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What the 49ers have in Jimmy Garoppolo

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Seattle Seahawks v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Jimmy Garoppolo made his San Francisco 49ers debut a little over a month ago in the fourth quarter of a game against the Seattle Seahawks. With a 0-percent chance of winning, Garoppolo entered for an injured C.J. Beathard on 3rd-and-5 with 1:07 remaining, down 24-6. On his first play, Garoppolo kept it for a four-yard gain. After a false start penalty, Garoppolo completed a conversion on 4th-and-5 for eight. With the Seahawks needing just one more stop to ensure no touchdowns given up on the day, Garoppolo shattered those dreams with a 10-yard strike to Louis Murphy.

The Garoppolo era had begun, and the 49ers haven’t lost since.

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything quite like the Garoppolo hype train and that’s probably because we’ve never seen anything quite like Garoppolo’s current run. Quarterbacks don’t turn 1-10 teams into 5-10 teams when they’re just starting out. The 49ers were in contention for the number one pick in the draft and now they’re edging towards the bottom part of the top 10. The closest I could think of — and no, it’s not me trying to make a biased point against him, but we’ll get to that — is Tim Tebow.

Tebow took over the Broncos when they were 1-4 in 2011, then brought them to 8-8 and into the playoffs, where they upset the Pittsburgh Steelers. That was also a unique hype train, but it was also unique because nobody outside of Tebow’s cultish fanbase believed it was sustainable long-term. Garoppolo can really play, and that’s evidenced in another excellent Film Room breakdown by Brett Kollmann:

It’s good viewing for any NFC West fan who wants to know how worried they should be. (Look at the next decade now with Russell Wilson potentially having two new franchise quarterbacks in the division younger than him.) Kollmann notes how Garoppolo’s quick release will make it difficult for him to be stopped on short-to-intermediate throws, and that he does have a potential Tom Brady-like future.

That’s a pretty significant statement to make and I don’t think Kollmann does it lightly. He does, however, also note that Garoppolo’s footwork is troublesome and that it could prevent him from being an effective downfield passer, or that he won’t get enough oomph on the throws that he needs to make; if Garoppolo doesn’t fix some of those foot placement problems, it could hold him back from becoming a “great” QB instead of just a “good” one.

And with that being said, it’s still significant that Garoppolo is a good quarterback. If San Francisco managed to deal a second round draft pick (that has slipped from potentially being 33rd to maybe being in the high-40s) for a good quarterback, that’s a tremendous steal and opportunity for them. It’s hard to find good quarterbacks and it allows them to focus their 2018 first rounder on one of their many other needs. If you could draft Jimmy Garoppolo at the top of the second round, certainly you’d do it.

You’d also hope to pay him on a second round rookie contract, but we’ll get to that too.

An old-ish Field Gulls post was going around this week about how the trade for Garoppolo was probably a bad one. But I still stand by Peter Alexieff (the writer)’s point:

If he is the second coming of Brady, that is probably a good deal. If he is like every any other Brady backup from the last decade or even like the vast majority of second round QBs since 2001, a franchise QB deal or even a Mike Glennon-esque deal ($15 million a year for three years) would be borderline disastrous.

As Peter said in the article: “If he is the second coming of Brady, that is probably a good deal.” Well, as Kollmann himself said, he might be. So even Peter or I would tell you that it was a good deal if he continues to play well and win. And the probability of that happening was still low. Nothing about the thoughts on the process of the Garoppolo deal would change for me; it was a high-risk move that had a lower reward because Garoppolo brings almost zero value to any organization while on his rookie deal. He immediately costs $20-$25 million next year, which is about as much as a high second round pick would make over four years.

It’s not really any different than playing poker: You aren’t calling ‘all-in’ because you know that you’re going to get the cards you need to win, you’re calling ‘all-in’ because the probabilities say that more often than not you’ll get the cards you need to win.

Garoppolo’s draft position in the late second round is indicative of a prospect who carried significant flaws in his game. It’s not that good of a draft position, as evidenced by the many second-to-third round quarterbacks who failed to produce anything of note including the recent cautionary tale of Brock Osweiler.

No matter what anyone ever tells you, including Bill Belichick and John Lynch, the Garoppolo trade was a gamble. The 49ers had their best guesses on how good he’d be for them, and that’s all they were: guesses. Just like how Belichick has drafted and signed a lot of players who have been utter failures in New England and the NFL. The most notable genius in NFL history is still wrong on players — if not most of the time, then at least like 40% of the time.

It’s because the gamble carries a huge price tag in 2018 that the gamble for San Francisco continues. Let’s not forget the hype train of 2012 surrounding Colin Kaepernick. Let’s not forget how Kaepernick, if you talked to a Niners fan at any moment from 2012 to 2014, would of course “still” be better than Russell Wilson in 2017. Let’s not forget how San Francisco had 29 games to evaluate Kaepernick before giving him a $126 million contract in 2014. And still got that wrong.

Let’s not forget the many things that the 49ers have been wrong about.

My thoughts on Garoppolo now after four games are that he seems to be on a good path. After watching Brett’s video, it’s clear that he has unique gifts that separate him from other young quarterbacks and that he made the most of his time with Brady and Belichick. Also that he’s got some flaws that could still put him closer to the Eli Manning territory than the Peyton Manning territory, if not the Joe Flacco territory — we still have to wait and see. I would not have judged Wilson after four games (he was awful) and we couldn’t properly judge Nick Foles after a whole season. It’s just going to be costly for the 49ers to pay for their “prove it” shot season with Garoppolo in 2018.

As of today, Garoppolo has far outplayed the second round pick of which the 49ers gave up for him. If San Francisco went crazy and placed Garoppolo on the trade market, I dare say they could convince the Cleveland Browns to give up number one. That’s a huge surplus in what they gave up at the trade deadline to the Patriots. But now that he’s entrenched with the 49ers, his next task is to out-play the franchise tag, if that’s what he must endure for one year. Or a deal similar to the one that Osweiler got, at four years, $72 million, with most of it guaranteed. He’s certainly earned more than Osweiler. (Far be it from me to continue to point out, as I did before Osweiler had even hit the market, that unproven quarterbacks are still being paid too much.)

Or maybe he gets the $126 million that Kaepernick got, but with a lot more actually guaranteed. And for now, the 49ers can afford it; OvertheCap.com puts them at $60 million in space for next season, so $25 million to Garoppolo still leaves them with $35 million and they’ve got some cuts to make too. Any organization would tell you that it’s nice when you can get some value out of a player during his rookie deal — just as the Seahawks saw in 2012-2014 with Wilson, or that the Eagles and Rams and Cowboys and Jaguars are seeing right now — and the 49ers just really don’t get that with Garoppolo. Which is significant, but not completely damaging.

They also may have managed to do the near impossible, which is to acquire a franchise quarterback through free agency or trade, and for that the 49ers should be commended. Yes, I’ll say it, if Garoppolo is going to continue to play like this, of course it’s a great move by Lynch. Just as I can point out all of the questionable moves by Lynch in 2017, but every GM makes questionable moves. If Garoppolo keeps winning in San Francisco though, then the bad moves won’t matter.

And the Seahawks will have a battle on their hands in the NFC West next year, when Garoppolo enters the game in the first quarter instead of the fourth.