspended for a “lengthy period of time,” the Browns are expected to pursue a backup to Jacoby Brissett, as Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com recently reported. Yet, given that Cleveland expects to compete this year, Garoppolo could conceivably take over as the club’s starter for 2022.
The Browns have more cap space ($48 million) than any team in the league, so they can certainly afford San Francisco’s QB. Garoppolo’s experience in a similarly run-heavy 49ers offense should set him up for success with the Browns, even if he arrives late.
It’s a make-or-break campaign for the Cowboys’ coaching staff. If Dak Prescott gets injured, Cooper Rush would take over at QB. Rush has attempted just 50 career passes, 40 of which came in a victory over the Vikings last year. Mike McCarthy and Kellen Moore must win this season, and Garoppolo is a superior talent to Rush. If he were to play, Jimmy G would benefit from performing well in a large media market like Dallas.
Could the Broncos add two former NFC West quarterbacks in the same offseason? Going from Drew Lock to Russell Wilson marks the largest QB improvement in the NFL. While Josh Johnson is a serviceable backup, Garoppolo would fully insulate Denver against a Wilson injury. Of course, Wilson had never missed a snap until 2021, so perhaps the Broncos don’t feel the need to upgrade their No. 2 QB slot.
The Texans aren’t aiming to compete in 2022, and they want to figure out what they have in second-year signal-caller Davis Mills. At age 30, Garoppolo probably isn’t a long-term fit for a team like Houston. But the Patriots connection with Texans general manager Nick Caserio is too strong to ignore.
C.J. Beathard is a competent backup, but the Jaguars could do better. In the case of some second-year quarterbacks, having a veteran like Garoppolo as the No. 2 could cause an incessant drumbeat of replacement conversation. But that wouldn’t be an issue in Jacksonville.
Trevor Lawrence struggled in his rookie campaign, but he’s undoubtedly the Jags’ long-term answer. He’d learn a lot from Garoppolo, who’s been to two NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl over the past three seasons.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams aren’t afraid of splashy signings, and poaching their next backup QB from a divisional rival would certainly be spicy. John Wolford started a playoff game for Los Angeles after the 2020 season, but he’s rarely been called upon since. Perhaps the Rams want to use their remaining cap space to find another edge rusher, but Garoppolo would protect their star-studded roster against a Matthew Stafford injury.
At last, we’ve reached the Seahawks — the one NFL team that still has (or at least should have) a reason to add a starting quarterback. Neither Geno Smith nor Drew Lock has done enough in their career to earn a starting role, and Pete Carroll doesn’t seem interested in tanking.
Garoppolo would allow Seattle to run a competent offense, but it’s unclear if San Francisco would be willing to trade him within the division. Given the lack of open QB roles around the league, the Seahawks can likely wait out the 49ers and hope they have to eventually release Garoppolo.