Thursday, July 27, 2023 | 2 a.m.
Going into Wednesday’s first practice of training camp, Las Vegas Raiders coach Josh McDaniels cautioned that new quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo wouldn’t have a full workload. McDaniels wanted to ease in the 31-year-old former San Francisco 49er and New England Patriot, even after he was fully cleared from offseason surgery on his left foot.
But no one would have known Garoppolo’s snaps were limited from watching his first session in silver and black for two hours at the team’s Henderson headquarters. He got the majority of the repetitions under center and at times showed off the quick release, tight spiral and pinpoint accuracy that’s paved the way to a decade-long NFL career.
“It was good to be together, finally get to work,” star receiver Davante Adams said of Garoppolo after practice. “He looks good. It’s a process though. We’ve got a lot of things to work through, get on the same page and keep working together. But it was a good first day.”
It wasn’t all seamless. In his first action since he suffered the foot injury last December, Garoppolo looked rusty in full-team drills.
He threw a couple near-interceptions, including one that linebacker Divine Deablo dropped after it hit him right in the middle of his chest. Timing also appeared off with Adams and rookie tight end Michael Mayer.
But the purpose of training camp is to work through those miscues. The fact that Garoppolo was practicing, despite some worry about his availability after agreeing to a free agent deal in March, was far more important than any particulars on how it went.
“I’m not a big media guy talking in the offseason, but it was never really a worry,” Garoppolo said of recovering from his injury in time for training camp. “We had a good plan here, the strength staff, training staff. I really tip my hat to those guys. They really got me back. I’m not fully there yet but we’re in the right direction.”
The Raiders’ signing of Garoppolo was a controversial one among the fanbase, given the late-season benching and subsequent offseason release of Derek Carr, who holds almost all of the franchise’s passing records. Many have wondered if Garoppolo actually represents an upgrade and accused him of being immobile, injury-prone and incapable of consistently throwing deep.
But the beginning of training camp is all about optimism, so let’s minimize those concerns for now and build the case for why Garoppolo will succeed in Las Vegas.
Here are five reasons to believe in Garoppolo this season and why the Raiders are banking on him being the right guy to improve from last year’s 6-11 season.
Familiarity with McDaniels
Carr and McDaniels might only agree on one thing currently: That they were never a good fit for each other.
McDaniels’ offense lacked consistent rhythm in 15 games with Carr at quarterback. In trying to execute McDaniels’ playbook, Carr often looked more mechanical than he was in his best seasons.
That shouldn’t be an issue with Garoppolo, who credits McDaniels with teaching him how to be a professional quarterback during the pair’s three seasons together in New England.
“He really acclimated me to this league,” Garoppolo said. “Everything I know came from Josh and the Patriots days. We’re just trying to get back to that, build that chemistry. He’s calling plays out there for me, trying to get in my ear, trying to see the same picture. I thought we had a good first day.”
It might have been the first day on the field, but McDaniels and Garoppolo have been working exhaustively together for the past few months. They’ve had numerous meetings going over plays and trying to learn each other’s preferences after several seasons apart.
“I don’t want to say it’s like riding a bicycle, but you spend four years doing something else and change languages a bit, you come back to it eventually,” McDaniels said. “You kind of pick back up where you left off.”
Garoppolo doesn’t pay much mind to his detractors — another key difference from Carr, who was always motivated to prove someone wrong — but he has the ultimate trump card to flash, if he wants to: his win-loss record.
Garoppolo has gone 44-19 in his career as a starting quarterback between both the regular season and playoffs. That .698 win percentage is the third-best in the NFL among active starters, behind only the Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes (.798) and Baltimore Ravens’ Lamar Jackson (.707).
“The most important number for me at that position, the only one I really care about, is, ‘Does he get wins on the board?’ ” McDaniels said. “Generally, he has done that.”
Some have written off Garoppolo’s success as a byproduct of being on supremely talented San Francisco teams, but a number of new teammates have cited something else. They say, apart from his laid-back public persona, Garoppolo is intensely competitive.
“Literally before practice started, he’s already talking (expletive),” edge rusher Maxx Crosby said Wednesday. “That’s the kind of guy I want to compete against. … I love him and I’m not saying that because he’s my quarterback. There are certain guys that are ‘dawgs,’ and he’s certainly one of them.”
Victories aren’t the only area where Garoppolo can claim to stack up to the quarterbacks considered the best currently in the NFL. He’s accumulated a sterling body of work by advanced metrics too.
In the past five NFL seasons, only Mahomes rates ahead of Garoppolo by total expected points added per dropback — an advanced statistic formulated to measure the overall efficiency of passers. Some caveats are necessary to explain that standing, namely that a number of younger quarterbacks have played fewer seasons and others are being weighed down by more mediocre starts to their careers.
But it also paints a picture of how consistent Garoppolo has performed when he’s been able to play. His numbers are so strong because he’s excelled in often overlooked areas, such as limiting turnover-worthy throws and feeling comfortable in the pocket, McDaniels said.
In the past two seasons when Garoppolo has been healthy in the playoffs, he’s brought the 49ers to a pair of NFC Championship Games — narrowly falling to the Los Angeles Rams in January 2022 and reaching the Super Bowl before a loss to the Chiefs in January 2020.
“He’s played in some significant games and some big situations,” McDaniels said. “Some weeks, he has thrown it a little bit more and some weeks he hasn’t. He’s had some responsibility to get in and out of plays, which most quarterbacks do, and he’s generally done a decent job of that. He’s a good thrower of the football. There’s a lot of things he’s done well.”
The criticisms of Garoppolo shining with the 49ers because of everyone around him seem to miss one key fact: He’s going to have a lot around him with the Raiders too. Las Vegas enters training camp with its share of concerns, but few of them have to do with the offense.
And none of them have to do with the skill players.
The Raiders, in fact, rival the 49ers’ Deebo Samuel/Christian McCaffrey duo for the best wide receiver/running back tandem in the league with Davante Adams and Josh Jacobs.
“On one of the routes I threw (Adams), I asked if he was going full speed because he’s just so smooth,” Garoppolo said Wednesday. “It looks effortless. I thought I overthrew him on one of the deep balls and he ended up getting to it. It’s a luxury as a quarterback to have a guy like that.”
Garoppolo presumably won’t have as much time to work with Jacobs going into the season, as the running back continues to hold out of training camp following a contract dispute. But Jacobs is still expected to rejoin the Raiders at some point before the regular season so as to not miss out on the $10.1 million he’ll receive for playing this season on the franchise tag.
There’s not much else a quarterback can ask for out of his top two weapons than a receiver who led the league in touchdowns last year (Adams with 14) and a running back who led the league in rushing yards (Jacobs with 1,653).
Locker room presence
For the third straight offseason, Crosby spent virtually every morning at the Raiders’ headquarters following a strict fitness and nutrition plan. One of the players he was often sharing the facility with was Garoppolo, who mostly rehabbed his foot injury in Las Vegas after purchasing a house here.
“He’s been training and working his (butt) off to get back, so I’m fired up he’s out there with us,” Crosby said.
Both Crosby and Adams, the two biggest stars on the team, were surprised by how quickly they built a rapport with Garoppolo. Adams called Garoppolo “funny” and said their life-related conversations in between conditioning workouts or treatment appointments have “been the best part” of their relationship so far.
That doesn’t surprise McDaniels, who felt comfortable bringing Garoppolo to Las Vegas because he knew the quarterback would fit culturally and endear himself to teammates.
“Jimmy gives a lot of time and effort into conversations non-football related,” McDaniels said. “It’s how much you put into it, how much you care about where they came from, what their family situation is like, where they’re at in their life or their career. I think that’s important for anybody that’s trying to create relationships, especially at the position of quarterback in the NFL, where you want to be a leader on your football team.”