The San Francisco 49ers locked down their franchise quarterback this week, and it wraps up what turns out to have been an off-and-on pursuit over the past year. Following the press conference to discuss Jimmy Garoppolo‘s contract extension, head coach Kyle Shanahan discussed the timeline of this whole thing with SI NFL reporter Albert Breer. He made clear his previous interest in Kirk Cousins, and explained how Garoppolo happened.
A year ago, shortly after being hired, Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch got their coaches and front office together to discuss the kinds of players they want to acquire. At the quarterback position, there was a lot of tape on Garoppolo. Lynch has mentioned this before, but Shanahan went into more detail about his knowledge of Garoppolo.
When he was in Cleveland, Shanahan had studied Garoppolo during the pre-draft process. He had done additional study of Garoppolo’s two starts in New England the previous season. He liked what he saw. Among other things, he talked about the torque in his upper body and his quick release.
Shanahan confirmed that he inquired about Garoppolo with Bill Belichick at the 2017 NFL Combine. Belichick shot it down quickly, and that was that for the time being.
Shanahan knew Kirk Cousins was not going to be available, and with Garoppolo unavailable as well, he all but confirmed to Breer that the team was prepared to kick the can to 2018 on finding a cornerstone player at quarterback.
“I didn’t know if we’d be able to do it our first year here,” Shanahan said. “I did feel strongly that we’d able to get it done, at least, by time we were going into our second year.”
I don’t think it took a rocket scientist to see that this was the 49ers plan coming out of free agency and the draft. And given that there was a chance at that point that Cousins would hit free agency after the 2017 season, 49ers fans were mostly prepared to be patient.
Bill Belichick reaches out
The 49ers have not gone into much detail about how the trade came about, and Shanahan still kept it fairly general. The 49ers were coming off their eighth straight loss, a 33-10 beating at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Belichick reached out to Shanahan, who took the offer to Lynch for discussions. Shanahan was worried about having to make a long-term decision on Garoppolo with only a handful of games. They discussed the franchise tag, and felt comfortable enough having that in their back pocket that they decided on the trade quickly.
What sold Shanahan on Garoppolo long term
We already know Shanahan liked Garoppolo’s skillset. However, Shanahan was prepared to make a long-term commitment because of how Garoppolo improved each week in his knowledge of the offense, and how he performed when his knowledge failed him.
Garoppolo has acknowledged he has not even seen the full playbook yet. This offseason will provide a chance to strip things down and build back up with a full understanding of Shanahan’s offense. However, for the five games Garoppolo started, he was playing with a knowledge handicap. Shanahan was impressed with how he succeeded even when he did not know everything that was going on with the offense.
The 49ers dealt with numerous injuries, but Garoppolo got a chance to play with a lot of the same players throughout his five starts. Shanahan saw players performing better than they had early in the season, and recognized Garoppolo was helping raise everybody’s level of performance.
Avoiding a Washington situation
A good example of a poor handling of a quarterback situation is Washington and Kirk Cousins. They did keep him around these past two years with the franchise tag, but they hem’d and haw’d. They now have Alex Smith, but they still don’t have a clear long-term answer at the position.
Shanahan acknowledged people will talk about the numbers, but for him, once you know you’ve got a quarterback who can be one of the better ones, you do what you can to lock him down.
“I look at everything as, ‘Is this a top guy? Is this a guy that has a chance to be one of the better guys in the league?’ And once you believe that, you do whatever it takes to keep him. And that’s what it takes to keep him.”
Back to Cousins
I think the most telling quotation was when Shanahan referenced Cousins. He acknowledged that the Washington quarterback was on the radar prior to acquiring Garoppolo. However, he then pivoted and used that interest to explain what people can take from this contract extension with Jimmy Garoppolo.
“Everyone knows how I feel about Kirk. And for anybody who knows how I feel about Kirk, I think this shows how I feel about Jimmy, the fact that we ended up doing this. I’m not a guy who’s going to get excited and just go with the momentum, at all. I usually do the opposite, question it to make sure I’m absolutely confident, and not go with the momentum or the excitement.
“Talking about Kirk, understanding where he could be in the next year, for me to feel this way about Jimmy? It says a lot about Jimmy.”
Make sure and give Albert Breer’s article a read.