There is no question that the 49ers organization has a soft spot for Jimmy Garoppolo. From ending the 2017 season after winning five games in a row to helping the 2019 Niners come within arms reach of a Super Bowl, it’s easy to see why.
There is no question that injuries to Jimmy have all but sunk the 49ers seasons in ‘18 and ‘20. I’m not sure if the roster was strong enough to make enough noise in 2018, but had Garoppolo stayed healthy in 2020, the Niners would have been in the playoffs.
To avoid another season where your backups are running the show, San Francisco ensured they wouldn’t have to worry about an undrafted free agent taking snaps anymore, which led to the team trading up to select Trey Lance during the 2021 NFL Draft.
The 49ers report to training camp Tuesday and take the practice field on Wednesday. Garoppolo remains the starter, but he’s not a lock at QB1, and acting as if his injuries were the only reason for the team drafting Lance feels a bit naive.
When we’re at the end of the regular season, and someone says, “this team controls their own destiny,” that feels like the perfect way to describe the Niners quarterback situation. Jimmy is the leader in the clubhouse, but if he slips up, here comes the rookie.
The question we need to ask about Jimmy is, in relation to Lance, is his good, good enough?
Age: 29 (He will turn 30 on November 2)
Experience: Seven accrued seasons
Weight: 226 lbs.
Garoppolo has two years remaining on his contract, though there is no more guaranteed money remaining in his deal. Garoppolo’s cap number for this season is $26.4 million.
If there’s a scenario where Lance takes over as the starter, and a QB needy team wants Jimmy, the 49ers would save $25 million in cap space and only eat $1.4 million in dead money.
After the season, the Niners can release Garoppolo if they don’t find any suitors and save $25.6 million against the cap with only $1.4 million in dead money.
One last hoorah for Jimmy
Heading into last year, we said the only way San Francisco would move on from Jimmy G this offseason was if he regressed.
“That, or if a quarterback that the front office feels gives the team a better chance to win a Super Bowl comes a long. Those types of quarterbacks aren’t growing on trees, though. Next year’s draft class has a few high-quality quarterbacks, but the 49ers won’t be picking anywhere near high enough to select them.”
Oh, how things change. I imagine Kyle Shanahan didn’t want to go through another December without his starting quarterback under center.
I thought we’d see a more confident, assertive QB last season, but that wasn’t the case during training camp, and that surely wasn’t what we saw during Week 1. The 49ers realized that Garoppolo “is who he is” at this point, which is another reason they swung for the fences with Lance.
The bad habits, like dropping your eyes at the sight of a pass rush or missing an open receiver either intermediate to deep, haven’t changed, and it’s unlikely it ever does for the 30-year-old to be quarterback.
We’ll see how Garoppolo responds to competition. Does it bring out the best in him? Will we see Jimmy G crisp, making plays on time, and keeping the offense on schedule? He doesn’t have to become a different quarterback to remain the starting QB.
If this is indeed Jimmy’s last hoorah, then he can’t plateau as a player. There has to be growth. He has to evolve. That’s what will keep Lance on the bench. Again, it doesn’t mean Garoppolo has to morph into Joe Montana, but taking care of the football while keeping the defense honest by stretching the field will go a long way.
What to expect in 2021
This is such a tricky question as the variables for this season are all over the place. Garoppolo could lose his starting job before Week 1. On the other hand, he could lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl. There are endless scenarios for how this season will go for Garoppolo.
Knowing this could be his last season in the Bay Area, Jimmy holds all of the cards. He’ll be 30 before the end of the season, but that isn’t old for a quarterback by any means. He’s a starting NFL quarterback in this league, and there’s no doubt Garoppolo can earn another contract.
With that in mind, you’d assume we see the best version of Jimmy G this season, all things considered. That version should look like a QB who is comfortable moving around in the pocket and not afraid to tuck the ball and run for a handful of yards.
A QB is playing point guard by distributing the ball to his playmakers and then hitting the occasional big play. That’s been the key to the 49ers passing attack when Garoppolo has been under center. The question is, will there be a better version with Jimmy under center?