On the eve of the first day of their 2018 training camp, the San Francisco 49ers find themselves in an exhilarating place. Generally, a rebuild of an NFL squad is more exciting when said franchise possesses one of the game’s best young signal callers. Boy, do the 49ers qualify there with Jimmy Garoppolo at the helm.
Along with Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson, whom both suffered season-ending injuries last year, there isn’t a better 10-to-15 year quarterback plan in place then the one in motion up in the Bay Area.
For proof, just look at how Garoppolo made his way to the 49ers, let alone how well he played finishing out the 2017 season.
Last summer the Patriots were faced with a franchise-altering decision between two quarterbacks.
How can that be? Tom Brady had just won fifth Super Bowl, fourth Super Bowl MVP award and even at age 40 showed no signs of slowing down. If the Patriots had enough money to keep just one of Brady and his lauded backup, wouldn’t it be an easy decision to trade Garoppolo for assets to help Brady win more titles?
Well the decision wasn’t that easy, because it turns out Garoppolo may be the best young quarterback in years.
After just two starts in place of Brady early last season, some scouts and analysts labeled Garoppolo as one of the best QB prospects in the NFL, a blue chipper.
Even after filling in admirably for the greatest quarterback ever, no one could be exactly sure that Garoppolo was a franchise cornerstone.
The hype rolled in from smart, football minds such as Michael Lombardi and others. Lombardi — who now works for The Ringer — was part of a small collective of minds on the Patriots staff that help draft Garoppolo in 2014. He was a friend and colleague of Bill Belichick.
But it was opinions like Lombardi’s, NFL scouts, and anonymous NFL front office personnel that turned the ordeal into a near-frenzy.
When I covered Patriots training camp in late July of 2017, Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer enjoyed a private conversation off to the side with Garoppolo in which I heard Breer tell Garoppolo something to the effect of “everybody is aware of the situation, it’s out there” when discussing rumors of trade discussions between the Patriots and his suitors.
The two smiled. After all, Breer was correct and Garoppolo knew it. Garoppolo wanted to be a starter, as anyone in his situation would and teams knew that there was a chance to snag Garoppolo for the right price. Breer wrote a great piece based off that conversation.
But Breer’s piece highlighted how surprised he was (many others were as well) that Garoppolo was still on New England’s roster during training camp.
Rumors circulated before the Draft in May that the Cleveland Browns were offering a first-round pick and more for Garoppolo. The Draft passed and nothing materialized. The Patriots apparently knew what they had in Garoppolo, a future star in the making.
Time will tell if Garoppolo is third in line behind Steve Young and Aaron Rodgers as the next best apprentice quarterback who was a beneficiary of learning behind a Hall of Fame passer for multiple seasons. But after five starts with the 49ers it appears Garoppolo is as good as advertised. Scratch that, he’s better. Seven games hardly defines a career, but a 7-0 career start (5-0 with San Francisco) primarily with a 1-10 team whose No. 1 wide receiver is Marquise Goodwin is something to behold. That’s uncharted territory for a newbie starting quarterback in this league.
The media is fully aware of what Garoppolo might become, as shown in both Bleacher Report and Sports Illustrated‘s feature stories on the 49ers QB this week. Apparently, Belichick and the 49ers do too. The SI piece revealed an interesting nugget, stating that Belichick reportedly texted Garoppolo after every 49ers win this past winter. This information, along with the rumors of Belichick’s discord over trading the young QB, further validates Belichick’s affinity for Garoppolo. That may tie into Belichick’s decision to reportedly spurn the Browns in favor of trading Garoppolo to the 49ers, a franchise in which the young quarterback would be better positioned to succeed.
The 49ers know what they have in Garoppolo, which is why GM John Lynch signed him to five-year, $137 million deal this past February, the richest contract in NFL history at the time. The faith in “Jimmy G” didn’t stop there, as the 49ers bolstered their offense by signing versatile running back Jerick McKinnon in free agency and drafting Notre Dame tackle Mike McGlinchey with the 9th overall pick in the draft. The team also signed the previously-mentioned Marquise Goodwin, Garoppolo’s favorite target last season, to a three-year extension.
Today, Garoppolo addressed the media in lead-up to to his first training camp as a starting quarterback. “Life is different now,” Garoppolo said. “My life off the field, I’ve never really been very big on being very public with things. I’m under a microscope.”
He’s right. Garoppolo is no longer in New England under the shadow of his once-mentor. He has his own franchise to lead, and with what he’s done so far, there’s a reason everyone will be watching him this season, right through those “microscopic” lenses.