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

HENDERSON, Nev. — Jimmy Garoppolo walked into Raiders headquarters Thursday morning wearing a cream hoodie, black pants, white sneakers and a black backpack with an iced coffee in hand. A team member followed closely behind him with a black bag that presumably had a change of clothes inside. As staff explained the layout of the $75 million facility, Garoppolo looked around, broke into a smile, acknowledged that the Raiders staff was recording him and took it all in.

“Holy shit,” Garoppolo said in a video the Raiders posted on Twitter. “This is unreal, man.”

Garoppolo went on to reunite with Raiders coach Josh McDaniels, his offensive coordinator with the Patriots from 2013 to 2017, inside the team’s meal area. After speaking briefly, they shook hands and embraced.

From there, McDaniels and Garoppolo spread the love with receivers Jakobi Meyers and Phillip Dorsett — two other players coached by McDaniels with the Patriots — with plenty of smiles to go around. Meyers and Dorsett had already signed contracts to officially become Raiders, and Garoppolo was set to follow suit 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 addressing the media at a news conference that started around 1 p.m. 11 P.T. Garoppolo was scheduled for his official introduction around 1 p.m. Dinner came and went, however, without a word from Garoppolo.

Then 1 pm came and went … and 2 pm also came and went. Something was clearly wrong. And just before 2:30 p.m., a spokesman for the Raiders appeared out the door, which Garoppolo had to go through for more than two hours before announcing that the press conference was tentatively postponed until at least Friday and the quarterback had not signed his contract — a three-year deal for a value of up to $72.5 million that he and the Raiders had agreed to on Monday.

A source with knowledge of the situation said AthleticsJeff Howe and Vic Tafur that things were “all good” soon after. That insinuates the belief that a deal between Garoppolo and the Raiders will still be completed. Whether that happens remains to be seen, but it nonetheless raises questions about why the deal wasn’t completed on Thursday.

To find a potential explanation, it’s worth examining the contract Garoppolo and the Raiders agreed to earlier this week. That 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. That number is significant because it’s the only money the Raiders were contractually obligated to pay up front.

The deal only ensured that Garoppolo would be on the roster for the 2023 season, but it made it quite likely that he would also remain with the team in 2024. If the Raiders were to cut Garoppolo after this upcoming season, they would take a hit of $18, 75 million in dead money while only freeing up $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 him after 2023 — they’d only take a $7.5 million dead money hit while freeing up $20.5 million in cap space — but it feels unlikely that there would be many suitors to sign up to pay Garoppolo $24.25 million in 2024 if he gave the Raiders a reason to want to move on.

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

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

Before free-agent contracts are signed in the NFL, teams must conduct physicals with players. In short, the physicals determine if there is anything that can prevent the players from being physically unable to perform.

The Raiders have previously experienced a situation where that became a problem. In 2014, they signed offensive lineman Rodger Saffold to a $42.5 million contract. On the day Saffold’s news conference was scheduled, the Raiders conducted a physical. After the results were known, owner Mark Davis became uncomfortable due to a problem with Saffold’s shoulder and urged the Raiders to back out of the deal. Saffold never signed and the press conference was cancelled. Saffold signed with the Rams and played in all 16 regular season contests that season.

The Raiders spokesman, who announced Garoppolo’s news conference was postponed, was asked if there was an issue with the quarterback’s physical Thursday and declined to comment, but indicated the postponement was related to the contract details being hashed out.

Athletics reached out to multiple league sources in an attempt to find out what those contract details might be, but none responded when this article was published. Again, there is optimism that whatever kept 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 will receive an influx of cap space, but there aren’t many viable quarterback options on the free agent market. Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is available, but a league source said Athletics last week that they are unlikely to sign him to an offer sheet. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is available — and Howe reported Wednesday that the Raiders called the Packers about a potential trade for his services earlier this offseason — but Green Bay appears to be close to dealing Rodgers to the Jets. Beyond Jackson and Rodgers, the remaining veteran options are bleak.

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

In a scenario where the Raiders had to settle for 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 since they have the No. 7 pick, but there are a few issues.

No. 1, there is no guarantee that any of the four quarterbacks widely considered to be first-round talents — Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s CJ Stroud, Florida’s Anthony Richardson and Kentucky’s Will Levis — will still be accessible. 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 Athletics that they explored trading the No. 1 pick earlier this offseason before the Bears traded it to the Panthers — but the price would certainly be steep to do so.

No. 2, it remains to be seen how many of the aforementioned college quarterbacks the Raiders actually deem worthy of drafting a spot in the top seven picks. It’s unlikely, but the answer could be zero. The Raiders could, of course, aim to select a quarterback later in the draft, but it would be playing with fire if they end up stuck with a substandard veteran starter coming out of free agency.

If it isn’t already clear, the Raiders will be in serious trouble if their deal with Garoppolo falls through. We’ll just have to wait to find out if they can avoid that nightmarish outcome.

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

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