This season has been a rocky one for San Francisco 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo. It began with the 49ers drafting QB Trey Lance with the #3 pick in the 2021 draft, all but spelling the end of the Garoppolo era in San Francisco after 5 seasons. With his massive contract ending this offseason, I would be shocked if the 49ers decide to retain the former Patriots backup, leaving him to search around for his next gig in the NFL. While his career numbers are decent and he’s had a few great moments, Jimmy G hasn’t been able to stay on the field for a full season, starting just 45 of the 87 games since joining the 49ers in 2017. At 30 years old, what does the future hold for Jimmy G?
If you’re looking for a silver lining in the career of Jimmy G, it’s 2019. He played in 16 games (of 19 total including playoffs) and took the 49ers to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, they lost to the Kansas City Chiefs, but made bay area fans believe that the future was bright. The 49ers were up 20-10 going into the 4th quarter, but Patrick Mahomes dropped 21 unanswered points (that’s never happened before, right?) and the Chiefs took home the trophy. Jimmy G went 20 for 31 for 219 yards, but threw 1 TD and 2 INTs which didn’t help his cause. In the previous game (AFC Championship), a win against the Green Bay Packers, Garoppolo didn’t have a big impact throwing just 8 times (completing 6) for 77 yards with no TDs or INTs. He was helped by a few INTs by his defense and a solid run game.
Overall, while his career numbers are pretty decent, Jimmy G hasn’t proven he can make the big throw in the big moment consistently when his team needs him the most. Garoppolo is 33-14 in 63 regular season and playoff games as an NFL QB (both starting and off the bench) with a 67.7 completion percentage and 11,852 yards (including 2-0 with the Patriots in his 2 starts in 2016). He has 71 TDs and 38 INTs in his career with an 8.4 yards per throw average which are all solid, if not great, numbers. When looking at his ability in big games, it’s not as pretty of a picture. He is 4-2 in the playoffs in 6 starts, but has thrown 4 TDs and 6 INTs and has a completion percentage of just 60.6% and a quarterback rating over 24.5 points lower than his overall career numbers. I know the competition is stiffer in the playoffs, but a precipitous drop in performance certainly won’t be looked at highly by potential suitors.
With such an influx of young talent at the QB position, where does that leave a very good regular season QB at the age of 30? This past season, just 10 QBs aged 30+ started 10+ games for their respective franchises. Of those 10, 1 has already retired (Ben Roethlisberger) and it’s likely that 1 or maybe even 2 more join him (Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, maybe Matt Ryan). While 30 is not old, if given another starting opportunity Jimmy G will be one of the oldest QBs in the NFL, which is crazy to think about. The emergence of QBs coming out of college ready to compete within a few seasons on much more economical deals has made GMs think twice before investing $25+ million in a free agent, like the 49ers did with Jimmy G in 2018. GMs will be looking to strike it rich with guys like Joe Burrow in Cincinnati and Josh Allen in Buffalo who are both 25 and have more than proved their immense value this postseason.
The overall picture isn’t amazing for Jimmy G, but there are a few interesting landing spots for his talent. The Denver Broncos, New Orleans Saints, Washington Football Team, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Pittsburgh Steelers seem like the most likely spots for Garoppolo if he’s going to find another starting gig. The Bucs is an unlikely scenario, but as a Pats fan, a fun one to think about if/when Brady retires. They drafted University of Florida QB Kyle Trask this year, but if he’s not ready, they may want a veteran for a year to fill the gap. The Saints made sense with Sean Payton at the helm and a potential need for a QB, but with his retirement, I’m not sure what the future system will look like. The Broncos and the Football Team (still odd to type) have picks in the top 11 of the draft and both will likely be looking for their next guy. They both seem to have cap space to bring in Jimmy G to provide a veteran presence to guide the future young QB and maybe keep the team competitive in the short-term.
An interesting spot for me is the Steelers. They are without a viable starting QB and don’t have a high draft pick to grab one (#20), so they might need a stop-gap for a few years to get and develop their next guy. If so, Jimmy G could be a really enticing option as a veteran who can step in and win some games post-Big Ben. The team is solid overall and with a healthy Jimmy G could make a playoff run in year 1 without a major drop-off. Garoppolo loves a run-heavy, short-to-mid passing game scheme and the Steelers could fit that bill with the talented young RB Najee Harris and a solid receiving core with WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR Diontae Johnson, and the Massachusetts native TE Pat Freiermuth.
At this point in his career, I think Jimmy G is still an NFL starting QB. He’s not likely to get a big and/or long deal, but will be an intriguing option for the next year or two for teams looking to be competitive while thinking through longer-term options. I don’t think I’m the only one in New England that hopes Garoppolo can find a starting job and stay on the field in 2022.