Jimmy Garoppolo writes reminders on the sweatband he wears on his left wrist during practice.
“See safety’s protection first,” was one reminder this past week.
“Robot mind-set,” was another.
“It’s just kind of a thing that I keep in my head just to stay locked in,” Garoppolo said on Thursday. “You don’t want to be distracted by the fans or the music or anything like that. As a quarterback, that’s what you have to do. You have to have that robot mind-set.”
Garoppolo needs that tunnel vision as he enters the 2019 season. This is a big year for Jimmy G.
Garoppolo still has to prove that he can play, and that he can stay healthy. He has started only 10 games in his five NFL seasons, and he is coming off a massively disappointing 2018 season, when he tore his left ACL in the 49ers’ third game of the season.
That big contract Garoppolo signed before the 2018 season? It means very little. The 49ers structured it in a way that they easily can cut bait after the 2019 season if he doesn’t pan out, or if they don’t believe he’s worth the final three years and $76.3 million.
Niners coach Kyle Shanahan has a saying for his team this year: “We’ve built the culture. Now it’s time to win.”
The saying applies to Shanahan, who has gone 6-10 and 4-12 in his first two seasons as coach. But the saying applies very much to Garoppolo, too.
“I mean, he’s right,” Garoppolo said. “Bottom line, that’s what this game is about. It’s about production, going out there and getting wins, and playing good football out on the field. It’s that time of year again.”
What a difference a year makes for Garoppolo, who entered 2018 as the 49ers’ potential savior. Garoppolo went 5-0 as a starter to end the 2017 season after being acquired in a trade from the Patriots, then signed a five-year, $137.5 million contract last offseason that, at the time, was the largest in the NFL.
A year later, Garoppolo still is unproven, in several ways. He needs to prove he wasn’t a flash in the pan. Garoppolo was completing just 59.6 percent of passes and led the 49ers to a 1-2 start last year before his injury.
And he needs to prove he can stay healthy. Garoppolo injured his shoulder in his second start with the Patriots in 2016, then he tore his ACL in Week 3 last year.
Garoppolo said he was lucky in that the ACL injury happened to his left knee. For a righthanded thrower such as Garoppolo, most of his power comes from his right, plant foot.
He participated in 7-on-7 drills in the spring, and has been a full participant at training camp. Garoppolo said he got advice from ex-teammate Tom Brady this offseason about coming back from knee injuries.
“I talked to him about my knee rehab earlier this offseason, and he helped me there,” Garoppolo told The Sporting News. “It’s a great relationship, and I’m thankful I have him to help.”
Garoppolo won’t play in the preseason opener, but Shanahan said Garoppolo will play in the preseason.
“My knee feels good, I feel good going into it,” Garoppolo said. “I think mentally I’m in a good spot. Now we’ve got to go out there and perform. That’s what it’s all about now.”
And Garoppolo needs to perform this year, because his future is far from certain. Even though the 49ers gave him a then-record contract, they protected themselves by front-loading the deal, and didn’t burden themselves with a massive signing bonus.
Garoppolo made $42 million last year, and is set to make another $18.6 million this year. But if he doesn’t have a good season, the 49ers could release or trade Garoppolo before April 1 with almost no penalty — just $4.2 million in dead cap money, a pittance in the NFL. April 1 is when Garoppolo gets $15.7 million of his $23.8 million salary fully guaranteed for 2020.
Garoppolo, remember, wasn’t the 49ers’ first choice — he just fell in their laps when Patriots coach Bill Belichick called at the 2017 trade deadline. Shanahan always had his eyes set on Kirk Cousins, whom he coached in Washington. Niners general manager John Lynch said at the NFL Combine that Shanahan was “like in mourning” after the Garoppolo trade, because it meant the 49ers would no longer pursue Cousins.
So 2019 is a big season for Garoppolo if he wants to remain the 49ers’ quarterback and stay on his current contract.
Fortunately, Lynch and Shanahan have surrounded Garoppolo with a nice complement of weapons. He has George Kittle, a.k.a. Gronk 2.0, plus speedster Marquise Goodwin, an up-and-comer in Dante Pettis, rookies Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd, and a talented trio of pass-catching running backs: Tevin Coleman, Matt Breida, and Jerick McKinnon coming back from a torn ACL of his own.
Garoppolo knows he has everything to prove, just a year after he was the darling of the Bay Area.
“It’s crazy what a year can do,” he said. “I have so much motivation in myself, and I push myself so much, that that’s all I need. All the noise on the outside, you kind of just tune it out. It’s always going to be there. So, like I said before, it’s a good thing when people are talking about you.”
Fitzpatrick early choice in Miami
In a newsy week at Dolphins camp, one item slipped through the cracks a bit: Coach Brian Flores said Tuesday that Ryan Fitzpatrick is the clear leader in the team’s quarterback competition with Josh Rosen.
While this may just be a motivational tactic with regard to Rosen, the coaches have definitely become smitten with Fitzpatrick.
“He’s been more productive,” Flores said. “That’s what it comes down to. I think he runs the offense very efficiently. He has a great rapport with the entire team. He has some leadership — not some, a lot of leadership ability.”
The news gives me a bit of a chuckle. Nobody owns August quite like Fitzpatrick.
He seems to ooze charisma and leadership. His Dolphins coaches and teammates love him so far. Just like they did the last two years in Tampa Bay. And before that, in New York. And pretty much everywhere he has been in his 15-year NFL career.
Fitzpatrick is just what a young team with a young quarterback needs in the offseason and training camp.
“He gets it, man,” one Dolphins player told the Miami Herald. “That’s one reason guys were buying into him before training camp even began. And every day, what he does out here convinces everyone he’s our guy.”
Fitzpatrick owns August, and he thrives in September. Last year, he had an 11:5 touchdown-to-interception ratio, a 114.4 rating, and averaged a ridiculous 10.5 yards per attempt in September. Over his career, September is Fitzpatrick’s best month, by far, in passer rating, yards per attempt, and completion percentage.
And then it all falls apart after September. Last year, Fitzpatrick mostly sat out October, then had a dreadful November — four touchdowns to seven interceptions, a 73.8 rating and 8.0 yards per attempt. Over his career, Fitzpatrick’s stats plummet after September.
So while Fitzpatrick is taking the early lead in the quarterback race, Rosen shouldn’t get discouraged. Fitzpatrick will turn into a pumpkin soon enough.
Dolphins turn to DeGuglielmo
Speaking of the Dolphins, they brought back an old friend when they hired Dave DeGuglielmo as their offensive line coach. DeGuglielmo, who coached with Brian Flores in New England from 2014-15, replaced Pat Flaherty, who was surprisingly fired this past week.
DeGuglielmo, a Lexington native and Boston University graduate, has had quite a coaching journey in 15 NFL seasons. He has been hired eight times and has worked for three of the four AFC East teams, missing out on just the Bills. He’s the first coach in Dolphins history to get three stints with the team (2009-11, 2017, 2019). DeGuglielmo won Super Bowl rings with the 2007 Giants and 2014 Patriots, but also has switched teams in each of the last five years: Patriots (2015), Chargers (2016), Dolphins (2017), Colts (2018), Dolphins (2019).
And DeGuglielmo’s reward for turning the Colts’ offensive line around last year, allowing the fewest sacks in the NFL? The team sacked him a week after the season ended.
But now “Guge” gets another chance to prove himself in Miami, and perhaps get a little bit of stability.
Patriots could use Veldheer
■ Jared Veldheer’s body must really have broken down, because he would be the Patriots’ starting left tackle right now. Presumed starter Isaiah Wynn hasn’t participated in team drills following last August’s torn Achilles’, and there is some doubt that he will be ready to play in Week 1. The Patriots, thin at tackle, have been using left guard Joe Thuney and third-year practice squad journeyman Dan Skipper at left tackle.
When the Patriots signed Veldheer in May, the one-year deal included $3 million in playing-time incentives, a sign that both the player and team expected Veldheer to play a lot. But Veldheer retired after one day, later saying that his body had broken down after nine NFL seasons.
All the respect for Veldheer for walking away from a great opportunity. But the Patriots were certainly including him in their plans.
■ Meanwhile, put me down as a “no” for Redskins left tackle Trent Williams, who is holding out from camp.
Williams is due an $11 million salary, and the Patriots only have $7.5 million in cap space. The Patriots could make it happen, but they’d have to redo several contracts: that of Tom Brady, Devin McCourty, or Williams himself. Plus, they’d have to give up something in a trade. It’s more trouble than it’s worth.
And the equation just doesn’t add up for the Patriots. A 31-year-old who has missed nine games in the last two seasons, and costs $11 million, which would make him the second-highest-paid player on the Patriots? No, thank you.
■ A few readers asked me what the salary-cap ramifications would be if Brady signed a contract extension this year but then retired after the 2019 season.
Let’s assume the Patriots tack two more years on Brady’s deal, and it comes with a $21 million signing bonus. If he retires before 2020, it would leave the Patriots with $14 million in dead cap money. That is definitely a big chunk, but A) the salary cap keeps increasing by $10 million each year, mitigating that impact, and B) the Patriots could make Brady a post-June 1 retirement, in which they would carry $7 million of dead money in 2020, and $7 million in 2021. That’s not unreasonable.
And if Brady retires before 2021, that would leave just $7 million in dead cap space for that year.
None of that should prevent the Patriots from doing an extension.
■ Patriots safety Patrick Chung has been wearing a red, noncontact jersey during training camp, but not for the broken right arm he suffered in the Super Bowl. Chung also had surgery on his left shoulder shortly after the season. But he has been participating in full 11-on-11 drills and there shouldn’t be concern about his availability for the season.
First impressions of rookie class
■ The top 24 picks in the first round all got fully guaranteed four-year deals, which represents a win for the agents. From 2011-17, no more than the top 21 picks got the full guarantee. But in 2018, the 22nd pick got one, and this year, picks 23 (Texans tackle Tytus Howard) and 24 (Raiders running back Josh Jacobs) got the full guarantee. The other eight first-round picks get three fully guaranteed years, and partial guarantees in the fourth year.
■ The battle over “offset language” is pretty much dead, with the teams earning a decisive victory. Thirty-one of the 32 first-round picks got offset language in their contracts, meaning if they are released and claimed by another team, they can’t double dip on salary. The only player to get no offset language was No. 7 pick Josh Allen. The Jaguars, for whatever reason, have been the lone team to not care about offset language over the years.
■ Yes, it’s fair to say Kyler Murray made the right decision to forgo his $5 million deal with baseball’s Oakland Athletics and choose football instead. Murray’s four-year, fully-guaranteed deal as the No. 1 pick is worth about $35.16 million, which includes a signing bonus of $23.6 million. And Murray should hit free agency around the same time that he would have just made it to the major leagues.
With kicker Phil Dawson retiring on Thursday, it left Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri as the last active NFL player who appeared in the 1990s. Dawson began his career as a Patriots practice squadder in 1998, and kicked for 20 years with the Browns, 49ers, and Cardinals. Brady is the only other NFL player left from the 2000 season . . . Aug. 6 is supposed to be a key date for players holding out of training camp, but it should really only affect Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue. The collective bargaining agreement states that if a player under contract doesn’t report within 30 days before the start of the regular season, the player forfeits a year of service toward free agency. That deadline matters for Ngakoue, who only has three years of service and would be a restricted free agent, rather than unrestricted, after this season if he doesn’t report. But it doesn’t matter for Chargers running back Melvin Gordon, who already has four years of service and thus will be an unrestricted free agent no matter what. Same applies for Williams. The Texans’ Jadeveon Clowney isn’t under contract and can’t be compelled to report. And Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott is two years away from free agency, so he is trying to get a new contract before the service requirement applies to him . . . This is the NFL’s 100th season, but not its 100th birthday. That doesn’t happen until Sept. 17, 2020, and the NFL is planning a “blow out the candles” event for that day.
Quote of the Week
49ers coach Kyle Shanahan to radio station KNBR on if Jimmy Garoppolo looks good at camp: “He always looks good . . . And he’s playing pretty good, too.”