SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Figuring out the compensation to acquire Jimmy Garoppolo from New England was only part of the equation for the San Francisco 49ers.
The way Garoppolo plays down the stretch once he finally takes over as the starting quarterback for the 49ers will determine how much money he will get paid to be the franchise quarterback in San Francisco.
The Niners paid a big price to acquire Garoppolo when they dealt a 2018 second-round pick to the Patriots on Oct. 31 for a quarterback who has made only two NFL starts and will be paid more like a proven commodity because he’s eligible to be an unrestricted free agent in March.
“We brought him here because we want him to be the quarterback of the future,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “That’s up to Jimmy and how it works out here, and we’re going to work our best to get him ready. We’re going to look at every opportunity to find that guy, and this opportunity came up, and Jimmy is a guy that we believe can be that guy. So, when that opportunity came up, and it’s a guy that you believe in from what you’ve seen on tape and what you’ve heard of people that know him, that’s something that’s too good of an opportunity to pass up on. So, we didn’t hesitate.”
By trading for Garoppolo now rather than trying to sign him as a free agent in March, the 49ers (1-9) can get a chance to see him in action to help determine his value.
That could come as soon as after San Francisco returns from the bye to host Seattle on Nov. 26. Garoppolo is using the week off to get extra time with Shanahan and quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello to get up to speed on an entirely new offense.
Having paid that price in a premium pick, the 49ers aren’t exactly going to let Garoppolo walk away as a free agent. The question is whether they will be able to strike a long-term deal or have to use either the franchise or transition tag to keep Garoppolo locked up.
Figuring out what the market value is for a quarterback who has thrown only 94 career passes isn’t easy. Brock Osweiler turned seven starts in Denver in 2015 into $37 million guaranteed from Houston in a deal that averaged $18 million a season. Mike Glennon got $18.5 million guaranteed from Chicago this past offseason on a three-year deal worth $15 million a year despite making no starts the previous two seasons in Tampa Bay.
Both were flops with their new clubs.
“He has less of a track record than Glennon and Osweiler had,” said former agent Joel Corry. “The Niners will probably be thinking that neighborhood. Garoppolo’s people know you gave up essentially a late first-round pick for him. Provided he doesn’t play like those two guys, you’d have to franchise him. That’s what makes this thing so difficult.”
San Francisco has some protection because it could use a tag on him, although that comes with a hefty price. The franchise tag would guarantee Garoppolo a 2018 salary of somewhere between $23 and $24 million. Another team could try to sign him, but San Francisco would have the option of matching the deal or getting two first-round picks instead.
The 49ers could save some money by placing the transition tag on Garoppolo instead. That is usually a few million dollars less than the franchise tag, but San Francisco would get no compensation if it didn’t match an offer sheet.
With the Niners having more than $100 million in projected salary cap room, it would be almost impossible for another team to structure a deal that San Francisco couldn’t match considering how much the 49ers value him.
“The Niners won’t want to pay a guy $23-24 million a year that’s basically thrown less than 150 passes depending on when he gets on the field,” Corry said. “They won’t feel comfortable doing that. There has to be some happy medium that will be more than the Osweiler neighborhood but not paying him close to Derek Carr’s $25 million when he’s done nothing remotely close to Derek Carr.”
Garoppolo has little NFL game film to go on, but his performance in those two starts last year when Brady was suspended was impressive. He completed 42 of 59 passes for 496 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in wins against Arizona and Miami.
He got hurt in the second quarter of his second start and has thrown just four passes since, but the Niners still believe he’s the player to build around.
“I can tell you, second-round picks are very valuable in this league, particularly where we are at as an organization. And so, this is a guy we wanted and were willing to give what we thought was a very valuable commodity and exchange for him,” general manager John Lynch said. “So, we’re excited moving forward that he’s going to be a part of our future.”
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