If you lead a team to the Super Bowl in your first full season as a starter, your job normally is safe heading into the next season. Jimmy Garoppolo wouldn’t know anything about that, though, based on the number of rumors that have circulated over the last week.
The Garoppolo-Tom Brady swap chatter has reached a fever pitch. It makes sense for any team to consider Brady, even at his age. But Garoppolo’s job as the 49ers’ starting quarterback might not be safe even if Brady doesn’t come home to the Bay.
In his latest MMQB column, Albert Breer reported some in NFL circles believe Garoppolo needs to have a big 2020 season or else head coach Kyle Shanahan could move on to a quarterback who will be a free agent next offseason: Kirk Cousins.
But I do know there’s been perception in league circles that Jimmy Garoppolo is on the clock, because Kirk Cousins is a free agent in 2021.
The same Kirk Cousins who Garoppolo and the 49ers hammered in the NFC Divisional Round Game? Yeah, that’s the one.
Cousins and Shanahan have been linked together ever since the 49ers hired the offensive wunderkind after the 2017 season. Shanahan coached Cousins in Washington and it was assumed Cousins was going to be the 49ers’ starting quarterback once he hit the open market after the 2018 season.
The 49ers trade for Garoppolo altered the equation, and Cousins signed a massive three-year contract with the Minnesota Vikings that ends after the 2020 season. With Cousins entering his final year of the deal, it’s not surprising to see the Michigan State product and Shanahan linked together again.
Shanahan and general manager John Lynch have built a win-now roster that is loaded with talent. Championship windows rarely are open for long, so it makes sense the 49ers might be feeling out their options if Garoppolo doesn’t take a leap in 2020.
It has been reported that Shanahan has questions about Garoppolo’s overall ceiling and his decision-making, and if that remains the case after another full season at the helm, Garoppolo might be on his way out.
Garoppolo was the picture of consistency in 2019. After opening the season with a ton of rust coming off the ACL injury, he got his feet under him and turned into an efficient leader at the helm of Shanahan’s offense. He led game-winning drives against the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams.
Garoppolo’s tendency to throw terrible interceptions was on display in the playoffs. He tossed a ghastly pick against the Vikings before halftime and Shanahan all but took the keys to the offense from him for the next game-and-a-half.
Under the bright lights of Super Bowl LIV, Garoppolo threw an atrocious first-half interception but bounced back and carved up the Kansas City Chiefs in the second and third quarters. But when the title was on the line, Garoppolo overthrew a wide-open Emmanuel Sanders on the possible game-winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
That’s the last impression of Garoppolo that’s on everyone’s mind. While he whiffed on his hero moment, he’s certainly not the reason the 49ers lost and his teammates will tell you he’s one of the main reasons they made it to Miami in the first place.
Would the 49ers have got there with Cousins? It seems doubtful. He’s certainly not the type of quarterback who is going to outduel Patrick Mahomes in the Super Bowl and he’s not a guy whose talent suggests he should replace Garoppolo.
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Any reservations about Garoppolo are warranted. But he’s young as far as starting quarterbacks go. In 27 starts, Garoppolo is 21-6 with losses against Mahomes (twice), Lamar Jackson, Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan and … Cousins. One of the losses against Mahomes came in 2018 when Garoppolo tore his ACL so even that one has an asterisk.
The point is that Garoppolo’s floor in San Francisco is as an effective quarterback in Shanahan’s system who can pilot the offense and move the chains on third down. He showed tremendous upside in 2019, going from game manager to dynamic star on a number of occasions. The decision-making has to improve and he has to show he can be the guy who picked apart the Saints and Rams all the time.
Garoppolo has his warts, but he’s already a better quarterback than Cousins. That case is closed.
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NFL rumors: 49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo ‘on clock’ due to Kirk Cousins’ contract originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area