Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch met with the media for the first time in three months yesterday. The message was the same as it’s been since the 2020 season ended. The question remains though, are the 49ers committed to Jimmy Garoppolo as their starting quarterback in 2021? Red and Gold Report breaks down the most likely scenarios as the 2021 offseason continues.
The San Francisco 49ers have had their fair share of quarterback controversies since the team’s inception in 1946. None more tenuous than the one that was manufactured in the late 1980s by former head coach Bill Walsh. Walsh of course was a master tactician in all facets of football. Whether it was putting his players in the best positions to succeed or utilizing the psychology of the game to get the most out of their abilities.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan is an extension, to a degree, of the Walsh coaching lineage in that his father Mike, occupies an important branch on that tree. I know that he and General Manager John Lynch have great amounts of respect for who Walsh was and the impact that he had on not only the 49ers but on the NFL as a whole. As such it shouldn’t come as a shock that they might attempt to recreate the storied Joe Montana–Steve Young competition with current quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and the rookie they are almost certain to draft third overall next month.
Walsh was able to get the best out of Montana and Young both during that time. Once he decided to stop pitting them against each other, Joe Cool went on to win two more Super Bowl titles. Could the 49ers current head coach generate similar success with Garoppolo fighting off a younger quarterback from taking his job?
That question leads us to look at how the 49ers might approach having the third overall pick in this year’s draft and a quarterback with the sixth-highest cap number at the position in the NFL for 2021?
First things first. There is no reason for the 49ers to trade or cut Garoppolo now. His contract was already worked into the 2021 salary cap and the team was still able to exceed expectations by signing most of their own free agents. That as much as anything else allowed Shanahan and Lynch to pull off the most exciting draft trade in team history. When they weren’t sure if they would be able to keep left tackle Trent Williams or cornerback Jason Verrett the speculation was that the team would stay with the 12th overall pick and address one of those needs.
The best bet here is that the front office will elect to keep Garoppolo for the 2021 season and let whichever rookie they draft learn for one year as the understudy. The 49ers feel like they can win now, with this team, this season. Shanahan is far too calculated to put the prospects of a potential Super Bowl run in the hands of a rookie quarterback no matter how “NFL ready” he might be coming out of college.
That is to say unless said rookie comes into OTA’s and training camp and simply blows the doors off while competing with Garoppolo. If that happens then Shanahan will have an entirely different problem to deal with. If the league knows that the rookie has beaten out Jimmy G as the starter then the team loses any leverage in a potential trade.
Even still, as I noted above, there would be no reason for the team to part with the incumbent signal-caller from a salary cap standpoint. The roles of starter and backup would just be reversed. It’s always better to keep two starting caliber quarterbacks on the roster when at all possible.
Another scenario of course would be the 49ers brain trust deciding that moving on from Garoppolo before the regular season begins is the right option. This is seen as unlikely, especially after what Shanahan said in yesterday’s press conference.
“You look at free agency, (and if) it goes the other way around, you do think differently maybe,” Shanahan said. “But right now, it’s gonna be hard to find a quarterback that gives us a better chance to win than Jimmy right now, especially even a rookie in the draft. So that’s what you look into.”
We never know what is going through a head coach or general manager’s head or if the comments they make are intended solely to throw others off the scent of their intentions. In this case, however, we can speculate that there is little reason for Shanahan to need a smokescreen. The 49ers are sitting pretty with the third pick in the draft. As such they don’t need to worry about who any team is going to take aside from the two teams picking ahead of them.
After hearing what Lynch and Shanahan had to say yesterday, it stands to reason that they feel perfectly comfortable going into training camp this summer and evaluating a competition between Garoppolo and the rookie they draft.
Such an event could even get the most out of Garoppolo in 2021 and force him to give the 49ers his best performance since being traded to them for a second-round pick. Iron sharpens iron as the old adage goes. Jimmy G has never had that since becoming San Francisco’s anointed starter after winning the last five games of 2017.
This will be the first time in his career that he will battle for the starting job on either team he has played for. Perhaps it’s what he needs to ultimately succeed and show he can be the player who for a brief moment was the highest-paid quarterback in the league. That would be ideal.
He could also crumble under the stress of having to fight for a job that he might feel should already be his. The NFL doesn’t work that way, things in life rarely do. Kudos to the 49ers front office for understanding that more than they have shown in the past.
In all reality, they should not be picking as high as they were originally going to in future drafts and with the trade-up, this is the only chance they will have to select a future franchise quarterback. The time is now to see if who they draft will have the chops to unseat Garoppolo.
There really is no reason for them to do anything other than that.