The 49ers traded for extremely handsome guy and top-notch backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo on Monday. They gave up at least their original second-round pick in the 2018 draft, and we’ll see about what else. Whether there’s more in the deal or not, that’s a steep price in a league that treats even fifth-round draft picks like expensive drugs.
Because the 49ers are actively terrible this season, that second-rounder will fall somewhere not long after the 32nd overall pick. The Patriots will use it on a maddeningly good player, obviously.
But San Francisco’s investment to get Garoppolo makes clear that first-year general manager John Lynch sees him as his Quarterback of the Future.
Garoppolo is immediately the 49ers’ best quarterback by a lot.
The competition is not daunting:
- Brian Hoyer, who’s getting released, is a 32-year-old journeyman who probably loves his mom but isn’t anything more than a serviceable spot starter. Hoyer does a good job avoiding interceptions and has for most of his career, but he’s not consistently efficient. It wasn’t hard for the 49ers to want Garoppolo over him.
(This is where I point out that a certain former 49ers quarterback who’s currently unemployed is the second-best QB ever at avoiding interceptions. But I digress.)
- C.J. Beathard, a 24-year-old rookie out of Iowa who has some upside (he was a third-round pick!) but is raw and has mostly looked overmatch when he’s spelled Hoyer this season. (He replaced him as the starter a few weeks ago.) He might be something, but nobody’s putting their life savings into C.J. Beathard stock.
The 49ers also have rookie Nick Mullens, from Southern Miss, on their practice squad.
The thing about evaluating Garoppolo is that it requires some conjecture, unless you’ve watched the Patriots in practice regularly since his drafting in the second round in 2014. He threw about one full game’s worth of passes as a rookie, threw almost not at all in 2015, and had less than a quarter of a season’s work last year while Tom Brady was suspended to start the year. The sample size of Garoppolo’s work is small.
But what we saw last year was pretty tantalizing. Garoppolo started two games before getting hurt. He had a 119 efficiency rating, four touchdowns, no interceptions, and 496 yards (8.4 per attempt) in those games. He got sacked just twice.
That’s all super, and it’s reason enough to be optimistic about a former second-round pick who’s about to turn 26. Garoppolo benefited from being in the Patriots’ offense and having Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels (not to mention Brady) bringing him along, but those two starts were better than most backups could put together.
Garoppolo’s career line: 63-of-94 passing (67 percent) for five TDs, no picks, 8.4 yards per throw, and a 106.2 rating. That’s so hot, but so small. Garoppolo is a big-time prospect because he’s young, has a pedigree, and worked under some masters. He hasn’t proven much, but he’s indicated that he’s good.
Garoppolo is landing in what seems like a great place.
Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers’ head coach, is a brilliant offensive mind. His current offense is terrible, but that’s highly likely a personnel thing, not a scheme thing.
The Ringer’s Robert Mays summed up Shanahan’s smarts well last winter, when he was the Falcons’ offensive coordinator en route to the Super Bowl. (Do not ask me what happened in the Super Bowl, because I honestly can’t remember.)
Rather than simply identify what coverage a defense may use in a given down-and-distance situation, Shanahan relies on a knack for spotting the idiosyncratic tics of individual defenders. Like other offenses, Atlanta’s is constructed to exploit the pressure points of an opposing scheme, but Shanahan’s routes are often designed with a particular cornerback or safety in mind. “Any little tendency he can find, that might be a little different, that the defense might not understand that they’re doing, he’s going to try to exploit that to the max,” Hawkins says.
Shanahan had great talent when he ran a historically devastating Falcons offense last year. He proved adept at deploying that talent in the best way possible. He coached Matt Ryan during an MVP season, and Ryan has looked, uh, less MVPish without him.
San Francisco wouldn’t have traded for Garoppolo if Shanahan — who’s worked with Ryan and the good version of Robert Griffin III, before he broke down — didn’t see him as an asset who could be molded into a star.
It won’t happen this year, because the 49ers are awful. Garoppolo won’t walk into a system that’s overflowing with skill position weapons. Assuming he starts shortly, he’ll be behind an offensive line that’s given up 27 sacks through eight games. The only team to give up more is Indianapolis (33), whose line has declared open season on Garoppolo’s former co-backup Jacoby Brissett.
Lynch needs to put a lot more around Garoppolo for this to work out. But the quarterback’s background and his head coach’s track record are an exciting mix.