Jimmy Garoppolo is a young, talented quarterback who looks to have the greatest upside among quarterbacks without a start this season. But that isn’t the real reason why the 49ers made a deal to bring him into Santa Clara.
Instead, they gave up a very valuable second-round pick to utilize something that no other QB on the market, or potential draft pick, could offer — experience behind perhaps the greatest coach-quarterback tandem the NFL has ever seen in Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
San Francisco general manager John Lynch addressed this in Garoppolo’s inaugural press conference Tuesday:
“You have to love the pedigree of where he came from, the organization. … He’s had the opportunity to sit back and learn from one of the greatest — if not the greatest. I know that’s not a popular sentiment in this area where there’s another guy who’s in that conversation.”
“He had an opportunity to sit behind Tom, to learn from Bill, to learn from other people and we think that’s important.”
Obviously, 14 division championships, seven conference titles and five Super Bowl rings for New England speak for themselves but in Garoppolo’s case, watching from the sidelines for two of those championship runs has set him apart from the rest of the field.
While only starting two games for the Patriots over his three-year career, Garoppolo has turned heads with stellar performances in both.
Stepping into the starting role for two games in 2016 while Brady served a four-game suspension for the “Deflategate” debacle, Garoppolo threw for 502 yards, completing 68.3 percent of his passes while boasting a 4-to-0 touchdown to turnover ratio and a 113.3 passer rating.
The numbers are there for Garoppolo in limited chances, but what about the times when he was holding a clipboard on the sidelines?
According to Garoppolo, Brady, Belichick and the rest of the Patriots have been grooming him to be a starter since the minute he arrived in Foxborough:
“Those guys, they taught me a ton going all they way back to my rookie year. I think some of the important things is just how to prepare, how to practice and how to prepare to practice. I mean those things, it’s a little thing but those are kind of what set the tone for the team. All of those things going forward are going to help me.”
But after three years of learning in the shadow of Brady — and collecting Super Bowl rings — Garoppolo said that the time had come to start anew and actually get time on the field:
“I was eager to play. That’s probably the best way to describe it. That’s why we play the game, to get out there on Sundays and compete, so that’s what I came here to do and we’ll take it from there.”
As Garoppolo tries to situate himself in a new town with new coaches and teammates, the Arlington Heights, Illinois native will also be tasked with learning a new offensive scheme composed of what he calls a “foreign language.”
But according to head coach Kyle Shanahan, Garoppolo has all of the tools to fit well in his system:
“It starts with ability. Jimmy has the ability to make plays with his legs, he’s a very good thrower and, most importantly to me, he hangs in that pocket and keeps his eyes down field and is up for any challenge.”
While all of the physical and personal attributes may be in order, the fact of the matter is that Garoppolo will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2017 season when his rookie contract expires.
This means, to keep Garoppolo around, the 49ers will either have to franchise tag him at season’s end or ink him to a long-term deal before the season ends. Either way, Lynch will be dealing out a large sum of money if they choose to feature Garoppolo as their centerpiece in the complete rebuild of the franchise.
Shanahan touched on this and spoke about his hope for Garoppolo regarding his future with the franchise:
“I think we brought him here because we want him to be the quarterback of the future. That’s up to Jimmy and how it works out here. We’re going to work out best to get him ready.”
Quite frankly, Garoppolo has a great hand to play at this point. With the knowledge and work habits he learned during his time spent in New England behind Brady and Belichick, Garoppolo has a leg up on just about every other quarterback prospect in the league.
The question now is how will he do once he’s left that successful nest.