SANTA CLARA, Calif. — For as surprised as the San Francisco 49ers were that they were able to retain quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo on a significantly reduced contract, that paled in comparison to how Garoppolo himself thought his dramatic offseason would end.
On Thursday, Garoppolo spoke to Bay Area media for the first time since Feb. 1 and the first time since signing a revised one-year contract to stay in San Francisco on Monday. It’s not a position Garoppolo envisioned himself returning to after saying an emotional goodbye to the team, its fans and media in the winter.
That’s because, throughout a turbulent offseason that included right shoulder surgery, Garoppolo always believed an opportunity to start elsewhere would materialize.
“[Returning] really wasn’t on my mind to be completely honest,” Garoppolo said. “I was training out here. I had to be here, so I was here for that reason. I was just trying to get my body right. … I felt very confident out there and I knew that I was ready to roll. I just need to figure out where it was. And things kind of fell into place these last couple days.”
For most of the offseason, a divorce between Garoppolo and the Niners seemed imminent with Trey Lance set to take over at quarterback.
According to Garoppolo, he and his representatives had “a lot of discussions with other teams” but nothing ever reached the stage where a different team talked to him about re-working his contract to facilitate a trade.
Had it not been for the shoulder surgery, that might have been a different story, however. At the NFL owners’ meetings in the spring, general manager John Lynch said any serious interest vanished when Garoppolo underwent the procedure.
On Thursday, Lynch revealed that he did think something was close to being done before that.
“What I can tell you with great confidence is like combine time, there were really serious talks with probably two, three teams that I felt — you’d have to ask them — like this was gonna happen,” Lynch said. “And then that’s when that news broke.”
But once Garoppolo resumed throwing in late June and got cleared to practice at the start of Niners camp on July 26, that previous interest never rekindled, as most needy teams had already filled their quarterback vacancies.
“That’s why we were a little at a loss,” Lynch said. “Yeah. Because you can talk to his doctor, you can talk to our doctor, he can talk to a lot of people and he was doing well. But we’re happy that they didn’t. We’re happy that he’s here.”
Through it all, neither side had any set deadlines, which allowed the 49ers to hang on to Garoppolo throughout the preseason in case an injury elsewhere opened up an opportunity to pounce.
Even as the chances of that happening dwindled, Garoppolo said he considered asking San Francisco for his release. But he never pulled the trigger because he didn’t want what was a mostly successful four-plus-year run to end that way.
“That just wasn’t the way I wanted to go,” Garoppolo said. “I think that there was a thought of that at one point, trust me there was, but that came and went. … I’m one of those people that I don’t want really to ruffle the feathers too much here and there and kind of wanna just go with the flow. And that’s kind of the way the training camp was going and I was happy with it.”
Finally, the situation came to a head this week, as the Niners had to decide whether to keep Garoppolo on the roster by Tuesday’s cutdown to the initial 53-man rosters. Despite previous insistences to the contrary, the idea that the Niners would keep Garoppolo at his previous $26.9 million salary-cap number was never an option, coach Kyle Shanahan said.
Which meant it was up to Garoppolo to take a big pay cut to stay or be released and identify a situation that he believed was more beneficial for him.
Asked why he opted for the former on Thursday, Garoppolo said it was “a lot of things,” pointing to his familiarity with the team, the scheme, his coaches and, perhaps most important, setting himself up for beyond 2022. It’s why it was important for Garoppolo to get a no-trade and no-tag clause put into his re-worked contract.
“Seeing the other opportunities that were out there and you weigh in the pros and cons of everything,” Garoppolo said. “Trust me, there was a lot of back and forth going on just with other teams and what I wanted my future to look like. And so, this is what I wanted.”
Just a couple of hours before meeting with the media, Garoppolo was back on the practice field in his usual No. 10 jersey. It was a familiar sight, though for the first time, Garoppolo was going second in individual drills behind Lance.
It’s all part of Garoppolo’s simultaneous new and old realities. At least for now, Garoppolo and Lance seem unconcerned about how they’ll make their unique situation work.
Before bringing Garoppolo back, Shanahan spoke with both quarterbacks. His message was simple: Nothing changes in terms of how business is handled.
“It’s not my decision, it’s an organization decision,” Lance said. “Jimmy’s been on the roster this whole entire time. Obviously, I knew it was a possibility of bringing him back. There’s been no bad blood at all between me and Jimmy since day one. I was all arms open, excited to have him back.”