Raiders' Jimmy Garoppolo feels healthy, wants to get back on field

ByPaul Gutierrez ESPN logo
Monday, January 8, 2024

HENDERSON, Nev. -- Speaking for the first time since he was benched in the wake of Josh McDaniels' firing as coach back in October, Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo talked Monday of how "weird" the season was for him on a personal level.

Garoppolo signed a three-year, $72.75 million free agent contract in March despite needing surgery on his left foot after six star-crossed seasons with the San Francisco 49ers. He spoke on how he was never truly right physically after the surgery but also how he looks forward to entering the offseason healthy and competing for a starting gig again next season, be it in Las Vegas or elsewhere.

"You never know," he told ESPN, alluding to the Raiders being in the market for possibly both a new general manager and head coach.

"I just want to get back to playing, honestly," Garoppolo said in an earlier scrum at his locker during cleanout day. "That's why I play this game. ... I love to win. Honestly, what I think I'm here for is just to go out there and get wins. As a football player, it's something you've got to embrace. Not everyone wants that. Some people just want statistics and things like that. I really just want to go out there and win. I really enjoy doing it. That's what we're here for."

Garoppolo came to Las Vegas with a reputation of being a winner -- his regular-season career record of 40-17 with a Super Bowl appearance entering the 2023 season said as much -- but also as being injury prone. It was in Week 3 when Garoppolo suffered a concussion, in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and he missed the following week -- a defeat at the Los Angeles Chargers.

He then suffered a back injury in a home win against the New England Patriots that required a trip to the hospital and missed the following game, a loss at the Chicago Bears. After a subpar showing in a blowout loss at the Detroit Lions, McDaniels, general manager Dave Ziegler and offensive coordinator Mick Lombardi were all fired and Garoppolo was benched, with Champ Kelly elevated to interim GM and Antonio Pierce to interim coach. Rookie quarterback Aidan O'Connell replaced Garoppolo for the rest of the season.

Garoppolo saw the field only once more, playing one three-and-out series in Sunday's season finale win against the Denver Broncos.

He finished with 1,205 passing yards, 7 touchdown passes and 9 interceptions, which were leading the league when he was benched. His 65.1 completion percentage was a career low for a season in which he played at least six games, as were his passer rating (77.7) and QBR (34.2). His 5.3 interception percentage was also a career high.

Garoppolo never felt comfortable physically.

"It was tricky," said Garoppolo, whose contract did not become viable until he passed a physical. "It was different than any injury I've had in the past. You don't realize, I mean you're on your feet, obviously, all day, and it's just a little thing that nags you and so it was tough throughout training camp. I can't even lie.

"But we got to a good point where I started to not even notice it really the last couple months. Haven't even thought about it. Rehab went well and I finally feel like myself again. So that's one positive to come out of this -- not going into rehab or surgery this offseason. That's big time.

"The body's feeling great. ... I'm happy with where I'm at right now."

In taking on the new role of mentor to O'Connell, a fourth-round draft pick from Purdue, Garoppolo said he leaned on his own experience with the New England Patriots in 2014.

"I had never really done that before, but I was a rookie quarterback one time in the league and I had guys who helped me out -- Tom [Brady] helped me out, just older dudes in general, and I just felt a responsibility ... it's kind of a quarterback thing," Garoppolo said. "No one really sees the game as the quarterbacks do, so you've got to help each other out a little bit and point them in the right direction. So, I tried to do as much as I could."

O'Connell, under Pierce and with Garoppolo's guidance, went 5-4 and passed for 1,905 yards, 11 TDs and 5 interceptions while completing 61.2% of his attempts.

Pierce commended Garoppolo's "professionalism" in stepping up. The Raiders, meanwhile, saw a culture shift under Pierce, Garoppolo said.

"Whenever you bring in a new coach like that, the energy changes [and] I think guys bought in very quickly," Garoppolo said. "AP, one thing I really appreciate about AP, he's a straight shooter and ... guys in this locker room, that's all you really want in a head coach -- someone who's going to shoot you straight, tell you if you messed up or if you did it right and really not sugarcoat it. And AP, that's how he is. That's how he was from the get-go and I think that's what guys really appreciated. He just kept it real, man. I loved everything about it."

Still, there is an uncertainty regarding Garoppolo's future.

His contract makes him an unlikely trade candidate so if the Raiders, who already cleared space by converting $21.3 million of his existing base salary into a signing bonus, release him, they would absorb a cap hit of $28.3 million for 2024. But if the Raiders do it with a post-June 1 designation, it would allow them to split the hit over two years -- $15.5 million in 2024 and $12.8 million in 2025. His base salary of $11.25 million for 2024 is guaranteed for injury only.

"I'm pretty open," Garoppolo said. "A lot of things are out of my control. I've been in situations like that before, so I've learned, just got to roll with the punches a little bit and whatever happens, I think it all happens for a reason. Just got to make the best of your situation. That's a big part of this whole NFL thing is you're going to be dealt the cards you're dealt, and you've just got to make the best of it.

"I know the player I am and where I stand in this league ... if you don't believe in yourself, no one will. So that's a big part of it. But yeah, just let the chips fall where they may. I've just got to get on the field and start competing again. That's when stuff gets easy. ... It was a weird year, don't get me wrong, but I loved every minute of it."