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Debating the better quarterback: Jimmy Garoppolo versus Kirk Cousins

This beats discussing a trade that’ll never happen.

Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

We are in the silly season part of the NFL; where the media will fire off hot takes to get people to pay attention to them. Instead of discussing if the San Francisco 49ers should trade for Minnesota Vikings QB Kirk Cousins and replace Jimmy Garoppolo—like Pro Football Talk suggested a couple of weeks ago— why not compare the two? Florio actually doubled-down on that on July 4.

I reached out to Eric Thompson of Daily Norseman to discuss the differences between the two quarterbacks, and figure out who is better. We had a long, in-depth convo about the two. Check it out.

Kyle: If Jimmy G was on the Vikings last season--assuming he was healthy--would Minnesota have made the playoffs?

Eric: Comparing Garoppolo and Cousins is a tricky proposition. There are some similarities between the quarterbacks--for example, both had to toil behind established starting quarterbacks for a few years before getting their chance. Both were able to put up some impressive statistics with supporting casts that were less than stellar. And both were dubbed the missing piece of their respective franchises last season and given market-resetting deals to prove it.

Sadly, neither lived up to their expectations for very different reasons. After Cousins and the Vikings bested Jimmy G and the Niners in Week 1, Garoppolo tore his ACL two weeks later while Cousins sputtered to a disappointing 8-7-1 campaign. Heading into the 2018 season, there was boundless hope for both quarterbacks. A year later, expectations have been tempered. (Well, at least on the Minnesota side.)

So if Garoppolo was the Vikings quarterback and healthy all year, do the Vikings make the playoffs? I think a large fraction of Vikings fans would answer that with a resounding “yes.” Many believe that Cousins is a middle-of-the-road quarterback that puts up big numbers in every category but one--the win column. After one year in Minnesota, it’s difficult to argue with the Washington fans screaming, “I TOLD YOU SO!” from the Potomac to the Mississippi. As for me? I’m not so sure.

I think Jimmy G has a ton of potential, but it isn’t like he is a known quantity at this point in his career. Garoppolo has started all of ten games in five seasons. The small sample size has been mostly impressive, especially his run at the end of the 2017 season after being traded from New England. But it still seems a bit too early to anoint him as a perennial All-Pro. According to Pro Football Focus, the interior of the Vikings’ offensive line allowed 109 pressures last season. Garoppolo can move around the pocket pretty well, but asking a quarterback to manage that kind of onslaught in his first full season as a starter is a tall task.

So if I had to choose whether the Vikings make the playoffs with Garoppolo instead of Cousins, my answer is...maybe. Remember, the Vikings were one home win--against a Bears team with nothing to play for--away from making the playoffs in 2018. Perhaps Garoppolo improvises a bit better under pressure, and the Vikings make it to the postseason. Conversely, Jimmy G’s inexperience might have hindered the offense even more and caused the Vikings not even sniff the playoffs. Either way, this hypothetical is much more interesting than discussing an actual trade that has basically no chance of ever happening, right?

Flipping the question on you, let’s say Cousins were on the 49ers in 2018 and he stays healthy all year. How different is San Francisco’s season? And heading into 2019, are 49ers fans still optimistic that Jimmy G can be the franchise savior coming off his ACL injury?

Kyle: This is 100% more interesting/satisfying than a lazy trade article. I’ve personally never been a big Cousins guy. I know it’s not all on him, but the Vikings offense took a nose dive when you compare their numbers from 2017 & 2018. Cousins is worth a win or two, but there were so many injuries on the Niners roster last year that it would have been tough for the team to make any real impact in the standings.

As for 2019? I’m sure many fans would have defended Cousins due to all the injuries. I don’t think the team would be in a better situation as they’d have worst draft picks than Nick Bosa & Deebo Samuel. There might be some false hope in there after a couple of meaningless wins as well. I think the unknown helps Jimmy G. He hasn’t started a full season, but the faith Garoppolo provided during the end of 2017 makes it easy to forget a couple of bad bounces at the beginning of 2018. I think Garoppolo elevated his surroundings when he played. The same cannot be said for Cousins. Also, we know Cousins ceiling. We don’t know how far Garoppolo can take the 49ers.

If you needed a quarterback for the following three situations--assuming both are under the conditions--who would you select:

3rd & 7:

A 40-yard bomb:

The NFC Championship:

Eric: The knocks on Cousins are absolutely fair until he proves otherwise. The horrid offensive line, clashes in philosophy between John DeFilippo and Mike Zimmer, and a slight regression from the Vikings defense all deserve some of the blame. But there’s no getting around the fact that Cousins didn’t live up to that big contract in the first year of his deal. There are now four full seasons of evidence that he can fill a box score, but he has yet to reach double-digit wins in either Washington or Minnesota. And that’s why hopes are justifiably higher when it comes to Jimmy G--all he did was literally win every game until a couple of bad bounces and the injury cut the streak short.

Here are my choices between Cousins and Garoppolo:

3rd & 7: If the play develops as it should, I’m actually taking Cousins here. Cousins is at his best when things go according to plan. He’s still incredibly accurate and very good at going through his progressions. However, if the play breaks down, I’ll take Garoppolo. While I was just fine with the Vikings moving on from Case Keenum after his storybook season in 2017--Keenum turned back into a pumpkin in Denver orange last year--he was a much better improviser than Cousins. Garoppolo

A 40-yard bomb: I’m going to lean Cousins here. He was quietly one of the better deep passers in the league last season. He had a 106.8 quarterback rating including 13 TDs and 3 INTs when throwing deep according to Pro Football Focus. That wasn’t all Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen bailing him out either; his quarterback rating throwing deep in 2017 was 106.4. There just isn’t enough data to know whether Garoppolo is a proficient deep passer in the NFL yet, so I’ll take the known quantity in this case.

The NFC Championship: This is a trick question, right? The Vikings have been to the NFC Championship Game five times in my lifetime, with five different quarterbacks, and all of them suffered the same disastrous fate in horrifyingly unique ways. I’m starting to believe that Joe Montana from Tecmo Super Bowl couldn’t win an NFCCG if he were wearing a Vikings uniform. But since I’m pretty sure you asked this as a serious question, I’ll definitely take Garoppolo here. I’d much rather have the combined excitement of potential and the unknown over the combined tortured histories of the Vikings and Cousins.

Meanwhile in San Francisco—well, technically Santa Clara, but you get the idea--everyone is hoping for a full season out of their anointed franchise QB. Again, let’s take injuries out of the equation since they’re unpredictable and a real bummer. If Jimmy G plays a full season or close to it, what are the best- and worst-case scenarios for how the 49ers season plays out?

Kyle: The worst-case scenario for the 49ers this season with a healthy Garoppolo under center is a five or six win season where Jimmy G’s mentality that “I’m going to fit this ball in no matter what” bites him in the you know what. The rookie receivers don’t make a splash, and injuries surrounding Garoppolo bring down the efficiency of the offense. Not to mention the interior line makes zero improvements, leading to rushed decisions and Jimmy G seeing ghosts in the pocket.

The best-case scenario would be Garoppolo performing at an MVP type level. Everyone already knows George Kittle is a stud, but Garoppolo and Dante Pettis build a rapport that rivals some of the better duos in the league. A hot start to the season carries Jimmy G and the offense into the second half, and they never look back. The Niners respond to adversity and win double-digit games while strolling into the playoffs. Garoppolo has flashed the ability to play at a high level, but he masters’ consistency and the payoffs are immense for San Francisco.