Times sure have changed.
Just over five years ago, the San Francisco 49ers made quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo the highest paid player in NFL history (on an average-per-year basis) when they signed him to a five-year, $137.5 million contract.
And now, the relationship between the 49ers and Garoppolo has reached its expiration date. The 31-year-old quarterback agreed to a three-year contract with the Las Vegas Raiders during the legal tampering period of NFL Free Agency on March 13.
With the emergence of rookie quarterback Brock Purdy this past season, who took over when Garoppolo got injured in Week 13, and the draft capital the team invested in quarterback Trey Lance, the writing was on the wall for the end of Garoppolo’s time in San Francisco.
And what a time it was.
“I just want to thank the 49ers for everything that they’ve done,” the first words out of Garoppolo’s mouth at his introductory press conference with the Raiders. “My time there was awesome… Lot of ups and downs.”
Let’s take a look at those ‘ups and downs’ as we put a bow on the Jimmy G era in San Francisco; The good, the bad, and what’s next for the new starting quarterback in Las Vegas.
The Good: Regular Season success
When Head Coach Kyle Shanahan and General Manager John Lynch made the bold move to trade a second-round pick to the New England Patriots for Garoppolo back in 2017, the 49ers had the worst record in the league (0-8). Shanahan was viewed as a talented offensive mind but with much to prove as a first-time head coach, and Lynch was a former player who had no front office experience whatsoever.
Now, the team is widely viewed as one of the best in football, and Shanahan and Lynch are one of the more well-respected head coach/general manager combos in the NFL.
Garoppolo got his first chance to start for San Francisco back in 2017, while the team was limping to the finish line with a 1-10 record. But the Eastern Illinois product came in and immediately showed the confidence, accuracy, and poise that made him highly coveted in New England, which rubbed off on the rest of the roster. The 49ers won every game the rest of the way as Garoppolo went 5-0 as a starter, averaging 308.4 passing yards a game with a 67% completion percentage while leading two game-winning drives for a team that had won only once in their first 11 contests. His QBR (a scale that rates quarterback play on a scale of 0-100 where 50 is considered average) was 83.0.
Heading into the off-season, the decision to pay Garoppolo was a no-brainer for Shanahan and Lynch. While still a small sample size, Garoppolo had the look, charisma, and pedigree of a franchise quarterback.
The very next season, all eyes were on the highest-paid quarterback in football. But a torn ACL in Garoppolo’s left knee ended his 2018 season in Week 3, forcing the 49ers to wait another year to see if he was the franchise savior they paid him to be.
When Garoppolo returned in 2019, the 49ers again caught fire. Starting the season 8-0, San Francisco went on to finish 13-3 and claimed the number-one seed in the NFC.
In Week 14 against the New Orleans Saints, Garoppolo played perhaps the best game of his career in their 48-46 victory. He threw for 349 yards, four touchdowns and outdueled Saints legendary quarterback Drew Brees in a game that helped the 49ers maintain the best record in their conference.
Garoppolo put up excellent numbers overall in 2019, finishing top-five in passing touchdowns (27), yards per pass attempt (8.4), and completion percentage (69.1%) among all quarterbacks (only QB to finish top-five in all three categories). He finished 2nd in AP Comeback Player of the Year voting, a year after tearing his ACL.
With injuries again forcing Garoppolo in-and-out of the starting spot during the 2020 season, the 49ers traded up to draft his eventual replacement in quarterback Trey Lance out of North Dakota State. But since Lance was raw and in need of refinement as a passer, Garoppolo was still the de facto starting quarterback going into 2021.
The 2021 season was a rollercoaster ride for the 49ers, to say the least. After winning their first two games, the 49ers lost five of their next six games to fall to 3-5 on the year. Struggles and inconsistent play from Garoppolo led many fans to wonder if the year was lost and whether Shanahan should bench the veteran and start their rookie quarterback Lance, who they had mortgaged their future to get.
But Shanahan stuck with Garoppolo, and the move paid off.
Over his next eight starts, Garoppolo threw 12 touchdowns, averaged 257 passing yards a game while completing 71% of his passes en route to a 6-2 finish that snuck San Francisco into the playoffs at 10-7. This was the second time in as many seasons that the 49ers made the playoffs when Garoppolo started at least 15 games.
Once the year ended, Garoppolo still had one year remaining on his contract, but it was widely believed that his days in San Francisco were over. After their playoff run, Garoppolo’s final words to the press seemed to confirm the rumors. “(49ers) Faithful, thank you very much for everything. It’s been crazy man… It’s been a hell of a ride. I love you guys. So, see ya.”
Lance was going into his second year in the league, and Shanahan and Lynch seemed content to give the young quarterback the keys to the franchise. Reports suggested that Garoppolo and his agent were allowed to seek trades, while the 49ers front office maintained that they would be willing to either deal or keep him, as long as the price tag was right.
When no trades came to fruition, the 49ers restructured Garoppolo’s contract and brought him back as Lance’s backup. It seemed to be a win-win for both sides. If Lance came out and struggled or got hurt, they would have a proven option to fall back on in Garoppolo.
Unfortunately for Lance, his 2022 season ended right as it began. In Week 2 against the Seattle Seahawks, Lance ran up the middle of the line on a designed quarterback run. After getting tackled, he rolled around on the ground, grimacing in pain. He had to be carted off the field, and the 49ers learned after the game that Lance’s season was over.
Meanwhile, a familiar face was warming up on the sidelines, and jogged onto the field just as he had many times before.
Garoppolo was red-hot from the get-go, and helped guide the 49ers to a much needed 27-7 victory over Seattle.
Lance’s season-ending injury was devastating, but over the next 10 games, Garoppolo guided San Francisco to a 7-3 record and played some of the best football of his career. His passer rating of 103.0 was the third-highest in the NFL, and his completion percentage of 67.2% was tied for fifth-highest.
After suffering a high-ankle sprain in Week 13 against the Miami Dolphins, his season, and effectively his career as a 49er, was over.
All in all, Garoppolo went 39-18 in 57 games for San Francisco in the regular season, and over his five-year contract the team claimed two NFC West Division titles, made three NFC Championships, and won the NFC once.
The Bad: Injuries and Playoff shortcomings
One of the oldest sayings in sports is that the best ability is availability. It doesn’t matter how talented you are if you cannot be counted on to be healthy and available, especially in a sport as physically taxing as football.
Garoppolo proved to be more than capable of having success as a starting quarterback when healthy, but his inability to avoid the injury-bug has been well-documented.
During his time in San Francisco, Garoppolo suffered the following injuries: Torn left ACL (2018, missed 13 games), high ankle sprain (2020, missed 11 games), calf strain (2021, missed one game), UCL tear in right thumb (2021, missed one game), shoulder sprain (2021, required surgery after season), and a broken foot (2022, missed eight games including playoffs).
In 2018, his season-ending injury effectively ended the 49ers season. The same can be said for the 2020 season. Entering the 2022 regular season, the 49ers were 8-28 in games without Garoppolo during Shanahan’s tenure. Expecting any team to rally and compete when the starting quarterback is out or consistently missing games is unrealistic, and unfortunately for Garoppolo and the 49ers, that was the case far too often.
Garoppolo’s supporters often point to the stellar win-loss record that he had as a starter during the regular season. But for the San Francisco 49ers, one of the winningest teams in NFL history, successful regular seasons aren’t enough for a franchise that has gone almost 30 years since its last Super Bowl victory. And while the team has enjoyed a number of long playoff runs with Garoppolo under center, his own numbers and performance in those spots left a lot to be desired.
In 2019, the 49ers blew out the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers on the strength of a dominant run game and ferocious defense, but less than stellar play from their quarterback. Through two playoff games, Garoppolo had thrown the ball a total of 27 times, while a committee of running backs led by Raheem Mostert combined for 89 rushing attempts.
On the biggest of stages in Super Bowl LIV, Shanahan had a more balanced approach offensively against the AFC Champion Kansas City Chiefs. The 49ers went into the fourth quarter up 20-10, and while Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was struggling, Garoppolo was playing like a Super Bowl MVP, completing 17 of his 20 passes for 183 yards and one touchdown with zero interceptions.
Unfortunately, 49ers fans know how this ended.
Mahomes flipped a switch and dominated San Francisco’s defense in the fourth quarter to the tune of 21 unanswered points. Meanwhile, Garoppolo had one of the worst fourth quarters in recent Super Bowl history, completing only three of his 11 passes for 36 yards and an interception in the loss.
With under two minutes left in the game and down only four points, Garoppolo had his chance to take the lead back and become a hero when wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders got behind two Chiefs defenders and was open down the field. But Garoppolo overthrew him, badly. His quarterback rating of 2.8 in the fourth quarter is the worst in Super Bowl history since 1999, and the Chiefs went on to defeat the 49ers to win their first Super Bowl in 50 years.
In 2021, after rallying the 49ers to yet another postseason appearance, Garoppolo and the 49ers didn’t have the benefit of being the number-one seed and getting a first-round bye. If San Francisco was going to reach the promised land again, they would have to win three-straight road games.
The 49ers were up to the task, however, winning close games as road underdogs against the Dallas Cowboys and the number-one seed Green Bay Packers. Garoppolo again wasn’t impressive statistically, but did just enough in both games to get San Francisco to their second NFC Championship appearance of the past three seasons.
Pitted against a familiar foe in the Los Angeles Rams, the 49ers found themselves up 17-7 entering the fourth quarter. But similar to their performance in Super Bowl LIV, San Francisco again collapsed offensively late while the defense made uncharacteristic mistakes.
Down three points with just over a minute left in the game, Garoppolo’s desperation shovel pass to running back JaMycal Hasty went through Hasty’s hands and was intercepted by the Rams. Los Angeles advanced to the Super Bowl, and the 49ers season ended in heartbreak once again.
In his playoff career, Garoppolo’s completion percentage (60.6%), yards per game (160.3) and passer rating (74.1) are all well-below his career regular season averages.
It’s certainly unfair to pin San Francisco’s playoff shortcomings solely on the shoulders of Garoppolo. Shanahan’s play calling in late-game situations has been questioned more than once, and if the 49ers’ vaunted defense had held their own in a few key spots, we may be having an entirely different discussion. But when looking back at his 49ers career, Garoppolo’s moments of success unfortunately go hand-in-hand with his inability to rise to the occasion in the biggest of moments.
Jimmy G in the Silver and Black
On March 13, Garoppolo agreed to terms on a three-year contract to play for the Las Vegas Raiders. The contract is worth up to $72.5 million dollars with $33.75 guaranteed at signing, per The Athletic (Reed, Tafur and Howe, 2023).
Garoppolo is reuniting with Raiders’ Head Coach Josh McDaniels, who was the offensive coordinator in New England during Garoppolo’s Patriots career.
After saying that he doesn’t expect to be handed anything and hopes to earn the starting job, Garoppolo made his expectations clear when asked if he has anything left to prove, “I’m trying to win a Super Bowl. I know every player says that when they come up to their first press conference but that’s my goal” (Tafur & The Athletic Staff, 2023).
Many are skeptical that the longtime 49er will be able to take Las Vegas to the next level. The Raiders play in the AFC West, one of the hardest divisions in football, and are coming off a disappointing 6-11 campaign.
However, it is worth noting that Garoppolo is coming off one of the best seasons of his career. He threw 16 touchdowns to only four interceptions, and was the only quarterback in the NFL to finish top 10 in both passing touchdown percentage (5.2%) and interception percentage (1.3%). In addition, his contract is only the 16th highest in terms of annual money at just over $24 million a year (per Spotrac), giving the Raiders more financial flexibility and cap space to utilize on the rest of their roster.
Some will argue that he only performed as well as he did this past season due to Shanahan’s elite play calling and the litany of talent around him on the offensive side of the ball in San Francisco. But McDaniels has long been considered one of the brightest offensive minds in football, while Garoppolo will have plenty of talent around him in Las Vegas with All-Pros Davante Adams at wide receiver and Josh Jacobs at running back.
And if the Raiders decide to move up in the upcoming NFL Draft to acquire a young quarterback, Lance’s comments last year showed how helpful Garoppolo was as a mentor and veteran presence in the quarterback room, “Yeah, I’ve said a million times, Jimmy is one of the best teammates and leaders I’ve ever been around. So for me to have him, I know he’s got my back on the sideline.”
There certainly were plenty of ‘ups and downs’ during the Jimmy G era in San Francisco. But through it all, Garoppolo was always a true professional and beloved leader in the locker room.
Times have changed, and after five memorable years, the 49ers will look to move on with either Lance or Purdy getting the starting nod next season.