NFLTR Review: The Most Likely Landing Spots For Jimmy Garoppolo

The music’s nearly over and Jimmy Garoppolo is the last quarterback without a starting chair. In this issue:

  • Just a small handful of teams make sense — right now — for Jimmy. 
  •  An NFC West team that’s a sneaky fit…& not the one you think
  • Three stats to help you judge QBs better

What’s Next For Jimmy Garoppolo?

Life moves fast in the NFL, and no one is immune from being left behind. That’s where 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo finds himself after the game of musical chairs at the quarterback position this offseason has left him without a chair with just weeks until the start of the regular season. 

A quick recap of how the 49ers and Garoppolo got to this point before we get into the future will be helpful. San Francisco signaled Garoppolo had an expiration date as a 49er more than a year ago when they used three first-round picks to trade up and select Trey Lance No. 3 in the draft. However, they gave Lance a season to watch and learn behind the experienced Garoppolo, reasoning the veteran would have a better chance of leading a deep postseason run than a Division II rookie with just 17 starts. Given the 49ers made it to the NFC title game, kudos to them. 

The only way for Lance to get better, however, is to play, which is why the 49ers have made it clear the entire offseason the plan was to trade Garoppolo and turn things over to Lance, despite any rumors or speculation to the contrary. 49ers HC Kyle Shanahan formally declared Lance the starter at the beginning of camp for anyone who still needed to hear it. If the 49ers had any trade market at all for Garoppolo, he would already be gone. 

Instead, his shoulder surgery at the beginning of March and the $25 million he’s due in 2022 have nerfed any market the 49ers could have had for him. Even though he’s healthy now, or at least close to it, most of the teams looking for QB help have already made plans A and B. Most teams have also already spent the bulk of their budgets for this season. $25 million for a starting quarterback isn’t horrendous, but it’s astronomical this time of year. 

It’s also completely untenable for a backup, which is why if the 49ers can’t find a trade partner for Garoppolo sometime between now and Week 1 when his salary guarantees, the most likely option is he is released outright. 


At this point, it’s important to reiterate despite the circumstances being what they are, Garoppolo is a starting-level quarterback in the NFL. He polled as the No. 16 quarterback in the annual QB tiers survey among NFL coaches and front office staff from the Athletic’s Mike Sando. Voters rated him a virtually consensus “tier 3” quarterback, defined as a “legitimate starter but needs a heavier running game and/or defensive component to win. A lower-volume dropback passing offense suits him best.”

His record as a starter carried quite a bit of weight. In Garoppolo’s two full seasons as a starter, San Francisco made the NFC championship both years, winning it in 2019. From a raw numbers perspective, he was solid. Not spectacular, but solid. 

Year Games Comp % Yards TD INT
2019 16 69.1 3,978 27 13
2021 15 68.3 3,810 20 12


Some of the advanced metrics paint a prettier picture. Garoppolo ranked eighth in the league in adjust net yards per attempt in 2021 and fourth in composite expected points added/completion percentage over expected (see lower in the column for more of an explainer on this metric and how it can be useful). He was 10th and ninth in those categories respectively in 2019. You should take those with a degree of salt, as obviously if Garoppolo was that level of player the 49ers wouldn’t have traded for Lance. Shanahan’s system might deserve some credit here. 

But the point is Garoppolo won’t be cut because he sucks. His skill level isn’t even necessarily why the 49ers made the move they did, although it was certainly a component. An inability to stay healthy was the other factor, and Garoppolo has yet to shake that. A torn ACL took him out in his first full-time season as a starter in 2018, then a high ankle sprain derailed his 2020 season. His shoulder injury this offseason hurt both him and the team, as without it it’s very possible he’s already on another roster. 

Potential Destinations

At 16th in Sando’s rankings, Garoppolo is ahead of half the other starting quarterbacks in the general court of opinion within the NFL. However, the top 32 quarterbacks in football don’t get the 32 starting jobs (hat tip to the bossman at NFLTR for that observation). There are factors like youth, scheme fit, familiarity and other circumstances that impact who gets a seat. 

At this stage in Garoppolo’s career, there aren’t any real hopes about him being a franchise starter. He might be better than guys like Carson Wentz, Baker Mayfield, Jameis Winston or Jared Goff, but not dramatically so. Teams don’t want to upgrade from 24th to 20th at the quarterback position, they want upside. At this point in the season, a difference in talent can also be outweighed by familiarity with the playbook. Quarterback isn’t a position you pick up on the fly, not with outstanding results at least. 

Assuming Garoppolo is cut which is probably a safe assumption — with one important exception we’ll discuss — most teams will view him as a top-flight backup, maybe someone who could start in the second half of the season after getting acclimated to the system. Most of the league won’t be interested. There’s another batch of about six teams that are worth looking at a little closer but are ultimately dark horses at best. There are two teams, plus the aforementioned exception, who make the most sense to be Garoppolo’s landing spot in the end. 

The first batch, in quick-hit form

  • Giants: There’s some familiarity as HC Brian Daboll and Garoppolo crossed paths in New England. Some in the media have also speculated about New York as a fit. Highly unlikely, however, as this is a big evaluation season for Daniel Jones and the Giants already signed Tyrod Taylor to a two-year deal as the veteran backup/2023 bridge to a rookie. 
  • Falcons: Very similar to the Giants as a team linked by speculators, but without the benefit of a connection like Daboll. Falcons HC Arthur Smith already has the vet who knows his system in Marcus Mariota, and there’s the young gun, third-round rookie Desmond Ridder. Doesn’t make sense for either team to spend the cap space either. 
  • Buccaneers: Also linked to Garoppolo but via dubious reports. If Tom Brady retires after the 2022 season, Tampa Bay doesn’t have a plan on the roster for 2023. However, they’d surely like to do better than Garoppolo and he’s a questionable fit for the offense. Plus, it’d be awkward to bring him in behind Brady again. 
  • Dolphins: Via Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports, Garoppolo is thought to be a huge fan of Dolphins HC Mike McDaniel, who was on staff in San Francisco until this year, and Miami is believed to be high on his list of landing spots. However, the Dolphins signed Teddy Bridgewater as a veteran backup this offseason and McDaniel has publicly and enthusiastically supported Tua Tagovailoa
  • Jets: They also have the familiarity factor with OC Mike LaFleur and HC Robert Saleh. However, current backups Joe Flacco and Mike White were reasonably productive last season. Saleh just talked up Flacco and bringing in Garoppolo wouldn’t be good optics for Zach Wilson
  • Rams: Out of all the dark horse teams here, I think this actually could make some sense. Matthew Stafford has been on a careful load management plan to deal with elbow pain so far in camp. The Rams say it’s not too serious, and maybe that’s true. If it’s not, I have a hard time they’d be willing to entrust this team to John Wolford for an extended period of time no matter how much they talk him up. There’s some scheme crossover as well given McVay is a former Shanahan assistant, although his offense has evolved its own differences. 

Rams aside, there are just three other teams that make sense as potential landing spots for Garoppolo: the Browns, the Seahawks and the Texans

Cleveland could prove to be the exception to the 49ers needing a starter to go down with an injury, as a suspension will nip Browns QB Deshaun Watson from the lineup just as well as a torn ligament or broken bone. There’s the final act still to come in the case, and if you want more detail on that I’ll try my best to outline it in the next section. It seems more and more certain, however, that the Browns’ expectation of a 4-8 game suspension will be a severe underestimation. 

That’s relevant because when the Browns signed QB Jacoby Brissett to a contract that made him one of the highest-paid backup quarterbacks in the NFL, it was done with confidence Brissett could hold it down for a short amount of time. He started the bulk of two seasons for the Colts in 2017 and 2019 with an 11-19 record. He has a reputation as a good leader, someone who’s big, mobile and tough to bring down, and usually strong at avoiding turnovers. He wasn’t efficient or explosive, though, with a barely 60 percent completion percentage and a YPA of 6.6 over both seasons. 

As a backup who just has to keep a loaded roster afloat until the cavalry arrives, Brissett would have been adequate for the Browns. Recalibrate and look at him as a 17-game starter, however, it’d be difficult to rank him outside the bottom five. Cleveland has maintained publicly and privately to reporters they’re happy with Brissett but perhaps their stance will change with new information and Garoppolo becomes more appealing. He’s no Watson from an on-field perspective, but he would elevate the ceiling of this team much more than Brissett at this stage in their respective careers. 

Even still, the 49ers will need to be careful not to overplay their hand if Watson is suspended for the season. Cleveland has sunk a ton of picks and cash already into the position, and if San Francisco tries to price gouge them, they could in theory still wait them out. The Browns would be Garoppolo’s best starting opportunity in free agency most likely, what they’re really trading for is time in the system to learn the playbook. But if they were ready to go with Brissett for the first six games without Watson, they could theoretically do the same with Garoppolo. 

If Cleveland isn’t an option, the Seahawks could offer Garoppolo his next best chance to start. In fact, in Maiocco’s earlier report he says part of why San Francisco has not released Garoppolo yet is an effort to try and keep him away from Seattle. They can’t control where he goes if they cut him, but if they wait until the last minute it lessens the time Garoppolo would have to get up to speed in the system. There’s a difference between him arriving in Seattle at the start of training camp versus just before the start of the regular season. 

From the Seahawks’ perspective, they appear to like Drew Lock and Geno Smith enough to at least let them battle the rest of camp. Seattle operates in a unique way as an NFL franchise, so it could be genuine. It could also be a ploy to get better draft position in 2023. If we buy HC Pete Carroll’s slogan of “Always Compete,” however, Garoppolo would be a clear upgrade over both Lock and Smith. 

Both would have an advantage of having gone through training camp, but what Seattle could do is sign Garoppolo whenever he’s released by the 49ers with the goal of letting him catch up for a few games behind Smith and Lock. That gives either or both the chance to run with the job, and if or when they falter, Garoppolo is integrated into the offense and can step in. 

The Texans are the last potential landing spot for Garoppolo. Texans GM Nick Caserio was a key part of the front office that drafted Garoppolo back in New England and viewed him as the heir to Brady until the GOAT had other ideas. There was even a report that Houston could get involved in trade talks for Garoppolo after the draft. While there hasn’t been much more smoke on that front, Caserio to Garoppolo is a significant dot to connect. 

The big obstacle is 2021 third-rounder Davis Mills, who had some flashes as a rookie and is entering the 2022 season as the unchallenged No. 1 starter. Logically you’d assume the Texans want to evaluate Mills to weigh their options in 2023, which could include drafting another quarterback in the first round. Garoppolo might be better than Mills right now but Mills might have more potential down the line, and the only way to find out is to play the younger option. 

However, the depth behind Mills is thin, with former Panthers and Commanders backup Kyle Allen in the No. 2 role. Garoppolo would be an obvious upgrade and a strong veteran presence to help Mills. His familiarity with Caserio could go a long way, too, as Houston might be able to offer him a crack at competing for the job in 2023 and not lock themselves into drafting a first-round prospect. 

Looking Ahead To 2023

Regardless of if he’s traded or cut, odds are Garoppolo will be a free agent next offseason when the quarterback wheel will spin again. As things stand now, it doesn’t look like there will be as many drastic changes as there were this past offseason. It’s a potentially strong draft class, with two prospects in Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud who have already compiled first-round caliber resumes. There are a number of other candidates who could play their way into the conversation, giving the NFL three or more first-round quarterbacks. 

Brady won’t be under contract, so his decision on whether to retire, return to Tampa Bay or play another season with a different team at the age of 46 will be one of the offseason’s biggest stories. The rest of the free agent crop isn’t strong, with Garoppolo likely at the top of a group that could also include Mayfield, Bridgewater, Daniel Jones, Andy Dalton, Sam Darnold and a few others. There aren’t really any blockbuster trades brewing, at least not as obvious as there were last year, but it’s worth keeping an eye on contract talks between the Ravens and Lamar Jackson and the relationship between the Cardinals and Kyler Murray as the 2022 season plays out. 

Even if things are quieter next offseason, as long as Garoppolo is healthy when March rolls around the odds are he’ll have far better options than what is available to him right now.

This Week In Football

  • There’s still no resolution to the saga embroiling Browns QB Deshaun Watson. But for the first time, the end might be in sight. This week, the independent arbitrator Judge Sue Robinson issued her recommendation that Watson should be suspended for six games. Her ruling was the first test of the new discipline process negotiated in the last CBA between the NFL and NFLPA, adding a layer in between commissioner Roger Goodell and the players. However, the NFL retained the right to appeal the decision as long as some form of punishment was given out, and Goodell or someone he appoints is the one who will hear that appeal. The CBA states the decision on the appeal is final and binding. If that sounds like the game is still rigged, it’s because it is. The NFL has been seeking a suspension of a year for Watson all along, and there’s no reason to think that they won’t get it on their appeal if they really want it. 
  • This is a somewhat complex and obviously emotional situation, and I’d encourage reading this piece from ESPN diving deeper into the nuts and bolts of Robinson’s ruling. Watson and the NFLPA can also technically sue the NFL in federal court, which other players like Brady and Ezekiel Elliott have done in the past to win temporary injunctions which allowed them to play, though in the end they couldn’t outrun an NFL suspension. That was in the last CBA, however, and Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, who is one of the top legal analysts when it comes to the NFL, explains why that probably won’t work for Watson. Again, the end of all of this is in sight, and it probably involves Watson missing most of the 2022 season at best. 
  • The other massive bit of NFL disciplinary news came when the league announced it had resolved its investigation into tanking and tampering allegations against the Dolphins from former HC Brian Flores and imposed drastic sanctions on Miami. The team was stripped of its 2023 first-round pick and its 2024 third-round pick. Owner Stephen Ross was suspended six games essentially, removed from his league committee assignments and fined an additional $1.5 million. The two big takeaways to know here are that “officially” this punishment is not for tanking but for extensive tampering with Brady, both when he was with the Patriots and Buccaneers, and former Saints HC Sean Payton. Investigators substantiated Flores’ account of Ross offering him $100,000 per loss, but says Ross was just “joking” and he toned down comments about prioritizing draft position over wins after Flores called him out. These punishments far exceed anything prior for tampering, however, which makes me think “unofficially” they’re punishment for tanking. The second takeaway is that without two first-round picks in 2023, the Dolphins will be seriously hampered in their ability to pursue a big-time upgrade if Tagovailoa struggles in 2022. That’s something to keep in mind as the season plays out. Never a dull moment with the Dolphins. 
  • The wide receiver market kept on rolling in San Francisco, as the 49ers and WR Deebo Samuel agreed to terms on a three-year, $71.5 million deal. It’s remarkably similar in structure to contracts signed by fellow 2019 draft classmates D.K Metcalf, Terry McLaurin and A.J. Brown, which makes sense considering Samuel’s agent also represented Metcalf and Brown. The two sides have obviously come a long way from Samuel’s trade request in the spring, which hasn’t been fully explained and might not be now. Samuel and the team have downplayed the idea that Samuel’s running back usage was a point of conflict, and that he’s happy to help the team however he can with his unique skillset. 
  • Samuel wasn’t the only wideout to cash in, as the Steelers and WR Diontae Johnson broke a stalemate by agreeing to a two-year, $36.7 million extension. Even as deals have trended shorter, this contract is notably short. You’ll also notice it falls well short of $20 million per year and just barely edges out the $18 million a season the Jaguars gave Christian Kirk in free agency. It appears Johnson compromised on the APY in exchange for cash in his hand right away and minimizing the risk of free agency. Pittsburgh could have used the franchise tag on him for about $20 million in 2023, now Johnson gets $19 million this year instead. But based on the stats, he had a case to be paid at least as much as McLaurin and certainly more than $20 million a year at a bare minimum. Johnson probably left somewhere between $10-$15 million on the table by not fully exerting his leverage, even if he minimizes his risk the next couple of seasons. Perhaps watching JuJu Smith-Schuster hit free agency and be disappointed by the available offers for two straight years influenced how Johnson approached talks, or he prioritized remaining in Pittsburgh more. Whatever the reasoning, this deal is an enormous coup for Steelers GM Omar Khan in his first year in charge. 
  • Wrapping up the big extension news, the Cardinals inked another key player to a new deal by signing LT D.J. Humphries to a three-year extension. There was some initial confusion on the numbers, with NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport initially calling it a three-year, $66.8 million deal. That would have been a gargantuan leap for Humphries, as his last deal was in the range of $15 million a year. Instead, the new money is just $51.8 million, and the APY of just over $17 million a year is much more in line with Humphries’ standing as a good but not elite left tackle. 
  • Russell Wilson’s receiving corps in Denver took a big hit with the loss of veteran WR Tim Patrick to a torn ACL in practice this week. If the Broncos had to take an injury to any position group, they’re probably best suited to overcome it at wideout with Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy still a potentially strong starting duo. But Patrick’s size, athleticism and reliability will be missed, especially in the red zone. He’s also one of the leaders on the team. 
  • A couple of disgruntled player situations to monitor. Bears 2021 second-round OT Teven Jenkins has missed a week of practice now with an undisclosed injury and Chicago has reportedly engaged in trade talks. With a new regime in town and Jenkins’ issues last season to stay healthy and perform when he was on the field, it feels like things are headed quickly to a disappointing end for one of Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy’s final draft picks.
  • In Atlanta, LB Deion Jones remains sidelined with a shoulder issue and the Falcons have unsuccessfully tried to trade him — which isn’t a surprise. Hurt and expensive is a bad combination. The team claims they won’t cut him and they could conceivably hold him into the regular season. His deal will get cheaper and injuries could make another team desperate. He still doesn’t look like a significant part of the team’s plans on defense, though, and my guess is he’s eventually cut after the trade deadline if no takers emerge. 

Deep Dive: QB Advanced Stats

Quarterback play has always been tough to encapsulate with a single rating because while QBs are responsible for so much, they’re also heavily impacted by their teammates. But there are a few stats that do a decent job of taking this into account, like adjusted net yards per attempt and EPA+ CPOE composite. 

What on earth was that word salad, huh? As promised above, here’s a deeper look. Adjusted net yards per attempt, or ANY/A, is a formula that assigns a positive yardage value to touchdowns and a negative one to sacks and interceptions and then folds it all into a YPA number. It’s supposed to approximate how well a quarterback does their job, which is completing passes for positive plays and avoiding negative results. It’s a little crude and doesn’t account for rushing production, but it’s easy, accessible and generally works pretty well, by which I mean most of the time the quarterback with the highest ANY/A tend to be the ones viewed as the best by public perception. 

EPA, or expected points added, does something similar in a far more advanced way. A more in-depth breakdown is here, but the short summary is sports statisticians have processed mountains of historical data to create an average “expected points” value at the start of any given play. EPA is the difference between that and the next play. For example, let’s say a team has first and 10 from the opponent’s 45-yard-line and the EP is 2.5. They complete a 25-yard pass to set up first and 10 from the 20 and the EP goes up to 4.8, meaning the play that just occurred has an EPA value of 2.3. 

Because quarterbacks are so impactful, dividing the total EPA a passer adds by the number of dropbacks actually provides a strong look at which quarterbacks are playing well. EPA can also account for a quarterback’s production in the ground game. There are some nuances it doesn’t account for, however, like the degree of difficulty. EPA doesn’t distinguish between a 25-yard bubble screen and a 25-yard dart into double coverage when the pass pro breaks down.

What does account for that is completion percentage over expected. Using player tracking data, NFL Media’s NextGen Stats team created a completion probability score that looks at the position of the ball, the receiver and the defender at various points in the play. Completion percentage over expected is how well a quarterback outperformed their completion probabilities. The NextGen data is proprietary, but analyst Ben Baldwin who writes for the Athletic was able to mostly replicate their results using publicly accessible data and it’s available on his site. EPA+CPOE composite is his metric and it’s supposed to better measure both a quarterback’s performance and the degree of difficulty of what they’re being asked to do. 

What I like about these metrics is that they are reasonably “sticky,” which just means they are more likely to carry over from year to year. For example, EPA+CPOE is far more predictive than just raw touchdown to interception ratio. The grades from Pro Football Focus also fall in this bucket, and they take even more of a step toward isolating the quarterback from the supporting cast. Subjective grading is, well, subjective, which is why I like using all three of these stats in conjunction. 

Something I’m also coming around on that I dismissed when I was younger is quarterback record — aka QB WINZZZZ. Obviously a better supporting cast can make a mountain of a difference. Entering this season, Matthew Stafford had a record of 74-90-1 and he was a huge part of the Rams’ Super Bowl win. But if the quarterback is truly the most important position on the football field, shouldn’t we expect the better ones to win more games than they lose?

Single seasons are small sample sizes and even two or three strung together can be wildly different given how drastically some teams change year to year. But 100 games would be six seasons, and at that point surely some trends would start to emerge. There are other stats I like more, but wins are still a piece of the puzzle. 

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