The San Francisco 49ers are a surprise entrant in the NFC Championship Game after walking into Lambeau Field and taking down the Green Bay Packers, 13-10. It wasn't pretty, but Jimmy Garoppolo did just enough to secure the big win. The 49ers' much-maligned quarterback deserves credit for taking his team this far. Which begs the question, what will San Francisco do with him this offseason if the team wins the Super Bowl? It truly is a puzzling situation.
The Niners thought so little of their incumbent starter that they used the No. 3 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft to select Trey Lance. They didn't just use that pick, the also traded the No. 12 pick, first-rounders in 2022 and 2023 and a third-rounder in 2022 to move up. It was a big, bold move to secure the quarterback of the future for Kyle Shanahan.
Lance clearly wasn't ready to play at an NFL level as a rookie, so Garoppolo kept his starting job. He was decent this season. In 16 games he completed 68.3 percent of his passes for 3,810 yards, averaged 8.6 yards per attempt and had 20 touchdowns against 12 interceptions. His passer rating (98.7) ranked ninth in the NFL and his QBR (53.4) ranked 13th. He was largely healthy this season and performed like a top-15 quarterback.
Lance has huge upside but he's also a huge gamble. He's a high-ceiling, low-floor type prospect, whereas Garoppolo is a low-ceiling, high-floor guy. But for his career, Garoppolo is 33-14 as a starter in the regular season and 5-1 in the postseason, with his only loss coming in Super Bowl LIV. I know quarterback wins are a flawed metric, but you can't deny Garoppolo does enough to get his teams by.
So what happens if the 49ers beat the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, then manage to win the Super Bowl? Given the pool of remaining teams, things are wide-open. Anyone could win this thing, especially with how crazy the playoffs have been up until this point.
Garoppolo has one season left on the five-year, $137.5 million contract he signed in 2018. The 30-year-old is set to make $26.9 million in 2022. If the 49ers win the NFC Championship this weekend, Garoppolo will have guided them to two Super Bowls in three seasons. Would they really cut or trade him after that run of success? It's hard to imagine that happening.
What makes this difficult for the Niners is the crazy amount of resources they sunk into drafting Lance. Two future first-round picks and a third rounder were given up to jump nine spots and secure him. Given that investment, he has to start playing in 2022. So they'll either need to trade him or trade or release Garoppolo. They can't keep both and leave Lance glued to the bench.
Trading Garoppolo seems like the most likely move. San Francisco probably won't get much back since he'll be heading into the final year of his contract and he isn't a top 10 quarterback, but at least the team would get something for him. A trade would only cost the 49ers a $1.4 million cap hit.
Either way, the 49ers have a quarterback conundrum on their hands. Garoppolo is too good to just release, and Lance likely isn't ready to start yet. It's a problem the franchise has to tackle this offseason. Even if Garoppolo wins a Super Bowl in San Francisco, there's no guarantee he'll be back.