SANTA CLARA — Conventional wisdom says the Jimmy Garoppolo trade was a win for the 49ers. It redeemed their season by at least making it interesting and it gave them a promising future. But what did the trade really accomplish? What have the 49ers done to secure their future?
Garoppolo will be a free agent at the end of the season. He and the 49ers did not agree to a contract extension. The 49ers want to extend Garoppolo’s contract, but “nothing is close or imminent,” according NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport. And when the media asked Garoppolo at his introductory press conference if he sees the 49ers as his long-term home, he said, “We’ll see what happens.”
49ers general manager John Lynch said something similar when asked if Garoppolo will sign an extension soon.
“I just met Jimmy for the first time. We’re just getting to know him. Honest to God, we need to get him in the playbook, so that’s where we’re going to start. First thing’s first.”
Lynch is trying to paint the picture that there’s no rush to sign a contract extension. Both parties need to get to know each other. It’s a feeling-out period.
The 49ers’ feeling-out period ended the minute they consummated the trade. They’re all in. Garoppolo is not all in. He’s uncommitted. He’s the one doing the feeling out. He’s the one who will decide if he wants to sign long-term with the 49ers, or force the Niners to use the franchise tag to keep him one more season, almost certainly creating an uncomfortable relationship, definitely not desirable. Garoppolo has all the leverage. The 49ers are at his mercy.
What a rookie mistake by rookie GM Lynch. He never should have made this trade without an extension in place.
Lynch was unprepared. When will Lynch sit down with Garoppolo’s agent, Don Yee, and negotiate? What is Lynch waiting for? What’s the hold up?
I recently tried to ask Lynch to answer those questions, but he refused. Through a team spokesperson, Lynch said he has nothing he’d like to add on the record.
To get some answers, I called Scot McCloughan, who is a more proven GM than Lynch. McCloughan was the 49ers’ GM from 2008 to 2009 and the Redskins GM from 2015 to 2016. He knows what he’s doing.
Before we get into what he thinks of the trade, you should know what he thinks of Garoppolo.
“I scouted him,” McCloughan said. “The guy can play. The guy has the whole package. It’s not just the talent. It’s the leadership, it’s the intelligence, it’s the toughness, it’s the teammate he is.
“I’ve been around Matt Hasselbeck, Brett Favre, Russell Wilson, Kirk Cousins. Garoppolo has a chance to be a good, good quarterback. He has the mentality and the leadership and the toughness to be a good player.”
McCloughan loves Garoppolo, and McCloughan loves this trade — he even praised Jed York on Twitter for making the deal.
“Garoppolo and his agent have all the leverage, though,” I said on the phone. “Is that how you see it?”
“It is,” McCloughan said. “But the thing with Don Yee, who I know well, I guarantee there have been discussions. It’s cool that nothing is coming out from Jimmy or Don or San Francisco. But I guarantee, you don’t make a trade like this and give up the compensation like this without having a really good feeling that it’s going to work for long-term.”
McCloughan is saying Lynch received an affirmation from Yee that they will sit down and negotiate a deal. Well, McCloughan assumes that because he would have gotten it done. Who knows if Lynch got it done?
“If they didn’t have that conversation, it would make the trade very tough,” McCloughan said. “Because now you’re talking about maybe a one-year guy.”
Maybe Lynch and Yee did have that conversation. McCloughan and Yee certainly would have. We’ll give Lynch the benefit of the doubt here.
But when Lynch and Yee sit down to talk, there won’t be a negotiation. The Niners have nothing to negotiate. Yee holds all the cards. That’s the key point.
Yee will have a list of demands. He probably won’t sign a contract until he sees whom the team will sign in free agency. Why would he and Garoppolo commit to the 49ers when the Niners have Swiss cheese on the offensive line, an old wide receiver who just broke his neck and a running back who will be a free agent? Why will Garoppolo sign with the 49ers if signing might get him killed?
Garoppolo didn’t choose to come to the 49ers. He has no obligation to them. They didn’t draft him. They traded for him. He says he likes the trade. What’s he supposed to say?
“He was in a comfortable position,” McCloughan said. “All of a sudden now — boom, he’s going across the country. He’s going to San Francisco, and the 49ers haven’t won a game yet. I’m not knocking San Francisco, but all of a sudden it’s like, ‘OK, am I supposed to do what? Am I supposed to go in there and be the savior?’”
According to McCloughan, Garoppolo is no savior. “He needs talent around him.”
What about slapping the franchise tag on Garoppolo, paying $20 million for a guy who hasn’t played two full games in the NFL?
“(The franchise tag is) a tool you can use, but you’ve got to be careful,” McCloughan said. “You’ve got 52 other guys on the roster that you have to take care of too. There are guys they are going to want to sign next year, and if, all of a sudden they have to franchise Garoppolo — I hope they don’t have to. I hope they get a long-term deal done.”
Until Garoppolo signs an extension — if he ever does — this trade isn’t as good as it looks.
Grant Cohn covers the 49ers for The Santa Rosa Press Democrat and Pressdemocrat.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.