SANTA CLARA, Calif. — At the end of a 17-plus minute Zoom media session Tuesday, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo stopped, looked into the camera and delivered what was unmistakably a farewell message to Niners fans.
“It’s been a hell of a ride,” Garoppolo said to the 49ers fans. “I love you guys. See ya.”
With that, Garoppolo rose from his seat and walked into an uncertain future that almost certainly will end with him playing for another team in 2022. Not long before, general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan largely deflected questions about what comes next for Garoppolo.
Shanahan and Lynch spoke at length about the end of the season — which came after Sunday’s 20-17 loss to the Los Angeles Rams — being too fresh to have a definitive answer on where they go from here. They promised to communicate with Garoppolo every step of the way and went into detail about how they have the financial wherewithal to keep Garoppolo and rookie Trey Lance next season if that’s something they want to explore.
“If we knew exactly what was happening, we would have told Jimmy,” Shanahan said. “But this season just ended and we’ve got a great, young quarterback who was a rookie and we have a great quarterback here who is a veteran … I’ve got the ultimate respect for Jimmy and I’m very excited about Trey. That’s where we’re at right now.
“So, we’re in a situation where we’ve got to make some tough decisions that won’t be easy. But I’m happy about that. That means you’ve got the best scenario going and that’s why we’ve got to put a lot of thought into this. And Jimmy will know everything as we go.”
Nobody should have expected Shanahan or Lynch to go into detail about the plan to try to maintain some sense of leverage. But when Garoppolo took his turn, he left little in the way of gray area.
Garoppolo expects to be traded, hopes to have a say in where he lands and knows what he wants in his next organization.
“I was talking to John yesterday about finding the right destination and whatever the future holds, just doing it the right way,” Garoppolo said. “I’ve got a long career ahead of me. I’m excited about it. I’m excited about the opportunities to come. I just want to go to a place where they want to win. That’s really what I’m in this game for. I’m here to play football, 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.”
An exact timeline for a potential Garoppolo trade remains to be seen but there are plenty of reasons to believe it will be a priority to be done by the time the new league year starts on March 16. Garoppolo is scheduled to count $26.905 million against San Francisco’s salary cap in 2022. Moving on from him would save the team $25.505 million with just $1.4 million in dead money remaining from the signing bonus on the contract he signed in 2017.
The Niners will need that space to re-sign many of their own key players, including wide receiver Deebo Samuel and defensive end Nick Bosa, both of whom are under contract but are priorities to sign to lucrative extensions this offseason, something Lynch acknowledged Tuesday.
Any place Garoppolo lands would still have to take on more than $25 million in cap charges, which is why he would likely be in line for a contract extension wherever he is traded. And though Garoppolo technically still has a no-trade clause, it expires when the new league year begins, which is also when any trade could officially be completed.
“As far as the whole trade situation, John has been very clear with it,” Garoppolo said. “I think they’re trying to do the best for me, I’m trying to do the best for them and we’re working together. We haven’t really made too much progress on it but I think things will start happening here pretty quickly.”
Another thing that will happen in the near future is a diagnosis on Garoppolo’s injured right thumb. Garoppolo played the final five games (including playoffs) with a torn ligament suffered in the Dec. 23 loss to the Tennessee Titans. He plans to see a specialist this week to determine whether he will need surgery.
“If I can avoid surgery, that’s really what I’m hoping for but we’ll see,” Garoppolo said.
Garoppolo also praised Lance, his presumptive replacement. Garoppolo said Lance is “as talented as it comes” and complimented the rookie for how well he learned a voluminous playbook. On Monday, Lance offered similar plaudits to Garoppolo.
“Everyone put us against each other and everything like that in the media throughout this whole year, OTAs, everything but he’s been nothing but a big brother to me,” Lance said. “He’s been nothing but great to me and I have nothing but just thankfulness for him and everything he’s done and how he’s handled everything. He’s going to be one of my best friends for my whole entire life.”
The speculation on where Garoppolo lands next will kick into overdrive in the coming weeks. There is no shortage of teams — Pittsburgh, Washington, New Orleans, Denver and Tampa Bay, among others — who figure to be in the market for a quarterback.
No matter how it officially ends, Garoppolo believes it will be a good thing for all involved.
“We’ve done right by each other just throughout this whole relationship,” Garoppolo said. “We’ll work it out one way or another. I don’t know how exactly that will work but I think both sides will be happy in the end.”