I keep getting this image in my head of Bill Belichick staring across the field just like he did at the end of SB49.
Only this time, it’s not Pete Carroll chomping on gum and battling a racing mind while trying to figure out just what to do. It’s Kyle Shanahan, John Lynch and the San Francisco 49ers.
It’s wild. The Niners should be dealing from a complete position of strength right now. But they’ve also backed themselves into a corner. They have the third overall pick and gave up a crap-ton to get it. They’ll get their quarterback of the future.
But they also have to deal with delicately extracting their former quarterback of the future, Jimmy Garoppolo, from their roster. And who needs a quarterback and can come close to affording Jimmy? The Patriots.
Garoppolo was like Belichick’s Trojan Horse. Gifted by Belichick to the Niners in 2017 for a second-round pick, he did everything right once he arrived. So even if he wasn’t EXACTLY what Shanahan wanted (he preferred chasing Kirk Cousins in 2018 free agency), it seemed Jimmy would do. So they gave him a massive contract. And then all the injuries -- which were foreshadowed when he couldn’t stay healthy for six whole quarters in his only stint as Patriots starter back in 2016 -- started raining down.
When Garoppolo wasn’t hurt, he wasn’t quite what Shanahan liked either. Yeah, they got to a Super Bowl. Nearly won the thing. But Shanahan’s never been satisfied with him. Too sloppy with the ball. Too slow to decide. Too injury-prone. All those things may be true but I’d bet lodged somewhere deep in Shanahan’s subconscious is that he got sold a bill of goods.
Play along with this scenario. Imagine Shanahan, still just a kid in his first big job, spending years planning and saving for the perfect car that fits his image and lifestyle. Nice. Sporty. Responsive. Reliable. People are going to see him in this car. It’s a reflection of him.
And then a friend of his father’s drives up in a big, old, boxy battleship that he says runs like a top. Hates to part with it. But he has so much respect for Kyle and his dad and the car -- which means an awful lot to him -- has to go to the right person. Kyle ... is that person. Keys are handed over. Shanahan gives a pained smile. But he takes it.
Now, not even four years later, his dad’s friend is willing to take the car back. At the right price. Because clearly the thing isn’t that reliable. And the expense of it, man. But he’ll see what he can do.
There’s been a lot of speculation that the Niners will try to move Garoppolo before or during this week’s draft. And maybe they will. But it’s going to take maneuvering and the Niners are not in a position of strength. At all.
The Niners need to get out from under Garoppolo’s fat contract with his salaries of $24.1M this year and $24.2M next year. Whoever they draft needs to have the runway cleared for him to play. They can’t afford having Garoppolo going through training camp and into the season and playing his ass off because that just muddies the waters. The Niners have a cadre of veterans on the roster already who can placehold until the rookie is ready.
I’ve found it absurd that the Niners were asking for a first-rounder for the very expensive, terribly brittle Garoppolo. Second-rounder? Almost as ridiculous. Despite telling their little football lies all the way -- the current one being that they’d actually keep Garoppolo this year -- they gotta get rid of him. They may get next to nothing and have to like it.
There are exactly two teams that can entertain trading for Garoppolo without a drastic restructure and likely pay cut. The Patriots and the Broncos. Denver has $27M in cap room. The Patriots have $16M.
So San Fran has few suitors. And if Denver drafts a quarterback, the likely suitors shrinks to one.
Note: Denver has since acquired Teddy Bridgewater on Wednesday, potentially taking them out of the running for Garoppolo.
Now, Garoppolo has a no-trade clause. Obviously, he’d take a trade to New England. But if he doesn’t like the restructure proposal being offered, he can say no for now. And I was told by a knowledgeable source last month that a pay cut from a team that trades for him is probably not something Garoppolo is interested in doing. So New England would have to probably add years to the deal.
It’s been suggested the Niners could just cut Garoppolo if he doesn’t immediately agree to a trade. In that case, he’s starting from zero with his contract and may not get more than $10M in average annual value. Times are hard. But would the Niners cut him now and get nothing in return? Would they cut him in May or June when they don’t have to really make that move until Garoppolo’s salary becomes guaranteed in Week 1? Probably not. Which means they’d just be sitting there with an expensive quarterback who knows they don’t want him. Kinda awkward.
The Patriots don’t really have any urgency to go get Garoppolo right away. They could trade for him in August and he knows the system well enough to be plug-and-play if he beats out Cam Newton. And he should beat out Cam Newton. (A quick aside, I don’t think a Newton-Garoppolo-Jarrett Stidham quarterbacking combo platter is a terrible situation if/when Jimmy inevitably gets hurt. Your results may vary).
The upshot is, Belichick can just keep waiting for the Niners to run out of time and HAVE to make a move. Because it’s not a matter of “if” that happens, but “when.” And there’s only one door that’s really open for Jimmy.
It’s here. Back home. It was never goodbye, Jim. It was always, “See you later ...”