The 49ers knew they were getting a talented quarterback. And they believed they were acquiring a strong leader, too.
But how quickly and how well Jimmy Garoppolo has acclimated to his new team has been the most-remarkable benefit of the trade that brought him to the 49ers from the New England Patriots for a second-round draft pick in late-October.
“I spoke to a lot to his coaches, and they spoke extremely high of him,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said on The 49ers Insider Podcast. “That gives you confidence and hope, but you never know for sure. That’s what Jimmy has been very impressive with.
“I think it’s pretty obvious to see the throwing ability. But the way the guy carries himself day-in and day-out in the building, I think that’s a strength and advantage he had of being able to watch someone like Tom (Brady) and how he carried himself.”
Garoppolo was a second-round pick of the Patriots in 2014. While being careful to respect his place as Brady’s backup for 3 ½ seasons, Garoppolo absorbed as many of the positive elements of observing a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback of all time while also learning from Bill Belichick, one of the great coaches.
Said center Daniel Kilgore, “He backed up one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. I can say it was not an easy transition for him, but he was going to work and he wasn’t going to have it any other way and not be successful. “
Garoppolo quickly asserted himself as a leader on the team – without, apparently, forcing the issue. In true Patriots fashion, he did not reveal much about how he approaches his leadership role.
“I don’t know,” Garoppolo said. “I never really sat back and tried to figure out my leadership style. I think it just kind of comes naturally. I try to go out there and help the guys around me be as good as they can be and put them in a good situation to win. I think that’s ultimately what makes a good quarterback.”
Since he arrived on the scene as the quarterback, he elevated the production of everybody around him. His third play after taking over for C.J. Beathard was a touchdown pass to Louis Murphy. Marquise Goodwin, Trent Taylor, Kyle Juszczyk, Garrett Celek, George Kittle and Kendrick Bourne have also had their moments to shine during the team's three-game win streak.
“I think a big part of it is the way he conducts himself,” Juszczyk said. “We know he’s coming from a successful program, so he’s seen how things are done the right way. And the first day of practice, just looking at the guy’s footwork and the way the ball came out of his hand, it just jumped off the page for you. You could see his talent right away. Then, he carried it over to games and the way he’s making plays. It’s hard not to respect him.”
Garoppolo threw for 381 yards on Sunday against the Tennessee Titans to become the first 49ers quarterback since Jeff Garcia in 2000 to pass for 300-plus yards in back-to-back games. He has thrown for more yards (1,008) in his first three starts than any player in 49ers history.
“Actions speak louder than words,” 49ers defensive lineman DeForest Buckner said. “Watching the way he plays and the way he approaches the game, everybody respects him for it. It doesn’t matter how long he’s been here, he’s already a leader.
“It’s great for the defense. We can just sit on the side and watch the show.”
Garoppolo helped engineer fourth-quarter drives to set up kicker Robbie Gould for game-winning field goals against the Chicago Bears and Sunday against the Titans.
“We practice those situations every week,” Goodwin said. “We were already prepared for it. We knew what we were going to do. There was no panic. He took control of the huddle, and he knew exactly what we needed to do to set ourselves up to at least get in field goal position or get a touchdown. That’s exactly what happened.”
Garoppolo got the 49ers into field-goal range with consecutive completed passes to Taylor for 7 yards, tight end Kittle for 24 yards, and Goodwin for 14 yards.
“He is very calm, collected and focused,” 49ers left tackle Joe Staley said. “Not to say that wasn’t here before, but it definitely has a different aura around him. We are really excited about him. It is fun to block for him.”
Said Taylor, “That’s the great thing about Jimmy. He’s always confident and calm and, at the same time, locked-in and intense. He’s kind of the perfect balance of that. So it’s great to have a leader like him. He’s just a natural, natural leader, and he’s going to be a great leader for us for the years to come, for sure.”
The entire aura around the organization is different than it was before the trade for Garoppolo. The locker room believed the organization was building under Shanahan and general manager John Lynch, but it was also clear that the quarterback of the future was nowhere around. Then, Garoppolo was picked up just before the trade deadline.
“It really has been incredible,” Juszczyk said. “He stopped in Day 1 and in his own way commanded respect. We all saw the way he was preparing himself and the way he went about his business. He’s been a phenomenal leader. He’s definitely already the leader of our offense and keeps everyone dialed in on the sideline and in the huddle.”
Players turn to the quarterback for leadership and guidance. Kittle played college football with a player he considers a great leader, Beathard, but he said teammates have told him those kinds of intangibles are not taken for granted in the NFL.
“Hearing from other guys in the locker room, they said they have been around quarterbacks, they don’t take that leadership role,” Kittle said. “He’s one of the most fired-up guys. He’s like Joe Staley. It’s really awesome to see that. It’s easy to follow him and you want to play well for him. That’s what football is all about.”
With two games remaining, the 49ers are confident they now have the player who will be considered the face of the franchise heading into the 2018 season.
“Truly, the quarterback is usually the CEO of the building,” Shanahan said. “And you have to act a certain way. And you got to be positive. People look to you a lot and I think he’s done a very good job with that and we’ve been very impressed in that manner.”