Jimmy Garoppolo is at San Francisco 49ers’ camp, and according to the team, he is able to practice with no restrictions as of today. The team doctors deemed that he was healthy enough not to go on the PUP list at the opening of training camp. He had surgery in early March on his throwing shoulder, which if you ask John Lynch or Kyle Shannahan, that’s the only reason that he is still on the roster.
“We have moved on to Trey [Lance],” Shanahan said to the media last week. “We’re starting camp out this way. We think Jimmy would’ve been traded if not for the injury. And it did, he needed to do it, so there’s no ill will there at all.”
Back in March, Lynch did say to the media that he was surprised Garoppolo was going to have surgery to repair an injury that he suffered during the 49ers’ Wild Card win against the Dallas Cowboys. Lynch thought that Garoppolo was going to simply rehab it. The Athletic’s Tim Kawakami reported that while the 49ers were surprised by Garoppolo having the surgery it would cost the team more money at the time to release him and Garoppolo did want to be released.
The season starts in just over a month, 49ers and Garoppolo are stuck with each other for now. If he got traded he would have to learn a new offense in a hurry to be ready to start Week 1. A team that requires its quarterback to stand in the backfield and attempt 35-40 passes per game would not be ideal for Garoppolo. But what about a team that runs a lot of outside zone, RPO, and play action? Garoppolo has proven he can be successful in that system, but what other team runs an offense like that could use a starter?
Hello Pittsburgh Steelers.
This is Matt Canada’s second season as their offensive coordinator. The team has found their running back of the present in Najee Harris, who was beaten into the ground last season, mostly because Ben Roethlisberger was not a threat to throw the ball deep downfield in 2021. The talents of a strong Steelers wide receiver corps weren’t maximized and the team snuck into the expanded playoffs as a No. 7 seed.
The Steelers were able to have that much success because of a solid defense and Harris was able to withstand 307 rushing attempts in that outside zone scheme as a rookie. While Garoppolo won’t be able to turn this passing attack into the 2016 Steelers, he won’t have to. All he would have to do is make defenses respect the Steelers’ downfield passing game. That’s a lot more than their current quarterbacks can offer.
Mitchell Trubisky was signed during the offseason and has struggled throughout training camp. In fairness, he is on his third offense in three seasons, and that Chicago experience left some scars that may never heal. Still, the Steelers have enough talent to win, and that’s why they took the plunge on Kenny Pickett in the first round. While it’s only the second week of camp, he hasn’t shown enough to this point to separate himself from Trubisky to take that spot.
Maybe Trubisky grows more comfortable in the system as camp and preseason progress, or maybe Pickett develops into a starter faster than projected. Or, with a team that is good right now, the Steelers throw Garoppolo into an offense that he’s familiar with, and they become a version of the 49ers of the last three seasons.
Diontae Johnson isn’t participating in practice at the moment — he is the wide receiver from that 2019 draft class who hasn’t received a contract extension — but he is at training camp. He showed up in Latrobe, Pa., and he took part in individual drills Wednesday. That deal can get done. So, Calvin Austin III has been impressive in camp so far. Imagine Garoppolo hitting those two on those wide-open seam routes off of play action — maybe they’ll look like Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk.
Garoppolo and the Steelers are a perfect match. I’m no expert with salary in any sport, but the Steelers do have over $14 million in team cap space, by Over The Cap. Many more difficult salary situations have been worked around. Being the Western Pennsylvania version of the 49ers could work for the Steelers.
Good ball control, strong pass defense, better injury luck, and maybe the Steelers will make a deep playoff run. However, if they want to entertain the possibility of matching up in the Divisional Round conference championship game against the Buffalo Bills or Kansas City Chiefs, it can’t happen with the quarterbacks they currently have on their roster.