Reed: Raiders optimistic about Jimmy Garoppolo, but alternatives are scary

HENDERSON, Nev. — Jimmy Garoppolo walked into Raiders headquarters Thursday morning donning a cream hoodie, black pants, white sneakers and a black backpack with an iced coffee in hand. A member of the team staff followed close behind, carrying a black bag which presumably contained a change of clothes inside. As the staffer explained the layout of the $75 million facility, Garoppolo looked around, smiled, recognized the Raiders employees checking him in, and took it all in.

“Shit,” Garoppolo said in a video the Raiders posted to Twitter. “It’s unreal, man.”

Garoppolo then reunited with Raiders coach Josh McDaniels, his offensive coordinator with the Patriots from 2013-2017, inside the team’s lunch area. After talking briefly, they shook hands and kissed.

From there, McDaniels and Garoppolo spread the love with receivers Jakobi Meyers and Phillip Dorsett — two other players who were coached by McDaniels with the Patriots — with lots of smiles for everyone. Meyers and Dorsett had already signed contracts to officially become Raiders, and Garoppolo was expected to follow suit on Thursday morning.

Garoppolo never signed.

Five free agents signed contracts with the Raiders – Meyers, Dorsett, safety Marcus Epps, linebacker Robert Spillane and cornerback Brandon Facyson – before speaking to the media at a press conference starting around 11 a.m. 00PT. Garoppolo was due to make his official introduction around noon. Noon came and went, however, with no news from Garoppolo.

Then 1 p.m. came and went…and 2 p.m. came and went too. Obviously something was wrong. And just before 2:30 p.m., a Raiders spokesperson walked out the door Garoppolo was supposed to walk through more than two hours before announcing that the press conference was tentatively postponed until at least Friday and that the quarterback n hadn’t signed his contract — a three-year deal worth up to $72.5 million that he and the Raiders agreed to on Monday.

A source with knowledge of the situation said Athleticism‘s Jeff Howe and Vic Tafur that things were “all good” shortly after. This insinuates the belief that a deal between Garoppolo and the Raiders will still be finalized. Whether that will happen remains to be seen, but it nonetheless raises questions as to why the deal didn’t close on Thursday.

To glean a potential explanation, it’s worth looking at the contract Garoppolo and the Raiders agreed to earlier this week. It included $33.75 million fully guaranteed at signing. This figure was made up of Garoppolo’s signing bonus, his 2023 salary and his 2024 roster bonus. This number is significant because it is the only amount the Raiders were contractually obligated to pay upfront.

The deal only guaranteed that Garoppolo would be on the roster for the 2023 season, but it was highly likely that he would remain in the team in 2024 as well. If the Raiders were to cut Garoppolo after this upcoming season, they would suffer a death blow of $18.75 million while only freeing up $9.25 million in ceiling space. The Raiders could theoretically absorb that hit and still have plenty of cap space in 2024, but that outcome would be extremely unlikely. The numbers would be more favorable if they traded it after 2023 — they’d only take $7.5 million in dead money while releasing $20.5 million into space — but it seems unlikely that it There would be plenty of suitors to sign up to pay Garoppolo $24.25 million in 2024 if he gave the Raiders a reason to want to move on.

That likely two-year commitment, however, wouldn’t suddenly put the Raiders cold on Thursday. After all, they knew it would be when they agreed to it in the first place.

The most obvious potential sticking point is that Garoppolo’s contract technically included $45 million in total guarantees. The contract includes a clause that his $11.25 million salary in 2024 was a guaranteed signing injury. That means if Garoppolo suffered a significant injury in 2023 that caused him to miss time in 2024, the Raiders would be on the hook for that extra $11.25 million.

Before free agent contracts are signed in the NFL, teams must perform physical exams with players. In short, physical exams determine if there is anything that could prevent players from being physically unable to play.

The Raiders had a situation in the past where that became a problem. In 2014, they signed offensive lineman Rodger Saffold to a $42.5 million contract. On the day Saffold’s press conference was scheduled, the Raiders performed a physical. After the results were known, owner Mark Davis grew uneasy with a problem with Saffold’s shoulder and called on the Raiders to pull out of the deal. Saffold never signed, and the press conference was canceled. Saffold signed with the Rams and played in all 16 regular season games that season.

The Raiders spokesman who announced Garoppolo’s press conference was postponed was asked if there was a physical issue with the quarterback on Thursday and declined to comment, but indicated the postponement was related to the fact that the details of the contract were hashed.

Athleticism has contacted multiple league sources in an attempt to find out what those contract details might be, but none have responded as of this writing. Again, there’s optimism that whatever prevented Garoppolo from officially joining the Raiders will be resolved, but the alternative must be considered.

The Raiders will be in a tough spot if the deal falls through. They’ll get an influx of cap space, but there aren’t many viable quarterback options in the free agent market. Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is available, but league source says Athleticism last week that they are unlikely to sign him for a deal. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is available – and Howe reported on Wednesday who the Raiders called the Packers about a potential trade for his services earlier this offseason — but Green Bay looks set to sell Rodgers to the Jets. Beyond Jackson and Rodgers, the remaining options for veterans are bleak.

The most notable veteran quarterbacks available in free agency are Carson Wentz, Matt Ryan, Teddy Bridgewater, Marcus Mariota, Mason Rudolph, Joe Flacco and Brian Hoyer. All of these players would be significant demotions from Garoppolo.

In a scenario where the Raiders had to settle for just one, they would almost have to draft a quarterback in the first round of the NFL Draft next month. They’re in a decent position to do so considering they hold the No. 7 pick, but there are a few issues.

No. 1, there’s no guarantee that any of the four quarterbacks widely considered first-round talent — Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s CJ Stroud, Florida’s Anthony Richardson and Kentucky’s Will Levis — will always available. The No. 1 Panthers, No. 2 Texans, No. 4 Colts, No. 5 Seahawks and No. 6 Lions are all teams ahead of them that could theoretically draft a quarterback. They could pursue a trade with the Cardinals for the No. 3 pick – league sources said Athleticism that they explored trading for the No. 1 pick earlier this offseason before the Bears traded him to the Panthers — but the price would certainly be steep to do so.

No. 2, it’s unclear how many of the aforementioned college quarterbacks the Raiders actually consider draft-worthy somewhere in the top seven picks. It’s unlikely, but the answer could be zero. The Raiders could aim to select a quarterback later in the draft, obviously, but it would be playing with fire if they got stuck with an inferior veteran starter coming out of free agency.

If it’s not already clear, the Raiders will be in dire straits if their deal with Garoppolo falls through. We’ll just have to wait and see if they can avoid this nightmarish outcome.

(Photo: Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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