How Jimmy Garoppolo Earned His Keep with the 49ers

It looked so promising for Jimmy Garoppolo in San Francisco. Then the Rams decided to load up and build the most terrifying defense in the NFL.

Los Angeles continued its defensive overhaul Monday, inking Ndamukong Suh to an one-year contract worth $14 million. There are lots of stains on Suh’s record, leading with his deserved reputation as a dirty player. He’s lost more than $400,000 in fines or suspensions in his career. The Dolphins reportedly cut Suh, because they wanted to reset their locker room.

But Suh’s blemishes don’t dilute his talent. While his sack total declined in Miami –– 15.5 over three seasons compared to 36 over five seasons in Detroit –– he still ranked seventh among defensive tackles in sacks while he was with the Dolphins. Suh also played 83 percent of Miami’s defensive snaps last season.
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Paired with Aaron Donald, Suh likely won’t be double-teamed at the line, either. The Rams might now have the most ferocious front-four in football –– making life miserable for opposing quarterbacks.

On top of that, the Rams acquired Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib to fill out their secondary as well. Talib, who’s qualified for the Pro Bowl in each of the last five seasons, is reunited with old defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. The veteran corner recorded six interceptions, three touchdowns, 14 pass breakups and one Super Bowl win playing under Phillips from 2015-16.

Peters, meanwhile, is maybe the most impactful corner in the NFL. No player has more interceptions (19) or passes defended (55) since he entered the league in 2015, per NFL research.

The 49ers will be a popular playoff pick this season, because Garoppolo led them to five straight wins to close out 2017 –– including a victory over the Jaguars. San Francisco has made a big addition to its defense, too, signing Richard Sherman.

But offensively, the 49ers’ top receiving options leave something to be desired. It’s hard to see Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin breaking free from the Rams’ secondary, unless Garoppolo truly is the game’s next great quarterback.

San Francisco awarded Garoppolo the richest-deal in NFL history this offseason. It looks like Jimmy G will have to earn every penny.

Christmas morning. That’s the parallel John Lynch drew to the San Francisco 49ers acquisition of Jimmy Garoppolo.

“We had a tremendous opportunity fall into our laps,” Lynch told reporters Monday morning at the NFL’s annual meetings. “We were giving each other high fives and chest bumps.”

The potential was unmistakable. Garoppolo was long considered the most coveted backup quarterback in the NFL. The four-year tutelage of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick only added to the allure of Jimmy G.

San Francisco, who did plenty of homework on Garoppolo last offseason, had previous trade attempts rebuffed by the New England Patriots. And yet all of a sudden, on a deal that highlighted a whirlwind trade deadline, the 49ers had themselves a potential franchise QB in exchange for their 2018 second-round pick.

But that’s the thing about potential: There’s no guarantee that the best-case scenario comes to fruition. All the 49ers knew for sure was that they would have two months to evaluate the free-agent-to-be. After that, Garoppolo could have chosen to test the waters of the open market. There was also the possibility, although it seems silly to mention at this point, that Garoppolo could have underwhelmed in the eyes of Lynch and Kyle Shanahan.

“It’s impressive to watch the guy throw the football,” Lynch reminisced about Garoppolo’s first practice in San Francisco. “There are very few people in this world who can (throw it) like him. But there was a lot more to the equation.”

And that meant that the 49ers had to keep all of their options open. As it has come out over the last week, Kirk Cousins was still very much on San Francisco’s radar. So were several other quarterbacks in case it didn’t work out with Garoppolo.

The interest in Cousins is fairly self-explanatory. It’s well documented that Shanahan and Cousins became a perfect pair with the Washington Redskins. A reunion with the 49ers made too much sense.

“There was history there,” Lynch said. “When there’s history, yeah, he was in the conversation, but there were a lot of other people in the conversation as well.”

You know the story from there. The 5-0 record to close 2017. The back-to-back wins against the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars, two teams that combined for three postseason wins in January. The Garoppolo hysteria that swept over the nation. The magical switch that flipped, turning San Francisco from a team beginning a multi-year rebuild into a potential playoff contender in 2018.

By season’s end, the 49ers knew they had their guy. By the beginning of February, they’d locked up Garoppolo to a five-year contract extension.

“He earned the contract that we gave him, and we were happy to do it,” Lynch said.

Lynch recalled Garoppolo’s first start with the 49ers, a 15-14 road victory against the Chicago Bears. The 49ers trailed in the final minutes of the game before Garoppolo led the go-ahead drive. A 33-yard connection to Trent Taylor on 3rd-and-9 is the throw still engrained in Lynch’s mind. Taylor ran a quick in cut and Garoppolo hit him in stride to set up Robbie Gould’s game-winning field goal.

“Some of those throws are throws that very few people in the world can make,” Lynch told 49ers.com. “He was making them in crunch time.”

In addition to having a franchise quarterback signed to a long-term deal, the 49ers also gained their most valuable marketing tool when recruiting free agents. Richard Sherman, Weston Richburg and Jerick McKinnon all noted Garoppolo as a significant factor in deciding to sign with San Francisco.

If Lynch and Shanahan were being honest, they’d probably tell you that the last five months have gone better than they could have hoped for. Were there contingency plans in place? Sure. Are either of them arguing with how things have played out? Absolutely not.

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