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

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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 team staffer followed closely behind him carrying a black bag that presumably had a change of clothes inside. As the staffer explained the layout of the $75 million facility, Garoppolo looked around, broke into a smile, acknowledged the Raiders employees recording him and took it all in.

“Damn,” Garoppolo said in a video the Raiders posted on Twitter. “This s—’s unreal, man.”

Look who it is 😁

— Las Vegas Raiders (@Raiders) March 16, 2023

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

A familiar face in Vegas 🤝

— Las Vegas Raiders (@Raiders) March 16, 2023

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 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.

Long time no see 🥹@JimmyG_10 | @jkbmyrs5 | @Dorsett_4

— Las Vegas Raiders (@Raiders) March 16, 2023

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 in a news conference starting around 11 a.m. PT. Garoppolo was scheduled for his official introduction around noon. Noon came and went, however, without any word from Garoppolo.

Then 1 p.m. came and went … and 2 p.m. came and went, too. Clearly, something was off. And just before 2:30 p.m., a Raiders spokesperson emerged from the door that Garoppolo was supposed to walk through over two hours prior to announce the news conference was being tentatively postponed until at least Friday and the quarterback had not signed his contract — a three-year deal worth up to $72.5 million that he and the Raiders had agreed to on Monday.

A source with knowledge of the situation told The Athletic’s Jeff Howe and Vic Tafur that things were “all good,” shortly after. That insinuates the belief that an agreement between Garoppolo and the Raiders will still be finalized. Whether that happens remains to be seen, but it nonetheless raises questions about why the transaction wasn’t completed Thursday.

Jimmy Garoppolo’s introductory press conference with the Raiders, intended for Thursday, has been postponed until Friday.

But @jeffphowe says a league source confirmed there’s no reason to worry.

“All good.”

— The Athletic NFL (@TheAthleticNFL) March 16, 2023

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

The agreement only ensured that Garoppolo would be on the roster for the 2023 season, but it made it pretty likely that he would remain on the team in 2024, too. If the Raiders were to cut Garoppolo after this upcoming season, they would take an $18.75 million dead money hit while freeing up only $9.25 million in cap space. The Raiders could theoretically absorb that hit and still have plenty of cap space left over in 2024, but that outcome would be extremely unlikely. The numbers would be more favorable if they traded him after 2023 — they would take just a $7.5 million dead money hit while freeing up $20.5 million in 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.

That likely two-year commitment, however, 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 sticking point 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 at 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 that additional $11.25 million.

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

The Raiders have experienced a situation in the past when that became an issue. 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 an issue with Saffold’s shoulder and made the call for the Raiders to back out of the deal. Saffold never signed and the news conference was canceled. Saffold signed with the Rams and played all 16 regular-season contests that season.

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

The Athletic reached out to multiple league sources in an attempt to discover what those contract details could be, but none responded by the time this article was published. 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 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 told The Athletic last week that it’s unlikely they’ll 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 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 those 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 given they hold the No. 7 pick, but there are a couple of issues.

No. 1, there’s no guarantee that one of the four quarterbacks widely considered to be first-round talents — Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Florida’s Anthony Richardson and Kentucky’s Will Levis — will still be available. The Panthers at No. 1, Texans at No. 2, Colts at No. 4, Seahawks at No. 5 and Lions at No. 6 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 told The Athletic that they explored trading for 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’s unknown how many of the aforementioned college quarterbacks the Raiders actually consider worthy of drafting 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 that 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 dire straits if their agreement with Garoppolo falls through. We’ll just have to wait to find out whether they can avoid that nightmarish outcome.

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

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