Nearly three years to the day after the 49ers traded for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, Garoppolo may have taken his last snap in San Francisco.
With the disclosure from coach Kyle Shanahan on Tuesday that Garoppolo may need season-ending surgery to repair a new and different high ankle sprain to the same ankle on which he previously suffered a high ankle sprain, the next question becomes whether Garoppolo will return to the 49ers in 2021.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Shanahan sounded like a guy who still believes in Garoppolo.
“I’ve got a good idea with Jimmy and what Jimmy is capable of doing, and that’s why he’s been here,” Shanahan said. “People get better when they play more and that’s what I feel for Jimmy on. One, Jimmy gives us the best chance to win. He’s proven that, and it’s hard that he’s not going to be here for, to me, probably about at least six weeks, because it’s harder to win without him. Regardless of that, I want Jimmy playing as much as possible because I know when he does, he’ll only get better from the experiences of it. I think that’d be the most frustrating thing about it after having the best chance to win.”
Garoppolo has had mixed performances, and perhaps more importantly he has missed too much time due to injury. In 2018, a Week Three ACL tear ended his season prematurely. This year, he has missed two full games and could now miss the final eight.
In six games this season, Garoppolo has seven touchdown passes and five interceptions.
Then there’s the reality that, after he three interceptable passes in the divisional round against Minnesota, Shanahan turned Garoppolo into Bob Griese, calling run after run after run and limited Garoppolo to eight pas attempts in the NFC Championship win over Green Bay.
Garoppolo has two years left on his five-year, $27.5 million per year contract, with salaries of $24.1 million in 2021 and $24.2 million in 2022. The 49ers considered signing Tom Brady in March, and their transparency could be regarded as a warning to Garoppolo.
At a minimum, the 49ers should consider all options for 2021, given that they can sever ties with Garoppolo at a cap charge of only $2.8 million. He could be traded to a team like the Patriots, or he could be cut.
The question then becomes whether the 49ers would replace him with a draft pick or a veteran from another team. Some have suggested that Shanahan may want to reunite with Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, whom Shanahan coached to an MVP award in 2016. Others have suggested that Shanahan may want to reunite with Kirk Cousins, the quarterback Shanahan presumably wanted to land before the team traded for Garoppolo.
Regardless, between injuries and periodic ineffectiveness, it could be time for the 49ers to move on from Garoppolo. They gain nothing by disclosing their intentions now. And his last chance to change minds within the organization will hinge on whether he can play again this season.