The quarterback position has been under the microscope for the San Francisco 49ers going this offseason. After an injury-filled 2020 campaign derailed any hopes of returning to the Super Bowl, the Niners had to decide on what to do with Jimmy Garoppolo.
General manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan let their intentions be known when they traded up to acquire the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft from the Miami Dolphins. San Francisco made the move to select a quarterback, signaling that Garoppolo isn’t a part of the organization’s long-term vision.
After they made the deal, Lynch and Shanahan said they intended on keeping Garoppolo for at least the 2021 season during their media availability last month.
But the tone was decidedly different during Monday’s press conference. When asked if he can guarantee that Jimmy G will still be on the roster on Sunday, Shanahan had this to say.
Kyle Shanahan was asked if Jimmy Garoppolo would be on the 49ers' roster on Sunday.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 26, 2021
His answer pic.twitter.com/57IZHI0arw
Shanahan did soften his tone later on and praised the quarterback.
“The biggest thing with Jimmy is his injuries. It’s been very tough for us when he’s been hurt. This happened two of these three years. That’s where it starts. Jimmy knows that. I’ve been very up front with him with everything.
We’ve been Zooming these last two weeks. Excited to get him in here coming up, especially when this draft is over. But I feel very fortunate taking a rookie quarterback that we do have a guy like Jimmy.
We didn’t sign a guy who’s capable of or has the history of being a starter right away. We have a guy, every time he’s been a starter, he’s played at a high level. So to have that with Jimmy with having a rookie quarterback gives us a lot of leeway into this. I’m not going to set anything into stone, but I know that’s the situation that would be hard to get rid of.
When you take a rookie quarterback and you have a veteran like Jimmy who we know can win with, just to move on from that is something that’s not easy to do. That is a good situation for us and I think that is something that’ll be important to us this year.”
Garoppolo has a sparkling 24-8 record as the team’s starter, but as Shanahan points out, missing the majority of two out of the last three seasons killed the 49ers’ chances. Nick Mullens underwhelmed while filling in for Garoppolo in 2020. Despite the poor QB play, the Niners were still in playoff contention until late in the season.
The current situation surrounding Garoppolo is a far cry from the optimism seen when he first arrived. When Lynch and Shanahan took over in 2017, the majority of the NFL world believed San Francisco would try and sign Kirk Cousins as a free agent following the 2017 campaign.
The 49ers held the No. 2 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft and elected to pass on Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, Lynch and Shanahan had to rebuild the depleted roster former GM Trent Baalke left for them and elected to wait to get their QB. Instead they traded back one spot and took Solomon Thomas.
Everything changed on Halloween Day in 2017. The New England Patriots agreed to trade Garoppolo to San Francisco for a second-round pick. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick reportedly wanted to set up Jimmy G in a good situation, per ESPN’s Seth Wickersham.
“[Belichick] definitely wanted Jimmy to be successful and saw that Kyle was someone who would help get the best out of him,” Wickersham said.
The Niners were patient with Garoppolo. He didn’t play a snap in the first two games after the trade, but during a blowout loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 12, Garoppolo got on the field for three snaps. He completed both of his pass attempts; the second resulted in a touchdown.
His relief performance gave The Faithful some much-needed hope. The team was 1-10 after the loss to the Seahawks, but it felt like the Niners were turning the corner, especially after brutal back-to-back campaigns with Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly at the helm.
Garoppolo dazzled over the final games of the 2017 campaign. He completed 67.4 percent of his passes and had a 96.2 quarterback rating, per Pro Football Reference. San Francisco went 5-0 down the stretch, and it appeared that the future had arrived.
There was optimism going into the 2018 season. Some were picking the 49ers to contend for a playoff spot despite the fact that the roster still needed some work. After losing to a heavily favored Minnesota Vikings team in Week 1, the Niners beat the Detroit Lions in Week 2.
Any hopes of a postseason berth were dashed in Week 3. With San Francisco trailing the Kansas City Chiefs 38-24 late in the fourth quarter, Garoppolo suffered a torn ACL while trying to extend a play with less than six minutes to go.
With Jimmy G out for the rest of the season, the 49ers went 3-11 the rest of the way. The silver lining to the lost season was that the Niners wound up with the No. 2 pick and selected pass-rushing phenom Nick Bosa.
Everything aligned right going into 2019. Robert Saleh’s defense finally got the finisher it needed, and San Francisco was able to add some offensive talent in the offseason.
Although Garoppolo noticeably lost a step after the injury, he looked poised and ready early in the 2019 campaign. With a dominant defense, the Niners came out like gangbusters to start the season, winning their first nine games and announcing their arrival as a Super Bowl contender.
Green Bay was just a game behind San Francisco going into the Week 12 Sunday Night Football showdown, but the Packers were no match for the 49ers.
The defense owned Aaron Rodgers, and Garoppolo did his part, completing 70 percent of his passes for 253 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. The Niners followed that up with another close three-point loss, this time to the loaded Baltimore Ravens, who finished 14-2 that season.
Garoppolo’s best effort of the 2019 campaign came the following week against the New Orleans Saints. The matchup had major playoff implications, with the victor likely capturing the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
Jimmy G went toe-to-toe with future Hall of Famer Drew Brees. Garoppolo threw for 349 yards, four touchdowns and a pick and helped the 49ers get a massive 48-46 win in what was the game of the year.
San Francisco was 12-3 going into the final week of the season with a gigantic showdown against the Seahawks slated for the finale. The winner would secure the NFC West crown, and if the Niners got the victory, they would set themselves up with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
With the stakes at their highest, Garoppolo completed 18-of-22 passes for 285 yards and finished with a passer rating of 118.7. Dre Greenlaw’s game-clinching tackle on the goal line preserved a 26-21 win and gave the 49ers the division crown.
Garoppolo’s final regular season stats were impressive in 2019. He threw for 3,978 yards, 27 touchdowns, and 13 picks while leading the Niners to a 13-3 record.
Here is where Garoppolo ranked among all QBs in some key passing stats from the 2019 campaign:
69.1 completion percentage (No. 4)
8.3 average yards per attempt No. 9)
12.1 yards per completion (tied for No. 4)
7.22 average net yards per attempt (No. 10)
102.0 quarterback rating (No. 8)
Four game-winning drives (tied for No. 2)
He did have some red flags, though. Garoppolo’s interceptions have always been a concern, and although he ranked No. 8 in passes thrown more than 20 yards downfield, Garoppolo also had the fewest attempts among all starters in 2019.
He also had the benefit of having receivers who can rack up yards after the catch. Garoppolo’s 6.5 intended yards per pass attempt ranked second-worst in the NFL, and he was tied for the third-lowest in average completed air yards per completion (per Pro Football Reference).
Despite his regular season success, Garoppolo’s lack of playoff usage became a sticking point. He only had 27 pass attempts combined in the wins over the Vikings and Packers. Garoppolo’s detractors said that the lack of throws was a sign that Shanahan didn’t have faith in his QB. But Garoppolo’s supporters point out that San Francisco dominated Minnesota and Green Bay with its rushing attack, so there was no reason to get away from it.
The 49ers went to the Super Bowl and held a 10-point lead over the Chiefs in the fourth quarter. Mahomes brought Kansas City within three points, allowing Garoppolo to try and put the game away.
Instead, much like the rest of his teammates, Garoppolo faltered with the game on the line. He completed just three-of-11 passes for 36 yards, took a fourth-down sack and finished with a 2.8 rating over the final 15 minutes.
The narrative may have changed if Garoppolo would have connected with Emmanuel Sanders on this deep ball with just over 90 seconds left on the clock that would have put the Niners in a position to re-take the lead.
San Francisco’s collapse could be attributed to many different reasons, but Garoppolo got a ton of flack for the loss.
Despite being a juggernaut in 2019, Lynch and Shanahan were open about the fact they kicked the tires on free-agent QB Tom Brady last offseason. The pair ultimately decided to stick with Jimmy G for the 2020 season as the Niners prepared for their revenge tour.
We all remember how last season turned out. After an underwhelming opener against the Cardinals, Garoppolo suffered a high-ankle sprain in the Week 2 win over the New York Jets. He only suited up for five more games the rest of the way.
This brings us to where we are now. After successfully re-signing several of their own key free agents, Lynch and Shanahan looked at the 49ers’ current situation and decided it was time to make a move to secure the QB of the future.
We will have to wait until Thursday to see who the Niners take to be the face of the franchise, but it certainly leaves Garoppolo in a precarious situation. If San Francisco goes with Alabama’s Mac Jones, the sentiment is that the 49ers will likely walk away from Garoppolo’s $26.4 million cap hit with just $2.8 million in dead money on the books for 2021.
If the Niners go with a prospect like Trey Lance from North Dakota State, we could see Shanahan and Lynch elect to keep Jimmy G for one more season while Lance learns the pro game behind him. Kansas City did this with Alex Smith and Mahomes in 2017 and they won the AFC West. San Francisco’s roster is good enough that the team should be among the championship contenders if the players can stay healthy and Garoppolo has shown that he can help lead a winning team.
Either way, whether it’s before the 2021 season or in 2022, we know Garoppolo’s time in the Bay Area is limited.
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