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Kawakami: Jimmy Garoppolo is throwing lasers, my trade idea to end his 49ers saga and more camp conclusions

It’s doubtful that the Cleveland Browns’ front office trusts my judgment very much, but I’ll offer my services as an ad hoc scout and quarterback evaluator nevertheless:

I watched Jimmy Garoppolo make about 25 full-tilt throws to a junior staffer on a side field during the 49ers’ training-camp practice on Friday, and I don’t think there’s a question that he’s close to 100 percent healed after his March shoulder surgery and that he’s one of the top 32 QBs in the league right now. Maybe it’s a shorter list than 32.

I also can vouch that this is a fairly odd situation, with the QB1 of the previous four seasons having his own quiet throwing session right next to his soon-to-be-ex-teammates and former backup grinding through a full-team practice, with a handful of fans getting a nice view of both endeavors.

Over there was Trey Lance measuring up his timing with Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle. Over here was Garoppolo gesturing for the young staffer to go a little deeper and then chuckling when the staffer dropped a perfectly placed pass.

But the main point, with the 49ers still quite insistent on holding onto Garoppolo until they get a solid trade offer: Garoppolo was absolutely rifling the ball. It’s about as good as I’ve seen him throw it — rolling left and firing the ball 30 yards down field or, most impressively, taking two steps left, pausing as if to avert an invisible pass rush and then rocketing a line-drive flat-footed pass 25 yards down the right sideline.

So let’s presume that, while the team waits for the final verdict on Deshaun Watson’s suspension time this season, Cleveland is monitoring the Garoppolo news. And we can also guess that the 49ers will not hold onto Garoppolo past Aug. 30, the day Garoppolo’s full $24.2 million salary would be guaranteed for the year.

Folks, these next few weeks or even days are valuable — the sooner Garoppolo gets to his new team and picks up the system, the better. But he’s still with the 49ers. He’s throwing the ball on their practice site. He’s waving to fans who are watching the 49ers practice.

It’s bizarre! It’s not tense or anything. But it’s definitely a bizarre scene.

“We have a real good relationship with Jimmy,” Kyle Shanahan said Friday morning. “There’s no secret here what the situation is. I think he fully understands the situation. We fully understand the situation. So we make the best of it. Jimmy’s out there. He’s feeling better and better each day. I still see him. We have a real good relationship with Jimmy. He’s done some real good things here.

“So, fans getting pumped with him and our players still loving seeing him — that doesn’t surprise me at all.”

At the start of camp, Garoppolo reported for his physical, passed it (which means the 49ers are off the hook for the $7.5 million injury guarantee for 2022) and I think the 49ers’ brass presumed he was going to leave the premises to do his work to stay in shape and strengthen his arm in private. But Garoppolo decided to stick around. And he is very visible.

Shanahan didn’t sound bothered by any of this, though. I believe Lance’s hold on the starting job is now so solid that there’s little worry about Garoppolo overshadowing the second-year QB in any way. And Shanahan said how much or how little Garoppolo does or is seen at 49ers HQ is entirely up to Garoppolo.

“I think if Jimmy wanted to be in every single meeting and wanted to do everything, for sure we would let him,” Shanahan said. “I would guess that isn’t what he would want, and (when) we asked him, that was accurate. He didn’t totally want that.

“He’s trying to get his body ready for hopefully the next situation he goes into.”

If Cleveland or anybody else needs a first-hand account, I will promise them I’m an honest evaluator. If Garoppolo was looking terrible out there, I would not hesitate to say so, who cares if it messes up the 49ers’ trade leverage. But I watched Garoppolo firing away (while fans took photos of him from the stands) on Friday, and he looks great. He’s not the 49ers’ QB1 anymore, but he can absolutely still play in this league. It’s clear to see. Which is probably part of Garoppolo’s point to doing it this way.

OK, I’ll also offer myself up as a trade mediator.

The Browns seem like the best destination for Garoppolo because they have a playoff-ready roster but it seems like Watson is destined to be suspended for more than the six games initially handed down by the independent disciplinary officer, judge Sue L. Robinson. I don’t think the Browns should or really want to pin their hopes on backup Jacoby Brissett for 10 or more games. And if they’re going with a new QB, it would be best to get him into camp ASAP. I get that the Browns don’t want to give up too much for another team’s backup when they have already traded so much for Watson, but do they also want to waste 2022 without a QB who can win big games?

I also understand that the 49ers want the best draft pick they could possibly get for Garoppolo. And they likely don’t want to see Garoppolo end up with the Seahawks, who might be waiting for the 49ers to release him (while the 49ers really don’t want the Seahawks to get Garoppolo in time for a couple weeks of camp). Which explains a lot of this delay.

I mean, the 49ers have waited this long, they probably feel they can wait until Cleveland is at its most desperate. And neither side knows exactly how the Watson suspension will play out, so there are no set parameters for Garoppolo’s potential value to Cleveland.

But if the Browns wait three more weeks, they will never get them back. If the 49ers wait three weeks, Cleveland might as well just let the 49ers release Garoppolo by Aug. 30. Or Garoppolo might end up with Seattle. None of that is the best thing for the 49ers or the Browns.

Deshaun Watson and Jimmy Garoppolo

A playoff-ready Browns team will need a QB while Deshaun Watson is suspended. A trade for Jimmy Garoppolo — with the right conditions — could be the right match. (Kevin Jairaj / USA Today)

My proposal: Make this a conditional trade, which gives both teams the chance to maximize the value based on what happens next. The 49ers and Browns could simply construct the trade terms based on how many games Garoppolo plays in 2022, which, of course, is tied to how long Watson’s suspension lasts.

It could be something like:

• If Garoppolo starts eight or more games for the Browns this season, the 49ers get the Browns’ 2023 third-round pick.

• If Garoppolo starts 12 or more and Cleveland makes the playoffs, that slides up to a second-rounder.

• If Garoppolo starts one-to-eight games this season (factoring in the possibility that he’s simply beat out by Brissett), the pick slides down to a fifth-rounder.

• If Garoppolo starts zero games this season, the 49ers get nothing.

As part of this, Garoppolo would have to agree to knock down his base salary, probably with incentives added to make sure he gets some money back if he plays most of their games and/or gets them into the playoffs. But I’d think he’d be fine with that to get to Cleveland. And Garoppolo will have to knock down his salary pretty much no matter what happens, anyway.

Doesn’t this all make more sense than both teams just trying to bet on one-way circumstances? Camp time is precious. It’s ticking away. Do the deal, guys. End this.

By the way, on one of the last team drills Friday, Lance made the best throw I’ve ever seen from him. It wasn’t one of the 50-yard heaves he made to light up last year’s camp. It was just a confident medium-range laser shot under pressure in the pocket, finding Jauan Jennings across the middle about 20 yards down field.

But the throw wasn’t the biggest part. As he adjusted away from the pass rush, Lance turned to his right and looked that way, which drew Fred Warner up a little, then Lance quickly flicked the ball back over the middle and past Warner, almost like a point guard pump-faking and wrong-footing a big man to clear a lane to the rim.

It might not even go down as a big play in the 49ers’ tally. But it was a Drew Brees/Pat Mahomes kind of play and something I hadn’t seen from Lance until Friday.

At about this time in last year’s camp, Aiyuk was just about to go into Shanahan’s doghouse. It took a while for him to get out of it. It’s been much documented. And in this year’s camp, Aiyuk has been the team’s best offensive player so far, and it’s not even close.

Is Aiyuk also becoming a team leader? That was a consensus opinion after Aiyuk and Warner got into two brawls during Tuesday’s practice, the biggest coming when Aiyuk charged at Warner after the middle linebacker took a late shot at receiver Marcus Johnson.

Shanahan hates to see camp fights. On Friday, he said he likes trash-talking and physicality all the way up to the line, but he will not tolerate going over the line, which, in his court room, means no fighting.

“I love the intensity of it,” Shanahan said of the Aiyuk-Warner back and forth. “I don’t think you have to fight to be intense, though. Scuffles are scuffles. And they lead to other stuff. I think that’s why we have a guy (Johnson) in the protocol, because we took an unnecessary shot at someone. And that led to the big fight. Then we had a bunch of haymakers and stuff thrown in there, which only break hands.

“I think our team’s pretty tough. I think we’re pretty physical. I think if most people probably voted who was the most physical team last year, I think we win most of that. And we didn’t get in one fight last year. So I don’t think that totally pertains to toughness.”

But Shanahan agreed that Aiyuk was standing up for a teammate. And probably for an offensive unit that has been mostly pushed around by the extremely talented defense all camp so far. “Yeah, definitely. I understood what he stood up to,” Shanahan said. “So it didn’t bother me.”

It never sounded like Shanahan and John Lynch were too interested in signing a veteran center this offseason to replace the retired Alex Mack, and now it seems like there’s almost no chance of it. They’re going with their set of unproven guys on the interior line, though the exact lineup is still TBD. For now, Jake Brendel and Daniel Brunskill are the options at center and Shanahan says he’s fine with that.

“We see in practice every day now, we saw it last year, that we have guys in our building who are definitely capable of it,” Shanahan said. “Now it’s about getting them in those games. … You can show it in practice, but our O-line coach (Chris Foerster) says it all the time: You don’t know an O-lineman can play until he gets his ass kicked in a game. Because it’s going to happen. … So how do you come back the next week? Are you rattled? Do you kind of hide or do you rise to the occasion of how to deal with it? That to me is what playing O-line is in the NFL. You don’t know that until you give those guys those opportunities.”

My guess, also: Though he has the most experience of the group at center, the 49ers are not locked into Brunskill at that spot (and Brendel so far has gotten most of the first-team reps) because it’s not clear that Aaron Banks can hold up at left guard and Brunskill would be a handy replacement there.

(Photo: Joe Scarnici / Getty Images)

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