That much is clear following the seismic trade between the Niners and Miami Dolphins a week ago, with San Francisco surrendering the No. 12 pick, first- and third-round choices in 2022 and a first-round pick in 2023 to get the No. 3 pick in the 2021 NFL draft.
It isn’t a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. The Niners’ proposed plan of keeping Garoppolo this year to tutor a rookie quarterback drafted third has been met with a wide range of opinions.
For some, it’s a logical move for a team that believes it can return to contention. For others, it makes no sense to invest so much draft capital to improve your quarterback position and then force that quarterback to sit and wait for a year (though it worked for Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs).
For now, at least, the 49ers say they intend to hang on to Garoppolo and allow whoever they draft to sit and learn. Whether that actually happens remains to be seen.
Here’s a look at the reasons to keep Garoppolo for the season and the reasons to move on sooner than later.
Pros of keeping Garoppolo
A chance to return to contention in 2021: 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch said Monday the primary reason they want to hang on to Garoppolo is he gives them a better chance to win in 2021 than any rookie quarterback. The Niners re-signed many of their key veteran free agents with the idea of taking one more run at the Super Bowl with most of the core group from the 2019 team. Combined with some better injury luck, the 49ers clearly believe they can surge back into the mix in the NFC playoff picture.
It’s unlikely a rookie will be ready: No rookie quarterback has started a Super Bowl in the common era, let alone won one. That isn’t lost on the 49ers. Shanahan said the Niners aren’t “there yet” with any rookie signal caller offering a better chance to win and that “odds are” they won’t get there. They’d need to see a young quarterback on the field and in the classroom before feeling comfortable plugging him into the starting lineup. Shanahan intimated it’s going to take something special to change that view.
The offseason program could be virtual or mostly virtual: Asked about possible continued COVID-19 restrictions limiting the offseason program to virtual work, Lynch said it’s something “every team is very eager to find out.” It’s no small thing for a rookie quarterback to come in and learn Shanahan’s voluminous playbook — during a normal offseason. If a rookie quarterback gets only limited on-field reps or none at all until training camp that makes playing early difficult.
Garoppolo’s value could increase, for him and the team: Let’s say Garoppolo is able to stay healthy and the 49ers make another playoff run while he posts numbers similar to what he did in 2019 (3,978 yards, 27 TDs, 13 INTs). He’d only have one year left on his contract but there would undoubtedly be a better market for him than right now — coming off an injury-plagued year with his team just letting the world know it’s going to move on at some point. As a bonus, Garoppolo’s no-trade clause would be gone next year, which could open up more options. If he plays well in 2021, Garoppolo could earn a contract extension with his new team.
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Cons of keeping Garoppolo
The 49ers get an offer they can’t refuse: This matters more than anything else on the list. Shanahan and Lynch’s commitment to Garoppolo goes only as far as the best offer they get. If some quarterback-starved team offers a first-round pick or even a fairly early second-round choice, it’s something the 49ers would consider. It could make winning in 2021 harder but it would allow them to recoup some lost draft capital and they could even find another veteran quarterback much cheaper to start while a rookie gets his feet under him.
They could save a lot of money: The 49ers have enough space to make additional moves, sign their draft class and extend linebacker Fred Warner. Moving on from Garoppolo would save $23.6 million against the salary cap. If they wait and do it next year, it’s $25.6 million. Do the Niners need that money right now? With most of the big-name free agents already signed not really, but it sure wouldn’t hurt to have that cushion and then roll over what’s left into next season. One of the biggest benefits of a rookie quarterback is the contract, so getting it for the maximum amount of time would only help build out the rest of the roster and keep key players in place.
Keeping Garoppolo could lead to quarterback controversy: Shanahan indicated Monday that Garoppolo handled news of the trade well and Shanahan expects Garoppolo to remain professional. He also said Garoppolo was “pissed off” about the trade and suggested that might help Garoppolo’s performance in 2021. That’s possible, but the opposite is, too. Any struggles Garoppolo has will be scrutinized closely because there’s a highly-drafted rookie in waiting. A lingering quarterback controversy could torpedo another season.
Garoppolo’s value could actually drop: It’s also possible Garoppolo’s value could crater. Another injury of note would make three times in four years he’s missed time and the injury-prone label would become permanently affixed. And if he is healthy and struggles? That wouldn’t do much to help, either. Whatever pick or picks the Niners can get for Garoppolo now probably don’t matter much in the big picture but it’s better than nothing.