The abrupt end to the San Francisco 49ers' Cinderella story -- losing to the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship Game -- has officially kicked off one of the most intriguing storylines of the offseason. Despite Jimmy Garoppolo's overwhelming success as the team's starting quarterback, he is expected to be traded this offseason.
The writing has been on the wall for the eighth-year pro since last March, when the 49ers traded a pair of first-round picks and a third-rounder to move up to the third overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, ultimately selecting Trey Lance. The move signaled a changing of the guard at the position with the ultra-athletic rookie expected to assume the QB1 role when he was ready for it.
Whether it was during his rookie campaign or in 2022, after a one-year apprenticeship under Garoppolo, the 49ers have a succession plan in place for Lance. And his promotion makes the veteran quarterback a valuable trade chip in a league desperate for quality starters.
Studying Garoppolo's game, there is a lot to like. The veteran is a solid, quick-rhythm passer who displays outstanding timing and touch on short and intermediate throws. When operating from the shotgun, Garoppolo distributes the ball like a Las Vegas casino dealer passing out face cards at the Blackjack table. From firing laser-like throws to receivers on a variety of slants, flats and stick routes at short range to mixing in a variety of RPOs and quick-rhythm play-action passes, the veteran excels when the offense pushes the pace in a no-huddle or hurry-up mode with short passes featured prominently on the menu.
As a dropback passer, Garoppolo is at his best when throwing off play-action to pass catchers running an assortment of in-breaking routes at an intermediate or deep range. He has a nice feel for leading his receivers into open areas, and the 49ers frequently rack up big plays on a number of misdirection routes that accompany aggressive run-action play fakes or bootleg action.
While Garoppolo has excelled as a play-action passer with the 49ers, he gets flustered when opponents force him to operate exclusively as a traditional dropback passer. He appears to struggle with his timing, reads and accuracy when he is unable to move defenders with ball fakes in the backfield. Part of his struggles can be attributed to his inconsistent ball placement, but Jimmy G's turnover woes and poor decisions are a bigger concern.
The veteran has a penchant for making egregious errors at inopportune times. Although his mistakes are not always costly, the questionable judgment and misfires raise doubts about Garoppolo's ability to consistently play at a high level. Sure, he has strung together four- and five-game stretches in which he has played good football, but the Jimmy G experience can be a bit of a roller coaster ride with the veteran providing a mix of highlights and lowlights that leave coaches and scouts baffled by his production, performance and potential.
That said, it is hard to find quality quarterbacks in this league. Garoppolo is 35-16 (including playoffs) as a starter with the 49ers and has a career passer rating of 98.9. We can debate the merits of quarterback wins, but it is hard to dispute the value of having a quarterback who knows how to play winning football. With a passer rating that puts him in the "slightly above average" tier of quarterbacks, it is easy to see how a team-builder could talk himself into making a move for the veteran.
Although it is unlikely for the 49ers to get a first-round pick in return, the team could pry a Day 2 pick (second- or third-round draft selection) from a desperate team in need of a quality starter. Considering how a team's chances are tied directly to the play of a quarterback, Garoppolo is certainly good enough to get a team into the tournament but likely won't spark a championship run.
Despite a 4-2 playoff record, he has a 60.6 completion percentage and a 74.1 passer rating to go with a 4:6 touchdown-to-interception ratio in the postseason. With just two playoff games with 30-plus pass attempts, it is possible the 49ers are winning big games without the quarterback playing a major role in the offense's plans.
Executives and coaches will debate whether Garoppolo can flourish in a different environment, but the veteran will command plenty of interest on the trade market. Given some time to survey the quarterback landscape around the league, here are five teams that could view the veteran as an ideal fit as the QB1 of the future.
With Ben Roethlisberger hanging up the cleats after a historic 18-year run as the Steelers' franchise quarterback, the team is searching for a veteran leader to usher in a new era. Garoppolo would appear to be the right man for the job after serving as an apprentice under Tom Brady in New England before running the show at San Francisco. The experience with Brady should help him handle the pressures of replacing a legend, while his time leading the 49ers gives him a unique perspective as the point man of an iconic franchise. As Mike Tomlin empowers offensive coordinator Matt Canada to fully install a creative offense built on a variety of collegiate-like concepts, including RPOs and jet sweeps, Garoppolo could light it up playing in a scheme that could mirror the Eastern Illinois system that produced fireworks. Considering the Steelers' current options at the position, a trade for Jimmy G could give the team the best chance to compete in a division loaded with young, dynamic quarterbacks.
It is time for Ron Rivera and Co. to fix their quarterback problem after watching a number of potential QB1s struggle over the past two seasons. With Ryan Fitzpatrick, Taylor Heinicke, Kyle Allen and others faltering under the weight of expectations, the time is now for the Commanders to make a move and close the gap on their competitors in the NFC. Garoppolo is not a top-10 quarterback, but he is certainly an upgrade over whoever the team has trotted out as starters over the past two seasons. From his leadership skills to his poise and timely play-making ability, the veteran passer can add some stability to a position that has been in flux in the nation's capital. Moreover, he can bring the championship magic that the team wanted when Alex Smith joined the squad in 2018.
Nathaniel Hackett's work with Blake Bortles in Jacksonville should prepare him for the challenge that lies ahead for the Broncos. The team's shaky quarterback situation has prevented a playoff-caliber roster from reaching the postseason in recent years. With Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock coming off sub-par seasons, the Broncos could jump on the quarterback carousel to find an answer. Although Garoppolo is far from perfect, he has played at a high level when surrounded by supreme talent and a reliable running game. If Hackett can get steady play from the quarterback with the defense and auxiliary weapons playing well, the Broncos can emerge as viable contenders in the AFC quickly with Jimmy G. at the helm.
The Dolphins' new head coach might win the job by touting a plan to develop Tua Tagovailoa as the team's franchise quarterback, but having an insurance policy at the position is a sensible option if the third-year pro falters while adjusting to a new system. If 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel, who is in the second round of interviews with the team, is named as the head coach, it is sensible for the Dolphins to make a play for Garoppolo based on their previous connection. Jimmy G's experience in the scheme and understanding of the standards could help the new coach institute a new culture while also chalking up a few wins along the way.
If the Saints' new coach isn't from Sean Payton's coaching tree, he might want to handpick his own quarterback to jump-start the team's rebuilding efforts. Garoppolo would not only give the Saints a veteran quarterback with a winning pedigree and excellent intangibles, but he would offer more stability at the position than Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston. Despite his flaws, the eighth-year pro has a knack for getting his team into the winner's circle, and that trait must be considered when rebuilding the Saints after a 15-year run of success in the Payton era.