When Jimmy Garoppolo took the field Sunday in Los Angeles, there was no guarantee he would ever again put on a 49ers uniform.
That’s not a click-baitish headline, folks. That was a reality.
And the same sentiment applies when the 49ers face the Dallas Cowboys this weekend in the first round of the playoffs.
The 49ers traded up to No. 3 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft and placed a finite period of time on Garoppolo’s future with the organization.
Coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch decided to move on from Garoppolo in favor of a hand-picked rookie who would be groomed to eventually take over.
When that day comes and Garoppolo becomes the starting quarterback for another team, his time with the 49ers should be looked back on favorably.
Garoppolo brought hope and excitement to the 49ers when there was no reason for hope or excitement during the 2017 season.
Bill Belichick made a phone call to Shanahan on the eve of the NFL trading deadline, and a few minutes later the deal that sent Garoppolo from New England was finalized.
The aura around the 49ers changed that day.
Garoppolo flashed his good looks and charm the moment he stepped out of a black Chevrolet Escalade upon his arrival at 49ers headquarters in Santa Clara.
The 49ers were 0-8 at the time.
Garoppolo would serve as C.J. Beathard’s backup for another three games before starting his first NFL game as anything more than just a fill-in for Tom Brady when he was suspended.
Even before he became the 49ers’ full-time starter, he earned the trust and respect of his teammates. He organically became a leader on the team.
Once Garoppolo got on the field, the 49ers instantly became a better team. The 49ers won their final five games of a 6-10 season.
That has been the constant with Garoppolo. The 49ers are a better team when he is on the field. Over the past five seasons, the 49ers are 33-15 in games he has started. In the games he did not start in those seasons, the 49ers are 8-28.
His performance on Sunday in a playoffs-or-bust scenario might end up being his most impressive game for the franchise.
He was determined to play despite a torn ligament in his right thumb, an injury that kept him out of the 49ers’ Week 17 game.
Granted, Garoppolo did not produce a masterpiece. But he thoroughly outplayed Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford when the game was on the line.
Garoppolo completed 14 of 20 passes for 226 yards with one touchdown and one interception after halftime in helping rally the 49ers from a 17-point deficit for a 27-24 victory in overtime.
Stafford completed 6 of 16 attempts for 85 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in the second half and overtime.
Much like he did when things were going poorly this season, Garoppolo managed to keep it together. On Sunday, he still brought hope and excitement to the team.
When people were questioning everything about him and calling for him to lose his job — as we did in this space — he handled the adversity with aplomb.
Perhaps, Shanahan knew what he was doing better than any anger-inspired know-it-all sitting behind a keyboard.
Whenever that time comes for a permanent change at quarterback, Garoppolo will have left a lot of himself with the organization.
He set a tremendous example for Trey Lance, who already recognizes how much he has learned just from being around Garoppolo this season.
Garoppolo is in that middle range of quarterbacks in the league. The significant amount of time lost due to injuries was a reason the 49ers’ decision-makers decided to make long-term plans that do not include him.
Ultimately, they decided to go with a quarterback they believe can develop into a star who can consistently take the team to great heights.
The perception is the 49ers are reliant on their defense and a strong running game, and that Garoppolo has just been along for the ride.
And while that point is valid, what is not debatable is that Garoppolo has taken us all on quite a ride these past five seasons.
And it’s not over, yet.