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

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

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

Garoppolo reunited in the team lunch area with Raiders coach Josh McDaniels, his offensive coordinator with the Patriots from 2013-2017. After a brief chat, they shook hands and hugged.

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

Garoppolo never signed.

Five free agents signed deals with the Raiders — Meyers, Dorsett, safety Marcus Epps, linebacker Robert Spillane and cornerback Brandon Facyson — before addressing the media in a news conference that began around 11 a.m. PT. Garoppolo should be officially presented around noon. However, noon came and went without a word from Garoppolo.

Then 1 p.m. came and went… and 2 p.m. came and went too. Something was obviously wrong. And just before 2:30 p.m., a Raiders spokesman emerged from the door that Garoppolo was supposed to go through over two hours earlier to announce that the press conference was tentatively postponed to at least Friday and that the quarterback had not signed his contract – a three-year deal worth up to $72.5 million that he and the Raiders agreed on Monday.

A source with knowledge of the situation tells the athlete‘s Jeff Howe and Vic Tafur that things were “all good” shortly after. That implies the belief that an agreement between Garoppolo and the Raiders is yet to be finalized. Whether that happens remains to be seen, but it still raises questions as to why the transaction didn’t close on Thursday.

For a possible explanation, it’s worth examining the contract Garoppolo and the Raiders agreed to earlier this week. It included $33.75 million fully guaranteed at signing. That number 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 money the Raiders were contractually obligated to pay.

The agreement only ensured that Garoppolo would be in the squad for the 2023 season but made it quite likely that he would stay with the team in 2024 as well. If the Raiders cut Garoppolo after the upcoming season, they would take an $18.75 million dead-money hit and free up just $9.25 million in cap space. The Raiders could theoretically absorb that hit and still have plenty of cap space left 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 freeing up $20.5 million in storage — but it’s unlikely to see many applicants signing up would to pay Garoppolo $24.25 million in 2024 if he gave the Raiders a reason to want to move on.

However, that likely two-year commitment wouldn’t cause the Raiders to suddenly get cold feet on Thursday. After all, they knew this would be the case when they even agreed to it.

The most obvious potential sticking point is that Garoppolo’s contract technically included guarantees totaling $45 million. The contract includes a clause that said his $11.25 million salary in 2024 was injury-guaranteed upon signing. That means if Garoppolo suffered a serious 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 conduct physical tests on players. In short, physical condition determines if there is anything that could prevent players from being physically unable to perform.

The Raiders have had a situation in the past where this became an issue. In 2014, they signed offensive lineman Rodger Saffold to a $42.5 million contract. The Raiders were conducting an investigation on the day Saffold’s press conference was scheduled. After the results were known, owner Mark Davis became unwell due to a problem with Saffold’s shoulder and asked the Raiders to go out of business. Saffold never signed and the press conference was cancelled. Saffold signed with the Rams and played all 16 regular-season contests that season.

Asked if there was an issue with the quarterback’s physical Thursday, the Raiders spokesman who announced the postponement of Garoppolo’s press conference declined to comment, but said the postponement is related to contract details that have been hooked.

the athlete reached out to multiple league sources to find out what those contract details might be, but none have responded at the time of writing this article. Again, there is optimism that everything that prevented Garoppolo from officially joining the Raiders will be resolved, but the alternative must be considered.

The Raiders will be in a difficult position if the deal goes through. You’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 a league source has communicated it the athlete last week that they are unlikely to sign him to an offer sheet. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is available — and Howe reported on Wednesday that the Raiders called the Packers about a potential trade for his services earlier this offseason — but Green Bay appears on the verge of selling Rodgers to the Jets. Aside from 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 would have to settle for one, they almost have to draft a quarterback in the first round of the NFL draft next month. They’re in a decent position considering they hold number 7, 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 still be available. The No. 1 Panthers, No. 2 Texans, No. 4 Colts, No. 5 Seahawks, and No. 6 Lions are all teams ahead of them who could theoretically draft a quarterback. They could strike a deal with the Cardinals for election No. 3 – league sources said the athlete that they explored trading the No. 1 pick earlier this offseason before the Bears traded them to the Panthers – but the price of that would certainly be steep.

#2, it’s unknown how many of the aforementioned college quarterbacks actually think the Raiders are worthy of being drafted anywhere in the top 7 picks. It’s unlikely, but the answer could be zero. The Raiders could of course aim to pick a quarterback later in the draft, but that would be playing with fire if they ended up stuck with an underperforming veteran starter coming from freehand.

If it’s not clear yet, 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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