SANTA CLARA, Calif. — In the San Francisco 49ers‘ perfect world, Monday night’s stunning trade for New England quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will solve the riddle that has plagued them for more than a decade, with Garoppolo becoming the face of the franchise at the game’s most important position.
But here’s the thing: The Niners have positioned themselves well enough in terms of salary cap space and draft capital while building toward this move that this trade won’t leave a lasting mark if Garoppolo doesn’t make San Francisco’s quarterback dreams come true.
To be sure, the Niners wouldn’t be making this trade, first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, if they didn’t believe Garoppolo could be their long-term answer. He will have eight games — give or take a couple depending on how fast he can learn the offense — to get acclimated to coach Kyle Shanahan’s system this season. At the end of the season, Garoppolo is slated to become an unrestricted free agent.
Sure, the 49ers could (and might) sign him to a lucrative contract extension now or in the near future. It would be a bit of a gamble since Garoppolo has yet to play a snap for them, but it would give them some cost certainty and keep him from becoming a free agent in March. Barring that, the Niners are set to have more than $90 million in cap space in the offseason (after they roll over what’s left on this year’s cap) — money they could put toward an extension or, if they wanted to take a longer look at Garoppolo, a franchise tag.
Simply put, by making the trade instead of trying to pursue Garoppolo as a free agent, the 49ers have assured themselves some level of control over a player who might just be the answer at quarterback while also leaving themselves open to a world of possibilities.
The loss of their second-round choice is nothing to sneeze at, especially since the Niners are 0-8 and there’s a good chance that it will be a pick that lands high in the round. But the 49ers still have their first-round pick, the Saints’ second-rounder and two third-rounders.
That is all valuable draft capital that can be used to help build around Garoppolo and get some much-needed playmakers capable of making his life easier. Better yet, they could spin their top pick to a quarterback-needy team to stockpile even more valuable picks for the future.
Acquiring Garoppolo also begs the question of what happened to the Kirk Cousins plan? While Shanahan has more familiarity with Cousins and Cousins has proved more in the league than Garoppolo, there are many reasons why Shanahan could have made this move. For one, there’s no guarantee Cousins would be available as Washington could still use the franchise tag on him again.
If Cousins hits the market, his cost is expected to far exceed what Garoppolo is likely to earn. Even if the 49ers figure to have a ton of cap space in the offseason, there’s still a limit to what would be considered fiscally responsible to sign Cousins.
While Shanahan and Cousins have a lot of history, don’t overlook Garoppolo’s ties to the Shanahan family. Garoppolo played at Eastern Illinois, the alma mater of Mike Shanahan, Kyle’s father. And the younger Shanahan spent time getting to know Garoppolo in the pre-draft process when he was the Cleveland Browns‘ offensive coordinator in 2014.
In the time since, Garoppolo has just 94 pass attempts, throwing for 690 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 106.3. Those numbers are tantalizing, though they come in a small sample size. Still, Shanahan was brought to the Bay Area largely because he’s supposed to be able to identify and develop a top quarterback. Garoppolo is now the chosen one. If Shanahan can get him to turn those flashes into consistent production, this trade could be a bona fide steal for the Niners.
Moving forward, it’s important to remember that Garoppolo isn’t walking into favorable conditions in San Francisco. In fact, it would be wise for the Niners to wait a week or two — or even after the bye — before handing Garoppolo the keys.
With injuries all over the offensive line and their best receiver, Pierre Garcon, dealing with a neck injury, giving Garoppolo time to get adjusted while rookie C.J. Beathard plays the next game or two would be prudent.
After all, this move, like many others the Niners have made under Shanahan and Lynch, comes with an eye toward the future. It’s a future they hope includes Garoppolo reaching his potential and leading the 49ers back to the promised land.