Jimmy Garoppolo’s free agency this offseason comes when NFL teams have an unprecedented ability to spend thanks to a salary cap boom that’s extended for most of the last decade.
The cap is expected to make another $11-million surge for 2018 up to $178 million, giving teams that previously refrained from doling out big contracts the ability to flex their financial muscles this spring. The cap was just $120 million in 2011, when league executives couldn’t be nearly as creative when it came to roster construction. But all that changed in seven years since thanks to increasing revenue.
The 49ers are entering the new league year in March expected to lead the NFL with upwards of $110 million in cap space. Their biggest priority is re-signing Garoppolo to a long-term contract hoping he can sustain the success he enjoyed over the final five games of 2017.
But it will come at a price — a very steep price. The supply of elite quarterbacks is limited and the demand might be as high as ever, which is why Garoppolo could become the league’s highest paid player if he inks a long-term contract with San Francisco. General manager John Lynch admitted at the Senior Bowl this week to the 49ers are “working hard” to get an agreement signed.
The framework of Garoppolo’s contract could be built around the money guaranteed by the franchise tag, which San Francisco is willing to use after acquiring him in the trade with the Patriots late October.
Here’s what Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk wrote on the topic Tuesday, noting Garoppolo would be wise to wait until Feb. 20, when the franchise tag window opens, before signing anything:
… the exclusive tag could get very expensive; it’s based on the average of the top five quarterback cap numbers, as determined in late April. Currently, that’s $24.88 million. (The top five quarterback cap numbers for 2018 are $26.5 million (Matthew Stafford), $25 million (Derek Carr), $24.75 million (Joe Flacco), $24.4 million (Andrew Luck), and $23.786 million (Russell Wilson).)
With $24.88 million as the starting point, the second year (at a 20-percent raise) becomes $29.86 million. The third year (at 44 percent) spikes to $43 million. That’s $97.7 million over three years.
Paying Garoppolo $97.7 million over the next three seasons (roughly $32.6 annually) would be the worst case scenario for the 49ers. But that should be the leverage point Garoppolo’s agent, Don Yee, uses in negotiations (keep in mind, Garoppolo’s price is what the market dictates, not necessarily what he’s worth in comparison to other quarterbacks while his sample size is just seven games as a starter).
ESPN’s Field Yates, a former front office staffer for the Patriots, wrote this week he wouldn’t be surprised to see Garoppolo become the league’s highest-paid signal caller.
The safety net for the team is the franchise tag, but both sides are angling for a long-term deal. Don’t be surprised if a long-term deal fetches near $30 million per season for Jimmy G, as he carries unique leverage as an ascending player who just revitalized the franchise.
But Garoppolo might not be the NFL’s highest paid quarterback for long. Matt Ryan is unsigned for 2019 and could command more after winning league MVP last season, making multiple postseason runs and playing in the Super Bowl last February.
The price for quarterbacks could really take off in 2020 when Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, Dak Prescott, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota are all due for their next contracts. Carson Wentz and Jared Goff are slated for their second contracts in 2021.
At that point, the sticker shock of Garoppolo’s deal this offseason will have worn off, making $30 million the new $20 million when it comes to paying franchise quarterbacks.