Jimmy Garoppolo returns to Chicago and is no longer the savior of the 49ers – San Francisco 49ers Blog

October 28, 2021

SANTA CLARA, California – By the time he takes the field Sunday against the Chicago Bears, 1,428 days will have passed since Jimmy Garoppolo’s first start as a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers.

“We have come a long way,” Garoppolo said. “I mean, a lot has happened in four years here.”

During Garoppolo’s tenure as a starter, there have been memorable moments, as well as devastating injuries, as he has wavered from savior of the franchise to lame quarterback.

Now, when Garoppolo returns to Soldier Field and his hometown of Chicago (1 p.m. ET, Fox), it’s fair to wonder if he will make one of his last outings with the Niners at the same spot where he made his first.

To be sure, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan doesn’t see Sunday’s game as a one-game referendum on the quarterback’s status. In fact, until rookie quarterback Trey Lance, who was limited in Wednesday’s practice, is completely healed from the sprained left knee he suffered on Oct. 10, there isn’t even a decision to make.

But it’s hard to ignore the symmetry of Garoppolo and the Niners returning to Chicago at a critical time in the season and for the future of the franchise.

San Francisco has lost four in a row and its season is on the brink of waning before the schedule changes to November. A 3-4 loss to the Bears would leave the 49ers at 2-5 with games against NFC powerhouses West Arizona and the Los Angeles Rams to follow.

As one might expect from a team that struggles so hard, strong criticism has been leveled at Shanahan and Garoppolo and at Shanahan’s handling of the quarterback situation.

The balancing act between the future and the present would always be a delicate one for Shanahan. With each passing week, Lance’s calls have only gotten louder as the lack of noticeable steps forward for Garoppolo has become increasingly difficult to ignore.

Still, Shanahan is adamant that he won’t put Lance in until he thinks it’s the right thing to do for the quarterback and the team.

“We didn’t select Trey to fix this year,” Shanahan said. “We selected him so that he could be the quarterback of the future. And I understand that it is a matter of time, but we did not play it just because of our record.”

Sunday will mark exactly four years since the 49ers traded a second-round pick to the New England Patriots to acquire Garoppolo. At the time of that deal, they were in the midst of a nine-game losing streak.

By signing Garoppolo, the Niners were trying to attack a potential franchise quarterback. If Garoppolo hits, they could spend their offseason resources elsewhere. If I didn’t, they could still chase Kirk’s Cousins in free agency as scheduled.

So when Garoppolo made that start against the Bears on December 3, 2017, expectations were dimmed. After Garoppolo was 26-of-37 for 293 yards and led a series to win the game, the 49ers suddenly had something they didn’t have all season: hope.

With Garoppolo playing on the loose and working from a reduced playbook, the Niners won five games in a row, including victories against the Jacksonville and Tennessee playoff teams in which Garoppolo posted two of his best performances as Niner. During the winning streak, Garoppolo averaged 308.4 yards per game with 82.2 QBRs.

It was enough to win Garoppolo a record five-year, $ 137.5 million contract.

Along with that contract came the belief that Garoppolo was only scratching the surface. Unfortunately, it has been difficult to see substantial growth.

Garoppolo suffered a torn left anterior cruciate ligament in week 3 of the 2018 season. He bounced back in 2019 with a solid performance when the Niners appeared in Super Bowl LIV when Garoppolo posted a 62.1 QBR.

Since then, Garoppolo has struggled. A pair of ankle injuries cost him 10 games last season and a bruised and sprained right calf has knocked him out of one this season. In 11 games since the Super Bowl, Garoppolo has a 45.7 QBR and averaged 200.2 passing yards per game as the Niners have gone 5-6.

Regardless, he earned the respect of his teammates for how he performed, even as the 49ers worked so openly to replace him.

“I don’t think anyone could have handled it better by the outside perception of what’s going on in our building and all the negative things thrown at it and then what happened in the spring,” said tackle Mike McGlinchey. “That’s a tough situation. He’s the perfect example of what to look at in terms of mental toughness and blocking noise and being a pro that you could find in this league.”

Slated to turn 30 next week with 40 career starts (including the postseason), it’s hard to imagine Garoppolo becoming more than he is today. That, combined with the long injury history, was enough for the 49ers to switch in the draft to take Lance.

All of which begs the question of when Shanahan could make the switch. Shanahan has argued that he would do that only when he believes Lance gives the team the “best chance of winning.” On Monday, Shanahan said he doesn’t believe in playing young players just to gain experience until they are out of the playoff scene. He added that even then it is not always for the best.

So for now, Garoppolo remains the starter even as his time in San Francisco is shortened.

“I know he’s fought a lot of those things,” Shanahan said. “I think he had a great offseason. I thought he had a good year, until he got injured against Seattle. And he had a tough game there in that storm, which makes no excuses, but when it comes to throwing the Ball, I know that It’s not fun for anyone. But that’s where we are now. “

If Garoppolo can’t turn back the clock on Sunday, they could soon be somewhere else entirely.