SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Jimmy Garoppolo moved over one field, rejoined his San Francisco 49ers teammates at practice for the first time since last season and was firing off passes the same way he always has.
The big difference was he is now No. 2 in the pecking order behind Trey Lance.
After the past six months when Garoppolo had shoulder surgery that prevented a possible trade, spent training camp throwing on a side field away from his teammates, and then negotiated a drastic pay cut to remain in San Francisco, Garoppolo is ready for his new role as a backup.
“It was weird," Garoppolo said Thursday. "It was different than any situation I’ve ever been in, and I’ve been in some weird ones, too, so that’s saying something. Things worked out for the best. There were a lot of ups and downs, rocky roads here and there, but throughout the whole thing, I’m happy with where I’m at. I’m happy to be with the Niners, and I think the Niners are happy to have me back. Things are working out pretty well.”
No one expected them to work out this way.
After the Niners lost to the Rams in the NFC title game last January, Garoppolo said his goodbyes and was ready to join a new team with San Francisco handing the offense over to Lance.
But when a lingering shoulder injury from late in the season required surgery, everything changed. The trade market that had at least two teams very interested in striking a deal, according to San Francisco general manager John Lynch, immediately dried up and Garoppolo was in limbo.
He was finally cleared to return to practice at the start of training camp but the 49ers had decided they didn't want to keep Garoppolo as a backup with a $24.2 million salary so they didn't risk injury by having him practice.
Garoppolo said he never demanded his release because he didn't want to “ruffle the feathers too much.” Garoppolo's representatives talked to a few teams in August but were unable to find an interested team that he found desirable.
“I saw the opportunities that were out there," he said. "You weigh the pros and cons of everything. Trust me, there was a lot of back and forth going on just with other teams, and what I wanted my future to look like. This is what I wanted. I’m happy the way it worked out. The familiarity was a big part of it.”
With the roster-cut deadline looming earlier this week, he struck the deal Monday to stay in San Francisco on a $6.5 million salary with the chance to earn up to $16 million depending on playing time and other incentives.
He rejoined team meetings the following day and everything was back to the way it had been except for the depth chart that now had Lance as the starter.
Lance and Garoppolo both stressed there is no awkwardness in their relationship and see no reason why Garoppolo's return would be any sort of distraction.
Garoppolo talked about the need to “check your ego a little bit" and Lance said he's happy to get to continue to learn from Garoppolo.
“It’s good to have him back and good to have him back in the QB room again,” Lance said. "He's been a big brother to me since my first day in the league. I know he's got my back and I have his back. I know he's going to add a lot to our QB room."
The other big roster news this week came at running back, where undrafted rookie Jordan Mason made the team and 2021 third-round pick Trey Sermon got cut Wednesday after San Francisco claimed offensive lineman Blake Hance off waivers from Cleveland.
Sermon played nine games as a rookie and had 41 carries for 167 yards and a touchdown. Lynch said Sermon came into camp this season much more prepared but he averaged just 2.1 yards per carry in the preseason compared to 5.0 for Mason.
“The bottom line, J.P. Mason just played too well,” Lynch said. “We felt like he made our team better.”
NOTES: The Niners signed DB Dontae Johnson to the practice squad after cutting him earlier in the week. Johnson could be activated to play in the season opener with S Jimmie Ward on IR with a hamstring injury. ... WR Deebo Samuel (knee), DL Arik Armstead (undisclosed), LB Oren Burks (knee), and OL Daniel Brunskill (hamstring) didn't practice.
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