Garoppolo Return Clouds 49ers QB Situation

He’s hot, he’s sexy and he’s back as the San Francisco 49ers starting quarterback.

But man was Jimmy Garoppolo’s return oddly boring.

Worse, the end of Trey Lance’s season leaves you to sadly wonder if he’ll ever make it in the NFL.

The great Lance-Garoppolo debate came to a quick and anti-climactic end Sunday when Lance snapped his right ankle in the first quarter. That forced Garoppolo back into the lineup and he did all the perfunctory things necessary to guide the 49ers to a 27-7 victory over a decidedly inept Seattle team.

Garoppolo’s weird offseason took some mind-bending turns. He was supposed to be traded months ago, but then ended up having shoulder surgery, which scared away suitors. He was supposed to be cut just before the season, then came back under a new contract.

SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 18: Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers looks to pass the ball against the Seattle Seahawks during the third quarter at Levi’s Stadium on September 18, 2022 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Garoppolo Has Been In San Fran Since 2017

He was kept under lock-and-key during training camp to keep him from being re-injured and then didn’t take a practice snap with the starting offense until he entered the game Sunday. That all sounds interesting except that Garoppolo didn’t have to do anything particularly heroic against the Seahawks.

He led a nice, four-play, 78-yard drive on his first full series to give the 49ers a 13-0 lead in the second quarter. That included a 38-yard TD pass to tight end Ross Dwelley.

Garoppolo then led another scoring drive and even punctuated the game with a 1-yard TD dive in the fourth quarter. It was all very nice and efficient. It wasn’t challenging because the Seahawks simply couldn’t score against the 49ers defense (Seattle’s one TD came off a blocked field goal).

And yes, Garoppolo makes the 49ers a better contender in the short-term. He is more consistent and clearly a better passer than Lance at this point. That’s why you didn’t hear a lot of frustration or disappointment coming out of the 49ers locker room after the game. There weren’t any players sitting around with their heads bowed as if the season was lost. They felt bad for Lance, but not that bad.

“I hate that Trey got hurt. That’s not how you want it to happen,” a 49ers coach said after the game. “But we’re fine … yeah, probably better. It was going to be rocky with Trey because he has so much to learn. We were going to have to keep the veteran guys happy while he made mistakes and win on defense. We still do, but we know what we have. Jimmy is not great, but we can win with him. We have won with him.”

SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 18: Trey Lance #5 of the San Francisco 49ers reacts after an apparent injury following a play against the Seattle Seahawks at Levi’s Stadium on September 18, 2022 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Jimmy G Brings Consistency, But Not Excitement

For all of Garoppolo’s picturesque look as a player and his boy-band look out of uniform, watching him play is just dull. There is a distinct mediocrity to his game. But that’s all the 49ers really need to go with their defense.

If all goes as it has in two of the past three seasons – when Garoppolo and the 49ers went to the Super Bowl in 2019 and the NFC Championship Game in 2021 – San Francisco should be in the playoffs. That’s a pretty fair bet, particularly in a seemingly watered-down NFC.

The really interesting story about the 49ers this season was supposed to be about Lance and whether coach Kyle Shanahan could bring the 2021 No. 3 overall pick along fast enough. The 49ers had spent the past offseason trying to come up with every idea possible for how to use Lance. They had researched how other teams used running quarterbacks and were working hard to install as many of those ideas as possible.

That’s because Shanahan views Lance as that elite, franchise quarterback he has never really had as a coach. That’s why Shanahan gave up three first-round picks to nab Lance, essentially mortgaging the future for a chance to get a guy who would last 10 to 15 years.

There’s now a big problem with that idea. By the time Lance is ready to play in 2023, he will have gone three seasons since playing regularly in 2019 at North Dakota State. During the pandemic-abbreviated 2020 season, Lance threw just 30 passes. As a rookie last year, he threw 71 throws. This year, he had 31 between the season opener and his abbreviated first quarter.

49ers Could Soon Be Back In QB Market

For a guy who needs both experience and a lot of work on his accuracy, you must wonder if Lance will be able to overcome this. After the game, Shanahan admitted that he has never heard of a story like this one. Sure, some quarterbacks such as Aaron Rodgers have sat out several years before becoming a starter. The difference is that Rodgers had at least played NCAA Division I football at Cal and was never injured. Michael Vick also spent two years in prison and another season on the bench with Philadelphia, but he had already played four full seasons as a starter before that.

Shanahan admitted that the situation was unprecedented and then tried to put a brave face on it, saying that “if anyone can do it, (Lance) can.”

The reality is more daunting to consider. If Lance can’t overcome this, the 49ers will be back in search of the next great quarterback in franchise history.

But, for the moment, the good news is that the 49ers have Garoppolo and he looks as good as ever. He said that his surgically repaired shoulder felt great and he joked away any questions about the oddity of the offseason.

Moreover, Shanahan was happy to know that this season was still loaded with possibility. So much so that he was even in joking mood himself. When Shanahan was asked how Garoppolo looked when he went back in the game, he quipped, “Still handsome.”

And still good enough to make the 49ers a contender right now.

Written by Jason Cole

Jason Cole has covered or written about pro football since 1992. He is one of 49 selectors for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and has served as a selector since 2013. Cole has worked for publications such as Bleacher Report, Yahoo! Sports, The Miami Herald, the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, and started his career with the Peninsula Times-Tribune in Palo Alto. Cole’s five-year investigation of Reggie Bush and the University of Southern California resulted in Bush becoming the only player to ever relinquish his Heisman Trophy and USC losing its 2004 national championship.

Leave a Reply