Jimmy Garoppolo has the starting quarterback job with the San Francisco 49ers all to himself again after Trey Lance’s unfortunate injury. It’s a cruel twist of irony since Lance was given the job during an offseason where Garoppolo was widely expected to be traded.
In fact, the idea of trading Jimmy G became so advanced the Niners actually “believed” he was headed to the NFC East. A struggling, quarterback-needy team in the division “was poised” to strike a deal, according to a report from ESPN.
Garoppolo’s injured shoulder and subsequent surgery to fix the problem scuppered that proposed trade and eventually led to the signal-caller staying in San Francisco on a restructured one-year deal.
Garoppolo Appeared NFC East-Bound
As part of an in-depth report on how the 49ers ultimately opted to keep Garoppolo, ESPN’s Tim Keown and Nick Wagoner detailed which NFC East team came closest to trading for the QB: “According to multiple league sources, the Niners believed one of those teams — the Washington Commanders — was poised to become Garoppolo’s next NFL home. But that plan was scuttled soon after; Garoppolo’s shoulder wasn’t healing as he and his medical team hoped.”
Keown and Wagoner noted how Garoppolo was advised he needed a surgery, a fact that prompted the Washington Commanders to instead focus on Carson Wentz. The Commanders did a deal with the Indianapolis Colts involving the two teams swapping second-round picks in the 2022 NFL draft, while the Colts also earned a third-rounder this year, along with a conditional third-round selection for 2023.
While the Commanders had their QB1, the Niners found themselves facing a trade market for Garoppolo that did “more than cool. It froze,” according to Keown and Wagoner.
At the time, it looked as though the 49ers had backed themselves into a corner where they were suddenly lumbered with a quarterback they couldn’t shift. Lance was the chosen starter and a clean slate seemed the best thing for his development.
That’s why the decision to retain Garoppolo looked like such a surprising about-turn from general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan:
Lynch and Shanahan were probably just making the best of a bad situation, but their actions looked like genius-level foresight after Lance broke his ankle against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 2.
The injury could have derailed San Francisco’s season had a proven commodity like Garoppolo not been ready to pick up where he left off as the previous starter. It was an ideal reprieve for Garoppolo, who wouldn’t have been the best fit for the Commanders.
Garoppolo Would’ve Struggled in Washington
Staying with the 49ers for one year in a system he knows, even as backup, was always a good career move for Garoppolo. Joining the Commanders may have exposed some of the limitations in his game.
Washington’s offense is more geared toward a wide-open passing attack, something Garoppolo has rarely looked comfortable directing. He would have needed to air it out early and often for the Commanders, who boast a deep and dynamic stable of pass-catchers headlined by wide receiver trio Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel and Jahan Dotson.
All three have caught touchdown passes from Wentz already this season, helping the oft-maligned QB set a statistical first, per NFL Research:
Keeping three such talented wideouts involved is a tall order for any quarterback, but the Commanders also have other weapons who need the ball. They include versatile tight end Logan Thomas and running backs J.D. McKissic and Antonio Gibson, both converted wide receivers.
The Commanders are set up to be a pass-first offense, a risky strategy perfectly suited to Wentz’s boom-or-bust style of play. For every deep ball he launches to McLaurin, Wentz is just as likely to commit a turnover that confounds common sense.
It’s what some, including the Ross Tucker Football Podcast, refer to as “The Carson Wentz experience.”
Garoppolo is used to a more efficient way of travelling in the 49ers’ run-based offense. He’s perfect for the efficiency of head coach Kyle Shanahan’s scheme, as a sort of deluxe game-manager who sticks within the parameters of the playbook.
Those limits are simply defined for Garoppolo. Hand the ball off to a cadre of running backs, pick his shots through the air off of play action and get the ball to Deebo Samuel any and every way possible.
It’s a simple formula but one that has served the 49ers and Garoppolo well. His return to the starting lineup will keep a loaded roster in contention, something that had been in doubt given Lance’s need to develop and adapt a particular set of skills within the Shanahan framework.