Joe Burrow has been missing from training camp after undergoing an appendectomy. Even if he’s expected to be back soon, his absence reminds him of how fragile a contending team can be. Adding Jimmy Garoppolo now would be the perfect backup option for a team like the Bengals with Super Bowl aspirations.
Tom Moore, the legendary offensive coordinator with the Colts when Peyton Manning was there, when asked once why he wasn’t giving some snaps to his backup quarterbacks, said: “Fellas, if 18 goes down, we’re fuc**d. And we don’t practice fuc**d.” You might argue that the Bengals are not in better shape if their franchise quarterback has to miss time, which is why it should be paramount to address the situation now, before the market for the best option available, Garoppolo, heats up.
The 49ers have been trying to get rid of Jimmy G all offseason long, as they intend to give their promising second-year quarterback, Trey Lance, the keys to the offense. Garoppolo has $24,200,000 in base salary but is a pending free agent. Not many teams had the cap space to take on his salary or were willing to part ways with assets to trade for him, expecting San Francisco to eventually release him or get desperate enough to eat a huge chunk of his salary to sweeten the deal like the Browns did to move Baker Mayfield. The 49ers are motivated to sell, but there are no buyers.
Cincinnati might not look like the most obvious landing spot because they don’t need a starting quarterback, but they do need a backup that can keep the team alive and give them a chance to win if Burrow goes down. Nobody wants to entertain the idea of Burrow getting hurt, but for a team that went to the Super Bowl last year and should be a contender in 2022, not having a plan B in place if their quarterback can’t play could be a cardinal sin.
Right now, the number two quarterback is Brandon Allen, who has one of the skills Bengals coaches have always admired: he knows the system. But can he do anything else? Garoppolo is a starting-caliber player who, when healthy, has helped a team go to the Super Bowl. He is not without flaws, which is why he is in the market, but Garoppolo is on a different stratosphere than Allen, and if Burrow were to miss time, Jimmy G would give the Bengals a fighting chance against any team in the league. And Garoppolo wouldn’t have much trouble learning the system, as coach Zac Taylor is a product of Mike Shanahan‘s coaching tree, just like 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan. Not saying that they run the same offense, but he wouldn’t be learning from scratch.
They could wait to see if the 49ers released Garoppolo, as they would save money and they would avoid dealing picks. Still, if he was a free agent, he would probably go to a team with at least a battle for playing time at the position, knowing that his salary would already be paid by San Francisco. Waiting is also risky because the longer they wait, the more likely a starting quarterback around the league gets hurt, prompting his respective team to pull a trade for him. That is how Carson Palmer ended in Oakland, although that happened in the middle of the season. The Bengals don’t have the cap space to absorb Garoppolo’s salary, but there are many possible ways to make a trade like this happen if both teams are interested.
Some of the best teams in the league understand what’s at stake and have strong backup plans for the most important position in the sport. The Eagles have Gardner Minshew, the Dolphins have Teddy Bridgewater, and the Saints have old friend Andy Dalton. They all have experience as starters and have proved they can win ball games before. Of course, the 49ers are in the same situation, as ideally, they’d have a reliable number two in case the Lance experiment doesn’t work out or he’s still not ready to play. Still, it seems like they’d rather move on to save some money and not have Garoppolo’s shadow looming in the room over their young quarterback.
Just because the backup quarterback barely plays it doesn’t mean it’s not one of the most critical roles on a contender. The Bengals roster is set to try to win now. They can’t throw the season away if Burrow doesn’t play, and the best, most solid, and with the most substantial track record option in the league is Garoppolo.