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Jimmy Garoppolo’s indefinite absence highlights importance of Las Vegas Raiders’ backup QB position

The Las Vegas Raiders knew what they signed up for once Jimmy Garoppolo inked his name on the dotted line—after a one-day delay—but the preparation for plans B and C at quarterback starts now.

According to The Athletic’s Tashan Reed and Vic Tafur, Garoppolo underwent surgery on his left foot after the Raiders signed him to a three-year, $72.75 million contract.

On Thursday, head coach Josh McDaniels spoke about Garoppolo’s “process” when asked about the signal-caller’s recovery timetable.

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“He’s going through his process just like we knew he would,” McDaniels said Thursday. “Nothing has happened that would surprise us based on the information we had.”

Based on McDaniels’ comments, the Raiders signed Garoppolo with the knowledge that his absence could linger into the summer. He also said Garoppolo “could be out” until training camp.

While McDaniels doesn’t seem concerned about Garoppolo’s healing process because the Raiders don’t play a game until September, the 31-year-old signal-caller will miss out on time to develop a rapport with his new pass-catching group. If he returns by training camp, we can file this under the “no big deal” category.

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However, if Garoppolo misses summer practices, the Raiders would face an increased chance of a slow offensive start to the 2023 season.

Upon his return, Garoppolo has to knock off some rust and get a feel for his new teammates on the field. Though the veteran quarterback knows McDaniels’ system, he’s not familiar with Davante Adams, Jakobi Meyers, Austin Hooper, rookie second-rounder Michael Mayer and Hunter Renfrow.

With a new Raiders’ starting signal-caller for the first time since 2014, the offensive group must establish some sort of rhythm before the games count in a little more than three months. But for now, the coaching staff has to focus on the backup quarterbacks who may get a handful of starts if Garoppolo’s injury history repeats itself.

After four years as a backup to Tom Brady and a late-season starter in his first campaign with the San Francisco 49ers, Garoppolo has played through a full term just once between 2018 and 2022.

In 2018, Garoppolo tore his ACL. After a full 2019 campaign, he battled a high ankle sprain that sidelined him for 10 games in 2020. Following the 2021 season, Garoppolo underwent thumb and shoulder surgeries. His 2022 run came to an end in Week 13 when he broke his foot.

Per Reed, 49ers team doctors thought Garoppolo would just need time off to fully recover, but the Raiders deemed it necessary for him to undergo foot surgery after his physical at the team facility in March.

So, where does this leave the Raiders quarterback situation?

For now, Brian Hoyer, rookie fourth-rounder Aidan O’Connell and Chase Garbers will soak up late-spring reps until Garoppolo returns to the practice field.

Because of Hoyer’s experience and familiarity with McDaniels’ offensive system, he’s the probable primary backup quarterback if Garoppolo remains sidelined for an extended period of time.

With that said, Hoyer has thrown just 108 regular-season passes since 2018 with a majority of that action in an Indianapolis Colts uniform for the 2019 term, completing 35 out of 65 passes for 372 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions. In fact, he’s only started in two games with the New England Patriots, taking play calls from McDaniels (61-of-92 passing for 729 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions).

Hoyer can start in a few games to keep the passing offense steady, but we should keep an eye on Aidan O’Connell’s development over the summer.

Coaching staffs seldom toss middle-round rookie quarterbacks into regular-season action right away, but Hoyer will turn 38 years old in October. If O’Connell flashes at training camp and through the preseason, he may have a shot to play if Garoppolo isn’t available at some point in the 2023 campaign.

Remember, the Raiders traded up for O’Connell in the draft. Clearly, general manager Dave Ziegler and McDaniels specifically targeted him for a reason. Ziegler pointed out the rookie signal-caller’s “neck-up traits” in a post-draft press conference.

Ziegler’s comments make sense.

Based on Garoppolo’s lengthy injury and surgery history, the Raiders may have to trot out their backup quarterback to finish up a game or take over the offense for multiple weeks. If not Hoyer, McDaniels may call on a strong-minded young signal-caller who can handle immense pressure at a moment’s notice. Perhaps O’Connell has that mental makeup and seizes an opportunity to put his stamp on the offense.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Raiders’ new No. 4 at quarterback must earn his teammates’ trust before he surpasses Hoyer on the depth chart.

O’Connell will learn McDaniels’ complex system, and it may take him a while to pick up some concepts, but at Purdue, he did play in a system that required him to take ownership of the offense with checks at the line of scrimmage and post-snap progressions.

With a strong showing over the summer, O’Connell could make it tough on the coaching staff to insert a quarterback closer to retirement into the huddle over his upside if Garoppolo isn’t available. Sorry, Garbers, who went undrafted last year, doesn’t have a shot in this discussion.

Of course, the Raiders hope to see Garoppolo on the field at some point in the near future, but his recovery timetable is out of their hands. In the meantime, Hoyer and O’Connell must approach every day as if they could be called upon to play Week 1 or any point in the upcoming season.

We all know about Garoppolo’s injury history—so do his teammates and the Raiders’ coaching staff. While it’s not panic time, it is time to prepare Hoyer and O’Connell for a scenario in which one or both make meaningful starts in the regular season.

Maurice Moton covers the Raiders for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @MoeMoton.