If you look at the numbers the story is clear. Hear from key members of the 49ers' locker room and there should be no doubt.
But actions speak louder than words.
In his first full season as a starter, 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo put up impressive numbers. He threw for 3,978 yards, 27 touchdowns, completed 69.1 percent of his passes and recorded a passer rating of 102. He did all that while leading the 49ers to a 13-3 regular-season record, an NFC West title and a berth in Super Bowl LIV.
Despite all of that and despite Garoppolo's progression from rusty game manager coming off an ACL tear to game-winning drive orchestrator, the 49ers still kicked the tires on swapping out Garoppolo for his former mentor Tom Brady, who wanted to finish his career winning titles for the team he grew up rooting for.
This isn't a media-driven plot. There's no fake news here. General manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan have both publically talked about the fact that they considered Brady. They took a long look at what their roster would look like, both in 2020 and in the future if they brought the GOAT to Santa Clara.
In the end, with age no doubt playing a factor, Lynch and Shanahan decided to stick with Garoppolo.
“We went back and took a hard look at Jimmy,” Lynch told Albert Breer of The MMQB. “We grinded for a period of three, four days. And I think we both came back and said, ‘You know what? We’ve got the long-term answer in our building right now, and we feel really strongly about that.’ As enticing as it might be -- and we felt like it was a responsibility to take a look, because that’s a very unique situation -- we did that, we talked with Jimmy, and told him just what we did.
“I think he appreciated that. And the great news is we’re more convicted than ever that Jimmy’s the guy that we want to work with going forward. We feel like he’s got a lot more in him. Shoot, he was a huge reason we were in the Super Bowl last year, and why we have every intention of getting back and finishing the job.”
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The 49ers feel Garoppolo is the long-term guy at quarterback. Or, more like, they have a feeling that he could be. But there's a reason they kicked the tires on Brady. Yes, he's Tom "bleeping" Brady and if he wants to come you have to get out a yellow legal pad and jot down a pros and cons list. But the 49ers' window to win a title -- or titles -- is right now. Lynch and Shanahan know that, and they know windows can be wide enough to drive a semi-truck through one day and bolted shut the next.
Garoppolo was solid last season. The numbers were good. The wins over the New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers (twice) and Seattle Seahawks all impressive. The clutch gene late in the year was a pleasant sign.
And yet, perhaps the 49ers are worried Garoppolo has hit or is close to hitting his ceiling in Shanahan's offense. With a loaded defense, a stout offensive line, the best tight end in football and a young cast of receivers, it's clear where the question mark is.
The 49ers were pleased with Garoppolo's play, but they know improvement can and must be made to reach the top of the mountain.
"We had to seriously discuss it to decide whether to go forward to where it could come close or not," Shanahan told The Athletic's Tim Kawakami about the 49ers' pursuit of Brady. "So it didn't come close, but that's why John and I had to put the time into it. If you would have asked us that right after the Super Bowl -- I mean, Tom Brady, everyone knows what Tom Brady is, and how unbelievable he's been. But if you had asked us that right after the Super Bowl, that's kind of unheard of. It's a pipe dream. Like, you don't really think about that.
"We were just so happy with our team and happy with Jimmy [Garoppolo]. It didn't end the way we wanted. We can all do better -- myself, Jimmy."
There should be no doubt -- despite the public backing from his coach and general manager -- that the pressure will be on Garoppolo in 2020. After passing on adding Brady to a title-ready roster, Garoppolo must reward the faith Lynch and Shanahan have shown in him.
There can be no title-costing overthrow in 2020. The head-scratching interceptions must be cut down. Shanahan's offense, which now has more ways to cut up defenses than Wolverine after a bad dream, must run at optimum capacity. A leap must be made.
Brady will finish his career in Tampa Bay. But Aaron Rodgers' situation with the Green Bay Packers is teetering on a razor's edge. If he were to become available, and Garoppolo didn't take him game up a level, the 49ers once again would have to consider making a change.
Lynch traded DeForest Buckner -- a top 10 defensive player in the prime of his career -- in order to set the 49ers up for a bright future. He secured a top 15 draft pick in return.
If Garoppolo's play plateaus or dips in 2020, Lynch will once again have to step back, turn on the tape and see where improvements can be made.
After passing on the GOAT for a former member of his herd, the pressure is firmly on Garoppolo to prove he's the guy Lynch and Shanahan hope he can be.