Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer was asked about San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo during his most recent mailbag. We all have our own opinions on Jimmy G and how the Niners should handle their quarterback situation this offseason, but it’s nice to get an outsider's take every now and then — especially someone who is as plugged in as Breer.
Breer was if the NFL is generally low on Garoppolo and if that would stop the 49ers from using Jimmy to trade for a quarterback. Here’s how Breer responded:
Richard, I don’t know if I’d say the NFL is generally low on Jimmy Garoppolo. More so, I think he’s seen in the class of guys like Jared Goff and Derek Carr. Fair or not, those quarterbacks are seen as players who succeed if everything’s right around them—but not the type who can lift teammates up and make up the difference for holes on the roster. That’s not an insult, either. But it’s not as good to be that guy as it used to be.
I can point to two reasons. No. 1, I think it’s easier to find a league-average quarterback in the draft than it used to be, which cuts down on the value of the good-not-great passers. No. 2, teams are certainly starting to wonder out loud if the emergence of Patrick Mahomes at the top of the sport is going to make it tougher to win with those sorts of QBs at the helm. Is it possible that, say, Joe Flacco or Eli Manning or a second-year Russell Wilson wouldn’t be enough, like they have been over the last 10 years? It sure is.
So no, the NFL isn’t necessarily low on Garoppolo. What he’s facing is more a question of what it’ll take to win in the league over the next 10 years, and how hard or easy he becomes to replace as younger quarterbacks continue to filter into the league.
There is a lot to unpack from Breer here. It’s a fair assessment to Garoppolo with the group that essentially says, “he’s good, but” camp.
Jimmy is a starter in this league, and, as we’ve seen, you can win with him. There’s value in that. Where the gray area begins is when you go further than wins and losses and start to talk about how much better Jimmy G makes the players around him and whether he can mask certain deficiencies in your offense that upper echelon quarterbacks do weekly
There’s enough evidence to know what quarterback Garoppolo is at this point. Sure, he needs to stay healthy and play more so he’s not making “beginner” mistakes, but you’re putting a lot — probably too much — stock in assuming he or any quarterback would magically improve. Players rarely change at this point in their careers. That’s both on and off the field.
As for Breer’s point about being easier to find a league-average quarterback, that’s where I disagree, and that’s why it’s easy to understand why the team would feel comfortable keeping Garoppolo for at least another year. If these league-average quarterbacks were easy to find in the draft or in free agency, we’d see more of them. The drop-off after the top 8-10 quarterbacks in this league is steep.
The gap between above-average and below-average quarterbacks is noticeable for the most casual NFL fan to see. There aren’t Jimmy Garoppolo’s waiting on the street right now to be signed. I know it’s easy to think of Justin Herbert's success, but Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa didn’t exactly light the world on fire. I understand that Tua won, but he showed clear limitations.
We’re having this discussion because of Garoppolo’s injury history and contract, first and foremost. We can poke holes in his game, and that’s fair to do, but there’s an obvious risk in moving on from Jimmy for the unknown.
Is it time to get younger at QB?
Breer had a follow-up question asking who is the most likely QB for the 49ers next year:
Gary, I’d say, if the Niners were to move off of Jimmy G., it will be in an effort to get younger at the position. So it could be someone like Sam Darnold—who I think the Niners like, though I’m not sure to what degree—or a draft pick. Which I think answers your bonus question too.
Getting younger is a fairly broad and incomplete answer as that could mean any draft pick or quarterback on their first or second contract.
I agree that Darnold would be a guy who fits what Shanahan likes to do on offense. If you’re moving on from Garoppolo, the last thing you want to do is trade for a 23-year-old quarterback who hasn’t stayed healthy in three seasons.
From a financial and logical standpoint, my biggest hold-up with bringing Garoppolo back is that if you’re not fully committed to him long-term — which is obviously the case — then why have your ‘bridge’ quarterback make $26 million?
I suppose there isn't much of a choice at this point, given the contract the team gave Garoppolo. It always comes back to Jimmy’s contract, which is why it’ll always come back to whether you can get similar or better production out of another quarterback on a cheaper deal without the injury history.