Kyle Shanahan wasn’t going to get out of his press conference Monday without talking about Jimmy Garoppolo. You could tell Shanahan was tired of these questions, but we’re just getting started as the offseason is underway.
Kyle was asked if Jimmy G would be the starter in 2021, and he gave a great, in-depth answer while adding a few qualifiers and avoiding speaking in absolutes after saying Jimmy would be the starter next season:
Kyle gave himself a lot of outs here. The gist of Kyle’s quote is that the 49ers will continue to look to upgrade every position, and if he feels like that’s the case at quarterback, then the team will do so. Let’s break this down because there’s a lot to unpack.
Let’s start with the salary, where Garoppolo ranks 11th among quarterbacks. If Shanahan and the 49ers felt good about Garoppolo for the long-term, they would have restructured him a handful of times this past season instead of calling up practice squad players to play. It’s also noteworthy to mention that the 49ers have under $3 million in dead money if they were to release Garoppolo for a rookie or a veteran quarterback. That number is far more important than Jimmy’s salary, which is on the higher side but manageable.
The only way that salary is manageable/justified is if Jimmy plays. If he doesn’t, we’re in the same situation again next year. The 49ers have essentially lost two years because Garoppolo hasn’t stayed healthy. We’ve seen the talent on this team. With a healthy starting quarterback this season, the 49ers are in the playoffs. I don’t think that’s a hot take. Kyle said, “we paid for him to be our starting quarterback.” Well, he’s not starting, so why are you paying him? Why would you gamble on Garoppolo’s health after being burned two times in three years?
We have yet to factor in the salary cap for 2021 and its potential dropping $20 million. The 49ers are sure to factor in Garoppolo making just under $27 million next season when the salary cap dips, and there are upwards of 40 free agents to pay. While his cap figure isn’t among the top-10, the cash the 49ers will spend on Jimmy, $25.5 million, would be the second-highest figure in the NFL behind Jared Goff and just ahead of Carson Wentz.
The last part of Shanahan’s presser, when mentioning Jimmy G, is what we should be focusing on. If he felt that Jimmy was the guy, he wouldn’t say this. Shanahan is a straight shooter that tells it how it is. So when Shanahan says, “you look into every avenue, and you see if there’s something out there that can get you a ton better,” he’s telling us what we already know: The 49ers are making calls to see if they can upgrade from Garoppolo.
They did the same thing last year when they sniffed around with the Tom Brady rumors, and who knows what other quarterbacks the team tried to acquire or were interested in that never made the rounds. “Jimmy is going to get a lot better the more he plays” was the same quote Kyle said at the beginning of the season. Unfortunately, Garoppolo’s ankle injury in Week 2 prevented him from gaining more experience.
As far as a Sam Darnold or Marcus Mariota type of backup, I think we can rule those options out based on this quote from Kyle:
“If you want to upgrade at backup quarterback, I think we have two really good backup quarterbacks. Do you want to get a starter as a backup quarterback? Then you have to decide if you want to spend a majority of your salary cap on your first and second string quarterbacks.”
That idea never made sense if the team intended to keep Garoppolo or acquire a starter. For a quarterback on a rookie deal, then sure. Still, we have seen how many weapons the Niners have and how quarterback-friendly this offense is. A rookie doesn’t come without risk, and you’re naive if you think a player who has never taken a snap in the NFL would have a mistake-free season.
Will he be healthy? Will he help your running game? Will he elevate the talent around him? Will he stretch the field? These are all questions the 49ers must consider before moving on from Jimmy G.