The arrival of Week 13 provides a little déjà vu in this space.
At this time last season, Jimmy Garoppolo's future in San Francisco was in question, prompting me to explore the quarterback's market for the 2022 NFL offseason. One year later, Garoppolo's still quarterbacking the 49ers, but his future remains a trendy topic.
Before assessing which teams should be in the market for the impending free agent, let's quickly review all that's happened over the past 12 months.
San Francisco, which had started the 2021 campaign at 3-5, rallied to win four of its last five regular-season games and snag a wild-card slot. In the postseason this past January, the 49ers hit the road to upset the Cowboys and Packers, relying heavily on a diverse ground attack and suffocating defense, with Jimmy G in more of a game manager role. In the NFC Championship Game at Los Angeles, Garoppolo threw a pair of touchdown passes, allowing San Francisco to enter the fourth quarter with a 17-7 lead over the NFC West rival Rams. But the home team scored the final 13 points of the game, clinching the win by picking off a desperation pass attempt from Garoppolo.
With San Francisco ready to hand the quarterbacking reins to Trey Lance -- the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft who spent his first pro season as Garoppolo's backup -- Jimmy G looked like a probable trade chip heading into the offseason. March shoulder surgery certainly didn't help Garoppolo's market, especially given the QB's $26.95 million cap number, but the Niners still excused him from mandatory minicamp. In fact, the team reportedly didn't even give him a playbook. But with San Francisco still struggling to find a reasonable trade partner in late August, the 49ers restructured Jimmy G's contract into a one-year, incentive-laden deal that made him the highest-paid backup QB in the league. This late twist ultimately saved San Francisco's season.
After Lance suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 2, Garoppolo was thrust back into the QB1 role. Since retaking the reins, he has posted a 6-3 record, completing 67.4 percent of his throws while posting a sparkling 16:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. With a marquee matchup on tap against the explosive Dolphins this coming Sunday, the 49ers sit atop the NFC West at 7-4. During San Francisco's current four-game win streak, Jimmy G has thrown seven touchdown passes and -- most importantly -- zero interceptions.
"I think Jimmy's doing a great job," Kyle Shanahan told reporters after Garoppolo logged four TD passes in the 49ers' Week 11 beatdown of the Cardinals in Mexico City. "I think Jimmy always has. When Jimmy's been healthy out there, we've had our guys around him, I think he plays at a very high level. And I think he did that today as good as he has. Very fortunate to have him."
Now, Garoppolo's restructured one-year deal includes a clause that precludes San Francisco from applying the franchise tag on the quarterback after this season. Consequently, no matter how far the suddenly-surging Niners go in the remainder of this season, Jimmy G is poised to hit free agency in March.
So, which teams should be in the market for Garoppolo in the coming offseason? The former Tom Brady understudy is a proven winner with a 39-17 career record and postseason experience. I think two types of teams could be in play for the 31-year-old passer: those who believe they are a QB away from contending for a title and those in need of a bridge quarterback.
As of now, Garoppolo will be one of the more desirable quarterbacks on the market this offseason. Here are three organizations that should pursue him this offseason.
Would it be the worst idea for the 49ers to just keep Jimmy G in the Bay Area? Sure doesn't seem like it -- not after watching how this season has played out.
Currently working his way back from a fractured ankle, Lance has just four NFL starts under his belt. And the 22-year-old still looked pretty raw when he began this season as The Guy in San Francisco. Therefore, from the Niners' perspective, it could make plenty of sense for general manager John Lynch to re-sign the proven veteran with six years of experience in Kyle Shanahan's offense to a one- or two-year deal. After all, Garoppolo has a 37-17 regular-season record and 4-2 postseason mark under Shanahan. He's comfortable in the system and has built a rapport with his supporting cast. With what we've seen over the last month, there's reason to believe the 49ers could go on another run this January with an absolutely loaded offense and DeMeco Ryans' lights-out defense.
However, it won't be as easy to bring him back this time around. With Garoppolo set to hit the open market, other teams will be interested in paying him starter money, perhaps on a longer-term deal.
The Jets feel like a no-brainer here, with strong 49ers connections for head coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur. In fact, LaFleur worked very closely with Garoppolo as passing game coordinator in San Francisco from 2017 to 2020, so the veteran signal-caller would have an easy transition in terms of scheme and terminology -- an aspect coaching staffs take into great consideration when signing a quarterback. Plus, the Jets are built much like the 49ers with a good offensive line, promising run game and playmakers on the perimeter, so it's fair to think Jimmy G can win in New York.
Now, let's address the elephant in the room: Zach Wilson. The second-year quarterback was benched last week for fifth-year pro Mike White, but Saleh was adamant about Wilson still having a future with the Jets. Both White and Joe Flacco are set to hit free agency in March, which would open space in the Jets' QB room. Garoppolo's presence in New York would likely mean a QB competition in training camp. Honestly, this could create a great opportunity for both Garoppolo and Wilson, with Jimmy G hungry to remain a starter and Wilson, who could learn a lot from the vet, eager to prove the Jets did the right thing when drafting him No. 2 overall. Though Wilson might have a higher ceiling, Garoppolo's veteran savvy and experience in the system would give him a good chance to win the starting job for a young team on the rise.
The Saints were also one of my fits for Garoppolo in last year's version of this article. (I bet they wish they would have taken my advice.) This season, the 4-8 team has yet to win back-to-back games, and neither Jameis Winston nor Andy Dalton has felt like the long-term answer at the game's most important position. Winston, who re-signed with New Orleans on a two-year deal last offseason, went down in Week 3 with a back injury and hasn't seen the field since. Given Jameis' injury history in NOLA (his 2021 season abruptly ended on Halloween with a torn ACL) and lackluster play to start this season (4:5 TD-to-INT ratio, 79.5 passer rating), will the Saints really just look to run it back with the soon-to-be 29-year-old in 2023? Meanwhile, Dalton's set to hit free agency after this season.
Garoppolo would be a good option for a Saints offense that brings back a majority of its core in 2023, including key starters along the offensive line, Alvin Kamara and rookie stud Chris Olave. We've seen how productive and efficient Garoppolo can be with playmakers around him.
One big problem, though: The Saints have the worst salary cap situation in the NFL.