Are the 49ers married to quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo?
On the surface, his contract says "Yes."
But coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch had a bit of a wandering eye this offseason when they pondered the idea of pursuing Tom Brady in free agency.
The 49ers ultimately decided to stick with Garoppolo, but it doesn't necessarily mean Shanahan and Lynch won't move on if they feel someone better is available.
ESPN's Dan Graziano took a look at all 32 NFL teams and ranked them based on their level of commitment to their current starting quarterback, and he ranked the 49ers at No. 26.
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Despite the fact that Garoppolo is 23-6 as a starter in the NFL, including the playoffs, and just led the 49ers to the Super Bowl, Graziano says it is "prove-it time" for the quarterback.
Why are the 49ers and Garoppolo so low considering he's under contract for three more seasons?
"It sounds crazy to call it "prove-it time" for a quarterback who's [21-5] as an NFL starter and just played in the Super Bowl," Graziano wrote. "But the fact is the way the 49ers structure their contracts, everyone is always in prove-it time.
"Garoppolo has a $23.8 million salary in 2020, but just $15.7 million of that is guaranteed, and the Niners owe him no more guaranteed money after 2020. The dead-money cap hit for cutting Garoppolo next offseason would be just $2.8 million.
"There's no reason to think they don't like Garoppolo or that he won't play out his entire contract there. But San Francisco's policy on flexibility doesn't exempt its quarterback, and the organization will always have the financial freedom to make a change at the position if it feels it needs to."
Garoppolo has his detractors, but most of the criticism is unwarranted. The results speak for themselves. Yes, he didn't play particularly well against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV, but he's 28 years old and still has room to improve.
All that said, it shouldn't shock anyone if the 49ers were to part ways with Garoppolo in the next year or two. Lynch and Shanahan are in salary cap hell right now. Fitting a contract extension for All-Pro tight end George Kittle under the salary cap is proving to be difficult. DeForest Buckner, one of the leaders of the 49ers' stout defense, was traded because he had become too pricey.
So as committed as the 49ers might be to Garoppolo right now, that could change as early as next offseason. They could let Garoppolo go and turn things over to Nick Mullens, who played well while Garoppolo recovered from a torn ACL in 2018. Or they could look to draft a quarterback in the near future.
Or Garoppolo could run it back in 2020, win the Super Bowl, and the 49ers could decide to keep him long-term while worrying about the salary cap gymnastics elsewhere.
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