By Scott Kacsmar
Remember when Josh McDaniels and Jimmy Garoppolo were going to follow Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in New England once those two retired? Well, nine years later, it will happen in Las Vegas after the Raiders have agreed to terms with Garoppolo in one of the early free-agent moves to shake up the 2023 season.
If we think of the relationship of a head coach and quarterback as a marriage, then McDaniels is clearly no fan of arranged marriages. He moved Jay Cutler, who was supposed to be a franchise quarterback, out of Denver in an instant in 2009, and he gave Derek Carr 15 games in 2022 before benching him for Jarrett Stidham.
Now Carr is in New Orleans after nine seasons with the Raiders, and Garoppolo is back with McDaniels, his first offensive coordinator in the NFL. After the Raiders had one of the most disappointing finishes in the league with a 6-11 record, does Garoppolo give McDaniels what he craves at quarterback, someone who is coachable and controllable?
The Patriot Way: The History of McDaniels and Garoppolo
To McDaniels’ credit, he has done some respectable work with offenses that were not loaded with talent. His first year taking over the offensive coordinator job in New England was 2006, arguably the weakest supporting cast the Patriots had in the Tom Brady era. But that offense still finished with some solid marks in passing, rushing, and scoring. The offense was No. 8 in yards per drive and No. 5 in points per drive.
It was starting in 2007 when the Patriots just kept loading up with talent like Randy Moss, the perfect slot receivers (Wes Welker, Julian Edelman), great receiving backs (Danny Woodhead, James White, Dion Lewis), arguably the best tight end ever (Rob Gronkowski), competent offensive lines, and plenty of other weapons would come and go (Donte Stallworth, Brandon Lloyd, Brandin Cooks, etc.)
But even in 2008 when Brady tore his ACL in Week 1, the Patriots had to go with Matt Cassel, a seventh-round pick who had not seen significant snaps since high school. Yet, that offense averaged 25 points per game and led the NFL in first downs while winning 11 games. Cassel had two 400-yard passing games that year while Brady would not get his second until his 12th year in the NFL.
When McDaniels went to Denver in 2009, he discarded Jay Cutler for Kyle Orton, a game manager from Chicago who showed very little. But the Broncos started 6-0 that year with Orton looking competent before the team eventually faded. Orton passed for over 3,600 yards and 20 touchdowns in each of his two seasons with McDaniels.
After one year coordinating the worst offense in the league with the Rams, McDaniels was back with Belichick and Brady in 2012. He rode that duo to three more rings. In 2021, the Patriots had rookie Mac Jones at quarterback and an unheralded receiving corps. That offense still finished No. 9 in yards per drive and No. 7 in points per drive.
In many ways, the 2022 season showed both the brilliance of McDaniels as an offensive game caller and his failures as a head coach. The New England offense tanked in his absence last year, falling to No. 26 in yards and No. 24 in points with the brain trust of Matt Patricia and Joe Judge trying to replace his loss. But it was his own poor game management with the Raiders that led to so many blown leads and games where the Raiders seemed to forget games had two halves.
While McDaniels did not get anywhere near a fantastic season out of Carr, he did open him up for some more aggressive downfield passing, and the offense finished in the top 10 in yards and points per drive, a rarity in Carr’s first eight years. Even when Jarrett Stidham was starting against the 49ers’ top-ranked defense, he threw for 365 yards and three touchdowns in his first NFL start.
In 2014, the Patriots drafted Garoppolo in the second round as a possible successor for Brady. It was in the 2016 season when he would get his first starts after Brady had to serve a 4-game suspension for Deflategate. While he only lasted six quarters before injury, Garoppolo was very sharp and had an 87.5 QBR at ESPN, which would be an all-time great season since 2006. In 2017 with Kyle Shanahan coaching him for five starts, Garoppolo was again at a QBR of 82.7.
Things have not been that high since, but Garoppolo is the kind of quarterback McDaniels can coach and shape into the player he wants at the position. Cutler and Carr may have clashed with his personality, but he has history with Garoppolo from four seasons together in New England.
Basically, this is McDaniels going back to his hot ex thinking there was something more to explore there.
Jimmy Garoppolo: The Handsome Devil Meets Sin City
After nine seasons, Garoppolo remains a polarizing figure among NFL quarterbacks. More people still universally agree he is attractive than those who agree he is great or terrible at his position.
Any other quarterback with career rankings like this as a passer (minimum 1,500 attempts) would get a lot of credit:
- 8.3 yards per pass attempt (No. 2)
- 99.6 passer rating (No. 6)
- 67.6% completion percentage (No. 3)
But things tend to go a different direction when it is Garoppolo, who is also 44-19 (.698) as a starter, a very good record. Prior to 2022, Kyle Shanahan was 8-28 (.222) as San Francisco’s coach when Garoppolo was not his quarterback.
Of course, the Brock Purdy story throws a big bucket of cold water on that as Purdy won his first seven starts with similar and better efficiency numbers than Garoppolo. But maybe Purdy was a special case who unfortunately injured his elbow in the NFC Championship Game. We may never know what fully could have been there.
Yes, Garoppolo benefitted from a great system that produces open receivers, the most YAC in the league, and he had players uniquely skilled to create YAC that he won’t have anywhere else like Deebo Samuel and George Kittle. Advanced stats also pick up on Garoppolo’s numbers not being as good as face value, because 2022 aside, he does get colorblind and throws awful interceptions right to linebackers too much. His interception rate has been poor outside of last year. His sack rate could be better too.
Garoppolo is more or less the answer to “What if Matt Schaub looked like an underwear model?” But Garoppolo still has to make the reads and throws, and you can win with him with the right supporting cast.
Does Garoppolo Improve on Carr in Vegas?
Is Vegas the right supporting cast? He will have the familiarity of McDaniels, a great No. 1 wide receiver in Davante Adams, a workable offensive line, and last year’s leading rusher in Josh Jacobs. The Raiders trading tight end Darren Waller to the Giants is a bummer, but it is early in the process and maybe they have further plans at that position.
Carr and Garoppolo have both qualified for stat rankings in three of the last four seasons, and they have always finished within two spots of each other in ESPN’s QBR:
- 2019: Carr (No. 10, 64.1), Garoppolo (No. 12, 60.8)
- 2021: Carr (No. 14, 58.4), Garoppolo (No. 13, 59.2)
- 2022: Carr (No. 14, 55.5), Garoppolo (No. 16, 54.3)
But whether you think Garoppolo is just Carr with thicker skin, it is hard to see this as a downgrade at the most important position, and it will be cheaper for the team with the salary cap.
Really, it is hard to find where the upside is if the team paid Carr for Year 10 and beyond.
The Close Games
The Raiders sure do play a ton of close games. Even with a couple more overtime wins in 2022, the Raiders still finished 6-9 in close games. This team was a big regression candidate in 2022 after going 4-0 in overtime games in 2021 on their way to a 10-7 record. But few expected a team that would blow three leads of 17-plus points, four leads of 13-plus points, and six fourth-quarter leads.
To his credit, Carr was surprisingly good in close games. Carr has the most fourth-quarter comeback wins (28) through a quarterback’s first 10 seasons in NFL history, and he has only played in nine seasons. Talk about a stat oddity, Carr is 34-42 (.447) at fourth-quarter comeback and game-winning drive opportunities, which is higher than his overall winning percentage (.441). That should not be possible, but it happened in the last nine years.
When you think of Garoppolo in crunch time, your mind may go to the missed deep ball to Emmanuel Sanders late in Super Bowl LIV with the 49ers down 24-20, or the terrible drive and season-ending interception against the Rams in the 2021 NFC Championship Game. Those moments stand out because they were very important and visible moments.
But you may be surprised to know that Garoppolo is 11-11 (.500) at fourth-quarter comebacks and 12-12 (.500) at all game-winning drive opportunities in the fourth quarter and overtime. The only active quarterback with better records in both is Patrick Mahomes (16-15 and 18-15).
In 2021, the 49ers would not have even made the playoffs if Garoppolo did not drive the offense 88 yards in the final 90 seconds on the road against the Rams in Week 18, forcing overtime and an eventual game-winning drive.
He has had some decent moments in those spots, and against some solid teams. He also does not have nearly as many game-saving penalties called to extend his drives like Carr infamously had, so this is another area where Raiders fans should feel no worse for having Garoppolo than Carr.
After last year, the Raiders could not do much worse in close games in 2023.
The Davante Adams Situation
Not long after the Garoppolo news broke this week, No. 1 wide receiver Davante Adams was spotted leaving a cryptic message on Instagram suggesting he may not be down with this move.
But that is for him to clear up. Remember, last year Adams talked highly of Carr when comparing him to Aaron Rodgers. Carr and Adams played together in college, but it is hard to credit that connection from nearly a decade ago too much for the surprising success they had together in 2022.
Yes, it was surprising because Adams ended up averaging a career-high 15.2 yards per catch, which was almost a full 2.0 yards higher than his previous best. He was used very well deep, which goes against his usage from Green Bay all those years, and it is not like anyone has ever questioned Aaron Rodgers’ arm strength or aggressiveness (most of the time, at least) like they have with Carr.
Adams led the league with 14 touchdown catches but that was not the surprising part. Adams caught eight touchdowns from Carr that gained 30-plus yards in 2022, and he had a ninth such score on a pass from Stidham. In eight years with the Packers, Adams had just seven touchdown catches of 30-plus yards with six from Rodgers. More in one year with Carr than eight years with Rodgers. Imagine that.
This is all to say that the quarterback may not matter as much as the system and his usage in McDaniels’ offense. Garoppolo will not enjoy the YAC plays he had with Deebo Samuel in San Francisco, but he had a good rapport with Brandon Aiyuk, and Adams can be a better version of Aiyuk for him here.
If McDaniels can get a 1,400-yard receiving season out of Brandon Lloyd with Kyle Orton at quarterback on the 2010 Broncos, do not discount what he can do with Garoppolo to Adams.
The Durability Dilemma
Unfortunately, the one area where Carr wipes the floor with Garoppolo is durability. One of the best things about Carr (and Tom Brady in New England) was his availability. Carr only had the fluky broken leg late in the 2016 season and a back issue that cost him one game in 2017. Otherwise, he was always available to play for the Raiders in nine seasons.
Garoppolo has already had six different injuries that have led to 34 missed starts in his career:
- 2016: Sprained AC joint (2 games)
- 2018: Torn ACL (13 games)
- 2020: High ankle sprain (2 games)
- 2020: Aggravated ankle (8 games)
- 2021: Calf (1 game)
- 2022: Broken foot (8 games)
Garoppolo has only gone more than 10 consecutive starts once in his career when he had a 21-game streak in 2019-20 (playoffs included). This is certainly worrisome, and to make matters worse, the Broncos just signed Jarrett Stidham, so McDaniels will need a backup he is very confident in as there is a good chance that player will see serious action.
Fortunately, the team negotiated a fair contract in 2023 terms for Garoppolo, giving him a 3-year deal worth up to $72.75 million. The team can get out of it after this season, and his cap hit should not exceed $28 million for any one season. There is only $33.75 million guaranteed at signing.
Even if Garoppolo is injured and disappoints, this is still a better deal than giving Carr something akin to the $150 million over four years ($100 million guaranteed) that New Orleans gave him.
If your team ends up stuck in purgatory, why run up the bill like that?
Conclusion: Raiders Still Held Back by AFC West
Even if you are staunchly against Garoppolo going to the Raiders, you should admit this team might be a division winner with him if it played in the NFC South or AFC South or NFC North this year.
However, when you play in a division with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, Justin Herbert and the Chargers, and Sean Payton on his way to fix Russell Wilson in Denver, you are already staring down a daunting 6-game run in the division.
But if – and it is a huge if – Garoppolo can stay healthy and the team still makes some defensive improvements, you should see a better record than 6-11. Of course, that record likely would have been better with Carr in 2023 just on regression in close games alone.
The Carr era ran its course, and it was time for a change. The 2023 draft does not look to have any quarterbacks that the Raiders need to sell the farm to acquire. This move to get Garoppolo back in McDaniels’ system with a friendly quarterback contract is simply fine.
Is it as flashy as getting a 40-year-old Aaron Rodgers to help win the Raiders their first playoff game since the 2002 AFC Championship Game? No, but it will prove if McDaniels’ system can work with his hand-picked quarterback. Who thought journeyman Rich Gannon joining the team in 1999 would produce the results it did? If this one does not work, then McDaniels and Garoppolo will both be gone in short order here.
But if it does work, what better wingman would you want in Vegas than Garoppolo?