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Which potential Jimmy Garoppolo suitors make the most sense

© Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

As the sun sets on the complicated, yet surprisingly successful 49ers 2021 campaign, the question of where Jimmy Garoppolo will play next has stormed to the front of the mind.

With a purportedly weak quarterback draft class and legends like Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger retiring, there is a clear opportunity for the 49ers to get reasonable value for Garoppolo in the trade market.

Yes, he’s due $24.2 million to any team that acquires him, but it’s an expiring contract without guarantees, and any trade would almost certainly be predicated on a renegotiated deal.

So where’s Jimmy off to? At the time of writing this story, Bovada, an online betting site, listed the following odds on Garoppolo’s next location:

There are three clear frontrunners in Pittsburgh, Washington and Tampa Bay, followed by a few dark horses. The fact that the 49ers are tied with the three teams in that dark horse category is not an especially promising sign for those other teams, given how clear the indication is that Garoppolo will depart.

Below are assessments of Garoppolo’s potential next destination, ordered from most to least likely.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh just spent a full season with one of the few quarterbacks in the NFL that was more vertically challenged than Garoppolo.

Some of Roethlisberger’s spray charts from this past season make Garoppolo look like Aaron Rodgers.

Sufficed to say, the Steelers, and offensive coordinator Matt Canada, have very recent experience in trying to get the most out of an extraordinarily limited quarterback.

Garoppolo is clearly an upgrade over Roethlisberger. And even with the horror show that was Big Ben of last season, Pittsburgh made the playoffs. You have to imagine they’d feel far more confident with a hopefully healthy Garoppolo on what would almost certainly be a renegotiated deal to decrease his cap hit.

Unlike Tampa Bay, which drafted Kyle Trask, there is no quarterback option — even theoretically — who could take over on the Steelers’ current roster. They have a win-now roster with a clear hole to fill at quarterback, and Garoppolo ran an offense with similarly fast-paced timing.

Roethlisberger led the league with a 2.38-second time-to-throw average, a category where Garoppolo, at 2.67 seconds, ranked seventh.

The greater question is how Pittsburgh wants to address its woeful offensive line and whether that would factor into what they would give up for Garoppolo. They hold the 20th and 52nd overall picks, which are both prime opportunities to swing on offensive linemen, plus a couple of third rounders.

It won’t become clear what Garoppolo’s market is until the bigger names, like Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson and Derek Carr figure out their futures, but the prospect of the 49ers acquiring Pittsburgh’s fifth-rounder (177th overall) and a conditional second-round pick in 2023 based on playtime, seems like a fair haul.

Washington Commanders

It’s Washington, now known as the Commanders, which figures as the second-best landing spot for Garoppolo. The complicating factor there would be the poor relationship between Kyle Shanahan and the much maligned owner Daniel Snyder, but that wasn’t an issue for the Trent Williams trade, so it could be a non-factor here.

The Commanders are positioned in a weak division — yes, including the Cowboys — with a stellar defense and solid offensive weapons. They’ve just not had a viable quarterback over the last, roughly four years since Alex Smith’s horrific leg injury.

Garoppolo would be a plug-and-play quarterback option for them in Scott Turner’s offense, which leans heavily towards the work of his father, Norv Turner, and the old Air Coryell offense.

What’s interesting is that you saw Turner use Curtis Samuel is similar ways to Deebo Samuel when he and Ron Rivera were with the Panthers in 2019, and that was expanded upon with Matt Rhule, until Samuel signed with Washington this season.

There are similar elements of the Air Coryell scheme and Kyle Shanahan’s offense in the heavy use of pre-snap motion. The 49ers led the league in pre-snap motion usage, but Scott Turner’s offense ranked in the top 10.

The reliance on motion and post-snap timing is a key element of the offense. Some of the core tenets of the Air Coryell offense, with intermediate crossing routes coupled with deep shots, are present in the Shanahan scheme.

It’s not the same offense, but there are very clear, general similarities which would make Garoppolo transitioning into that offense — which has some talented pass-catchers in Terry McLaurin, J.D. McKissick, Logan Thomas and theoretically, Samuel — a logical fit.

There’s of course a question over whether Garoppolo would be comfortable going to Washington, the dysfunction of which he’s surely familiar.

Still, he’d be joining a team with a stellar offense line, ranking fourth in pass protection per Pro Football Focus, and a discernibly competent Ron Rivera-led coaching staff. Those factors could outweigh the Daniel Snyder consideration.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

If the Buccaneers want to run an offense that resembles what they’ve run the past two years with Tom Brady, then Jimmy Garoppolo would not be a perfect fit. The Tampa Bay offense has been predicated around a power-based run game and consistent deep shots down the field.

Garoppolo is as vertically challenged as they come. He’s an excellent short-to-intermediate thrower who has been wildly inconsistent when going deep. Many of his misses are on wide open throws.

The counter argument, if we’re playing devil’s advocate, is that Kyle Shanahan crushed Garoppolo’s confidence over time. The gunslinging, almost unthinking shooter that Garoppolo was over that astounding five-game win streak in 2017 seemed to have evaporated after the 2018 offseason and his early-season ACL tear.

And hey, maybe what Garoppolo needs is more freedom to take shots down the field.

He was excellent in 2019 and had a fairly impressive six-game stretch this season, but those, again, were founded on well-timed throws in tight, short windows.

There is overwhelming evidence to say that Garoppolo, at this stage, is a subpar quarterback attacking the deep third of the field. Any NFL team evaluating him will see that, and unless Tampa Bay wants to fundamentally change its offense — which, after losing the greatest quarterback of all time, is not out of the question — Garoppolo is not a hand-in-glove fit in Tampa Bay.

That said, Garoppolo may be the Bucs’ best, if not only option, unless their trust of Trask is substantial. Arians and Leftwich are both smart minds, and they’ve proven the ability to be malleable.

It’s also important to note that Brady delivered the ball quick, too. He was second-quickest quarterback in delivering the ball, but had an average depth of target of 8 yards to Roethlisberger’s 6.7 yards (second-lowest, only to Jared Goff). Garoppolo, at 7.4 yards per attempt, split the difference.

Everyone else

Outside of the big three, there are a handful of other contenders in the Broncos, Dolphins and Panthers.

Denver would be a very appealing option if it didn’t seem so darn likely that Rodgers heads there. It seemed that way even before they hired away his Green Bay offensive coordinator, Nathaniel Hackett, to become their head coach.

But there are rumors that Rodgers could be interested in Tennessee, too, which would throw a whole different wrinkle into the situation.

If Denver can’t land Rodgers or Wilson, Garoppolo definitely gets in the mix on a win-ready roster with outstanding skill position talent.

The Dolphins, much like the Commanders, are suffering from the dysfunction of their owner, Stephen Ross, and the allegations that he offered ex-head coach Brian Flores $100,000 per loss.

That said, Mike McDaniel is a finalist for the Miami job along with the Cowboys’ Kellen Moore, and if McDaniel takes that job, the odds of Garoppolo moving there would skyrocket. If McDaniel doesn’t head there, the odds of Garoppolo heading there would be decidedly lower, and the cloudy status of Tua Tagavailoa is a complicating factor.

The Panthers are possibly the last reasonable option. Sam Darnold was obviously not the answer, and they haven’t had a level of competency at the quarterback position since Cam Newton’s prime.

Would they really make another quarterback trade for a Darnold-similar price? With Matt Rhule’s seat getting a bit hotter, it’s not out of the question. Carolina is a definite wild card in all this.

Obviously, there should be a real market for Garoppolo. How long it takes for a deal to get done may depend on if, when and where those other big names move to, but even as a limited quarterback, he’s demonstrated enough extended competency and leadership bona fides to get a shot as a starter elsewhere.


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