Attempting to settle the jimmy g debate

Ever since head coach Kyle Shanahan joined the 49ers in 2017, he has shown his ability to be one of the best offensive play callers the league has ever seen. His offense features a bevvy of inside and outside zone runs, incredible plays off play action, and the ability to consistently scheme his receivers open play after play. He’s been doing this all the while with a revolving door at the QB position throughout his tenure.

Shanahan has had the unfortunate luck of dealing with inconsistent QB play, albeit the one outlier is QB Jimmy Garoppolo’s solid 2019 season, where he threw for 3,978 yards, along with 27 TDs and 13 INTs. Outside of that season, he’s had to work with a number of QBs that can be viewed as back ups: Brian Hoyer, CJ Beathard, and Nick Mullens. Even in Garoppolo’s one other “healthy” season where he played 6 games, he struggled to get things going due to a mix of a nagging high-ankle sprain, and just poor play. In his 6 games, he threw for 7 TDs and 5 INTs, to go with 1,096 passing yards.

Out of all the QBs Shanahan has worked with as the head coach, there is no doubt in my mind that Garoppolo has been the best, and most talented of the bunch. In his one healthy season, Garoppolo flashed all of the traits you want to see out of a franchise QB: poise, confidence, and the ability to sling the ball with velocity and touch. So, with this knowledge, why do people want to move on from Garoppolo?

To begin, let’s observe his health. During his time as a 49ers, he’s missed time due to a torn ACL, and a severe high-ankle sprain. Overall, he’s started 25 of a possible 48 games in his three *full* seasons as the starter. His inability to stay healthy is one of the main concerns as to keeping him on as the starting QB. Further back in his career, Garoppolo also suffered a sprained AC joint which sidelined him for a few weeks. It’s tricky to say that Garoppolo is “injury prone” as his injuries are genuinely serious and need a good amount of time to recover, which of course, naturally makes him miss a chunk of time, but I think one can safely say that Garoppolo is a high-risk candidate to suffer an injury.

When I think of injury prone, I think of a guy who plays a couple games, misses a couple, plays a couple, etc. This isn’t Jimmy. For the most part, Jimmy is either out there playing, or missing time consecutively because of injuries. In any event, Garoppolo’s health poses a major risk. The inability to stay on the field is one of his biggest negatives as a player. After all, the best ability, is availability.

Another point that hurts Garoppolo’s case is his inconsistency as a QB. One thing that many have highlighted is his inconsistency at diagnosing coverages, reading LBs, and throwing ugly INTs and taking horrendous sacks.

I don’t mean to cherry pick two plays, but I want to bring awareness to what Garoppolo can be susceptible to: ugly, turnover-worthy plays. Garoppolo has average arm strength, questionable lower body mechanics that can effect his ability to throw, and he lacks the mobility needed to consistently break the pocket when needed to extend the play. All of these traits don’t exactly sound like the makings of a franchise QB.

And that leads to my main point: Garoppolo’s poor traits are shadowed by his one season of success in 2019. I feel that many of his supporters clamor to what he played like when healthy: Poised, confident, and the ability to operate Shanahan’s complex system, albeit at a limited capacity due to his inability to throw the ball downfield.

Garoppolo’s ability is where the divide comes to fruition. Garoppolo is not a top-10 QB. At his peak level of play, he can play at a top-10 level, but, him specifically as a QB does not match up to the likes of QBs such as Stafford, Rodgers, Watson, Brady, etc. What separates Garoppolo from the rest however, is how he runs Shanahan’s system.

Primarily based on short-intermediate and timing-based throws, Garoppolo thrives. Garoppolo’s superb release on the ball, and his ability to force the ball into tight windows effectively, is what Shanahan covets. Shanahan doesn’t need Garoppolo to do much, as his ability to scheme open throws makes Jimmy’s job easy. We also hear how Garoppolo is a rhythm-based QB. I agree with this sentiment. As the offense is based on timing, so is consistency. When things are clicking for Jimmy, him operating the offense is surgical. We saw that all throughout his 2019 Super Bowl run.

Garoppolo highlighted 2019 with spectacular throws, game winning drives, and best of all: He showcased his ability to rally the team around him with his on-field flare and charisma. His 2019 season is what keeps fans hoping. Him healthy can run the offense efficiently enough to bring the team into the playoffs and beyond.

Now, why move on from that? If healthy, Garoppolo is a solid QB who needs everything around him to be working at full capacity. When this is happening, Jimmy is arguably unstoppable. George Kittle, John Lynch, and Kyle Shanahan have all expressed their confidence that he’ll be the guy going into next season. Some among the fan base believe he’ll be back, and I’m somewhat leaning that way as well.

What I will say is this: The 49ers need a TRUE upgrade at QB. Garoppolo is just good enough to be the starter for this team, but because of his health problems and lack of inconsistent play (2020) film, the team could do better.

We have seen rumors flying about Texans star QB Deshaun Watson demanding a trade from the problematic franchise. Watson is a genuine upgrade over Garoppolo, and that’s arguably it.

Other rumors swirling around the 49ers include them drafting a QB this year, to either groom behind Garoppolo or start immediately. Those men include BYU QB Zach Wilson, NDSU QB Trey Lance, and OSU QB Justin Fields. To get one of the three, the 49ers will likely have to trade up in the draft to acquire one of them, an expensive move to go from pick 12 into the top-7. Are these guys true upgrades over Garoppolo?

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None of us can dive into the minds of GM John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan, as all we can do is observe quotes and speculate. But, if anything is clear, the front office has a franchise-altering decision to make at the QB spot: Keep Garoppolo, or make a bold move to acquire a new face of the franchise.

Keeping Garoppolo means the team runs the risk of him staying healthy, as well as holding onto his hefty price tag, a 27 million salary cap hit. Releasing him would save roughly 24 million, and if that happens, odds are they’re going to draft a guy in the 1st round. Losing Garoppolo means the team gains salary, but will also have to endure the growing pains of a rookie QB, and take the risk the rookie will develop successfully into a solid QB.

Lots of factors go into keeping or cutting Garoppolo, but if it’s anything, it’s clear that he needs to be (and what would feel like) a real upgrade. If Jimmy is the QB going into the 20-21 season, that’s OK. Garoppolo is good enough to compete, he’s proven that. It is clear however, that the team could potentially do a lot better.

So, what’s the move?

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