The 49ers surprisingly traded for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo during the 2017 NFL season. Even more surprisingly, Garoppolo performed incredibly well during the final weeks of his first year in San Francisco, leading the team to five wins in five starts.
Although Garoppolo threw five interceptions against only six touchdown passes in those five starts, Garoppolo completed more than 67 percent of his passes, and he averaged 8.8 yards per pass.
It was enough to persuade the 49ers to make Garoppolo the highest-paid player in league history, at least for a couple of weeks. Five years, $137.5 million. An average of $27.5 million per year.
The contract and the performance resulted in heightened expectations for the team and for the player in 2018. Week One at Minnesota went poorly (45.1 passer rating in a 24-16 loss), and Week Two against the Lions went well (118.4 passer rating in a 30-24 win).
Then came Week Three. With the 49ers trailing the Chiefs in the second half, and with Garoppolo and the San Fran offense trying to make something happen, the quarterback ran toward the left sideline and, instead of running out of bounds, he cut back in to deliver a hit.
At first glance, it seemed that Garoppolo had blown out his shoulder. Instead, the ACL in his left leg had ruptured, and Garoppolo’s season was over.
Garoppolo is still recovering from the injury, with limited work during offseason workouts. He recently admitted that time will tell regarding where he currently is.
“I think once the bullets start flying and everything, then we’ll really see,” Garoppolo said.
Yes we will. And there’s a chance the 49ers won’t like what they see. If they don’t, it won’t be difficult for the 49ers to move on.
Despite the huge numbers, the structure of the deal allows the 49ers to decide by April 1, 2020 to move on from Garoppolo, at a cap charge of only $4.2 million. Although they will have paid Garoppolo $60.55 million for two years, the question (if this year doesn’t go well) will be whether to throw good money (to the tune of another $25.2 million) after bad.
Some teams will compound a mistake with more mistakes, for fear of admitting their mistake. Other teams will avoid making their first mistake worse, and they’ll move on when they can.
So what will the 49ers do, if the Garoppolo deal after two years looks like a mistake? With coach Kyle Shanahan and G.M. John Lynch entering the third year of six-year, fully-guaranteed, no-offset contracts, they may feel compelled to roll the dice in a different direction after 2019, as their buyouts continue to shrink.
If Garoppolo begins earning the contract, it won’t matter. If he’s going to earn the deal, it needs to happen in 2019.