This is the latest in our series on potential veteran quarterback options for the Bucs, should Tom Brady not play for them in 2022. Previous installments included the Texans’ Deshaun Watson.
Fairly or not, San Francisco’s lasting image of Jimmy Garoppolo will be his desperation lateral — intercepted, of course — as Rams force of nature Aaron Donald pulled him to the turf in the NFC title game’s waning moments.
Two days after the 20-17 defeat, the 30-year-old quarterback spoke as if that ill-advised fling was his last as a 49er.
“I just want to go to a place where they want to win; that’s really what I’m in this game for,” Garoppolo told reporters. “I’m here to play football, I’m here to win football games, and as long as I’ve got that and good people around me, I think the rest will take care of itself.”
As viable options go in the Bucs’ efforts to replace (presumably) retired icon Tom Brady, Garoppolo registers as more plausible than preposterous. The 49ers are ready to embark on the Trey Lance era after drafting the Division I-AA dual threat third overall in 2021 and reportedly are willing to work with Garoppolo on finding a suitable landing spot.
Which could result in a full circle of sorts: The Patriots’ second-round pick in 2014 might become Brady’s heir after all.
Garoppolo has a year remaining on his five-year, $137.5 million deal with the 49ers and is set to count $26.95 million against the salary cap in 2022. Any team acquiring him would be on the hook for $25.5 million, which seems a deal-breaker on the surface.
But here’s the thinly veiled secret about the salary cap: It was made to be manipulated.
Should the Bucs — or another suitor — sign him to a long-term deal, Garoppolo’s salary could be restructured, with much of it converted to a signing bonus that can be pro-rated over ensuing years. If the Bucs were to do the same with another veteran (i.e. Mike Evans), significant 2022 cap space suddenly would be created, albeit with the future somewhat mortgaged.
Nick Korte of overthecap.com recently noted the Bucs boast the NFL’s fourth-highest simple-restructure potential.
Moreover, Garoppolo’s salary isn’t exorbitant by 2022 standards, and 49ers general manager John Lynch presumably would operate amicably with his former employers (the Glazers) if the Bucs were interested in a trade.
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The 49ers, who host the Bucs in 2022, may not be keen on dealing their quarterback to a fellow conference contender.
Additionally, the litany of contract restructuring already done by the Bucs in an effort to win back-to-back Super Bowls might — might — prompt them to back off and opt for a less-expensive alternative (free-agent backup Blaine Gabbert, second-year project Kyle Trask).
And Garoppolo’s recent history may be a hard sell. His final throw as a 49er will go down in San Francisco infamy, and though he led the 2019 team to the Super Bowl and directed the 2021 squad on a highly improbable postseason run, he remains saddled with the mostly-unfair stigma of not winning the big one.
Skeptics also will note he was complemented — and perhaps propped up — by a ground game that ranked seventh in the NFL in rushing yards per contest (127.4) in the regular season. San Francisco ran 48 percent of the time in those 17 games, the league’s fourth-highest rate.
Of the six quarterbacks who played in more than one playoff game in the 2021 postseason, Garoppolo’s completion percentage (58.1) and passer rating (72.8) was the worst.
Based on the tattered NFL adage that declares you are what your record says you are, Garoppolo is a highly favorable option in the post-Brady era.
He’s 33-14 as an NFL starter, with more playoff wins (four) than Tony Romo or Cam Newton, and as many as Matthew Stafford and Matt Ryan. In his lone two full seasons as a starter (2019 and 2021), he has thrown for 7,788 yards with 47 touchdowns, 25 picks and a 68.7-percent completion rate. His teams have reached the NFC title game both of those years.
And bear in mind, Bill Belichick thought enough of Garoppolo to use a second-round pick on him once upon a time.
While perhaps not a sexy pick to replace Brady, he’s a serviceable and mostly successful one.
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls
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