Jimmy Garoppolo Trade Candidates: Steelers, Broncos, Panthers, Washington could be interested in 49ers QB

After selecting Trey Lance third overall in 2021, the 49ers are expected to trade Jimmy Garoppolo this offseason. Where could the QB land?

Once the 49ers traded up to select Trey Lance with the third overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft, the writing was on the wall: Jimmy Garoppolo was nearing the end of his time in San Francisco. While he played above expectations this season, the 49ers’ investment in Lance means Jimmy G is likely to be dealt during the offseason. Which teams will have interest in the veteran signal-caller when he’s put on the trade block?

Jimmy Garoppolo has an extremely affordable QB contract

By the baseline numbers, Garoppolo’s 2021 campaign — 68.3% completion rate, 3,810 yards, 20 touchdowns, 12 interceptions — looks extremely similar to his NFC-winning 2019 season. But the advanced metrics paint an even better picture. Garoppolo finished fourth in expected points (EPA) added per play and seventh in completion percentage over expectation (CPOE) this year — he ranked ninth in both metrics in 2019.

Of course, there are few observers who view Garoppolo as a top-10 NFL quarterback. Whether it’s due to his history of injuries, his tendency to commit turnovers at inopportune times, or the fact that he plays in a scheme designed by offensive wizard Kyle Shanahan, the narrative surrounding Garoppolo is that he’s a perfectly reasonable mid-tier QB but nothing more. Yet, even if that’s the case, his contract makes him an exceptionally valuable asset.

Garoppolo has one year left on his current deal. An acquiring team would be on the hook for his $24.2 million base salary, $800K in per-game roster bonuses, and a $600K workout bonus. Landing an average-to-above-average quarterback for a one-year maximum of $25.6 million would represent an absolute steal in today’s market.

Even cap-strapped teams should be able to work Garoppolo onto their books. A club that traded for him could immediately extend him, fold that $25.6 million that’s already essentially guaranteed into a new signing bonus, and spread out his cap charges over the next several years. If a team only wants Garoppolo for one year, they could still add void years to his deal to reduce his 2022 cap figure.

Garoppolo’s trade destinations

Assuming that Garoppolo is on the block this offseason, where are his potential landing spots? Let’s take a look at a few teams that could have interest.

Pittsburgh Steelers

With Ben Roethlisberger likely heading for retirement, the Steelers are searching for his heir apparent. Some reports have indicated Mason Rudolph is likely to take over the starting role, but that doesn’t sound like a good idea. We’ve seen Rudolph before, specifically in 2019, when he averaged only 5.7 adjusted yards per attempt. He was even replaced by Devlin “Duck” Hodges at times, who isn’t in the NFL anymore.

Departing general manager Kevin Colbert said former Washington first-round pick Dwayne Haskins would also have the opportunity to compete for the No. 1 QB job. But I have a hard time believing the Steelers won’t add another passer. Pittsburgh has the pieces on both offense and defense to contend in the AFC — they just need competent play under center. Garoppolo would give them that, and with $41 million in cap space, the Steelers could easily afford him.

Denver Broncos

Speaking of teams that have the ability to compete and can fit Garoppolo on their cap, the Broncos are an excellent destination for the 30-year-old QB. Denver and Pittsburgh have a nearly identical amount of projected cap space in 2022. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Jimmy G sweepstakes come down to these two teams. The 49ers can hold out for the best trade offer, or they could offer Garoppolo the opportunity to choose his next team.

Broncos fans are surely hoping for Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson to come to town this offseason. I expect general manager George Paton to explore all options, but Garoppolo would make for a nice consolation price if those top-tier passers are unavailable. Denver has a solid offensive foundation built around Javonte Williams, Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick, and Noah Fant. They boast a much-improved offensive line thanks to OL coach Mike Munchak. Garoppolo could be the finishing touch.

Carolina Panthers

Sam Darnold will be back with the Panthers next year. Carolina put itself in an unenviable position by exercising his fully guaranteed $18.9 million option for 2022. Darnold is a sunk cost. Unless the Panthers eat some of his salary and then trade him, they’re stuck with the 24-year-old QB for at least one more season.

But that doesn’t mean Carolina won’t look for an upgrade. Even with Darnold’s salary weighing them down, they should still be able to afford a player like Garoppolo. The Panthers tried to acquire Matthew Stafford in exchange for the eighth overall pick last offseason. Stuck somewhere in a purgatory between contending and rebuilding, Carolina doesn’t seem to have a plan in place at quarterback. Garoppolo would mark a clear improvement over Darnold.

Washington Football Team

Washington tried to make its move last offseason by inking Ryan Fitzpatrick to a one-year deal. That transaction went up in flames when Fitzpatrick suffered a season-ending hip injury in Week 1. Taylor Heinicke has a long future as a reliable backup in the NFL, but he’s maxed out as a starter. The Football Team has enough talent on offense and defense to compete, but QB remains a glaring hole.

Terry McLaurin is in danger of becoming the next Allen Robinson — a star WR who never gets paired with acceptable quarterback play. Garoppolo would be an upgrade, and he’d be stepping into an underrated offensive situation. Hopefully, some of Washington’s key pieces (Antonio Gibson, Curtis Samuel) will be healthier in 2022. Plus, WFT fields one of the league’s better offensive lines. With Jimmy G under center, Washington could push Dallas and Philadelphia for the NFC East title.

Cleveland Browns

Browns general manager Andrew Berry has already stated that Baker Mayfield will be the club’s starter in 2022. Of course, that’s exactly what you’d expect Cleveland’s decision-makers to say at this point in the offseason. Mayfield was clearly limited by a shoulder injury throughout the year. But even aside from that, he hasn’t exactly shown enough to warrant a typical QB mega-extension.

The Browns are in a tough position. Garoppolo would come into Cleveland as the clear starter, marginalizing Mayfield. If the Browns truly want to give Mayfield another shot, maybe an addition like FitzMagic makes more sense. But if they warm to the idea of moving on from Baker, Garoppolo could make for an interesting alternative. The 49ers QB’s mental processing speed is much quicker than Mayfield’s, and he’s more accurate in the intermediate parts of the field. Garoppolo would be an outstanding fit for Kevin Stefanski’s offense.

New Orleans Saints and New York Giants

While I noted earlier that even teams with cap trouble could afford Garoppolo, I’m lumping the Saints and Giants together because they are deep in the red. New York is projected to be roughly $7 million over the cap in 2022. Meanwhile, the Saints will be at nearly $75 million over the limit. Yes, you read that correctly … $75 million over a $208 million salary cap.

The Saints have worked plenty of cap magic in the past. Maybe if they added four void years and slashed Garoppolo’s base salary to the minimum, they could afford him next year (pending a swath of other moves). But the Giants stand out as the more interesting and realistic possibility. Plus, Daniel Jones could make for a semi-attractive trade chip as a backup/insurance policy for the 49ers.

Dallas Robinson is a Writer and News Editor at Pro Football Network. You can read his other work here and follow him on Twitter: @dallasdrobinson.