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What 49ers' blockbuster trade says about Garoppolo's future

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Jimmy Garoppolo

The 49ers made a move Friday morning that guarantees the organization will be moving on from Jimmy Garoppolo.

When that happens is the only thing that remains uncertain.

Is it around the time of the draft? At the start of the regular season? Sometime during the season? Or shortly after 2021?

Teams do not trade away future first-round draft picks to move up to the No. 3 overall spot unless they have evaluated at least three quarterbacks worth such a cost.

General manager John Lynch was on hand Friday in Provo, Utah, for BYU’s pro day. But unless the 49ers move up another place in the draft, they are not likely to land Zach Wilson.

Trevor Lawrence is ticketed to the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 1 overall. Then, Wilson is the odds-on favorite to go No. 2 to the New York Jets -- or whichever team ends up in that spot.

Assuming the 49ers stay at No. 3, who will be the third quarterback selected?

Obviously, the 49ers already know the answer or they are comfortable enough with their options to come to the conclusion there is no wrong answer among their pool of candidates.

That is the only reason they made the trade Friday with the Miami Dolphins to move up to No. 3 in exchange for No. 12 overall this year, first-round picks in 2022 and ’23, and a third-round compensatory pick in 2022.

Quarterbacks Justin Fields of Ohio State and Trey Lance of North Dakota State have the dual-threat mixture of running and passing that are attractive features in today’s game.

 

But keep an eye on Mac Jones of Alabama, too.

Jones is an accomplished, accurate pocket passer. It would not be a shock if 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan places Jones in the Lawrence-Wilson class.

Shanahan places a premium on accuracy and anticipation above all else. Fields and Lance, as talented as they are, are likely evaluated as a grade below Jones in those areas.

In December, Shanahan said he is more open to deploying a mobile quarterback as long as sacrificing accuracy and pocket presence are not the trade-offs.

“Things change, people change,” Shanahan said. “You start to see you can win football games with any type of quarterback as long as they are good enough and you can be good enough in hundreds of different ways.

“So I evaluate quarterbacks in terms of trying to find people who can have a chance to be one of those elite-type guys and there's lots of different ways to do it. You can see now there's plenty of different ways, so I don't think that'll ever change.” 

What will change with the 49ers is their starting quarterback -- at some point, anyway.

Lynch and Shanahan have stated for months they expected Garoppolo to be the team’s starting quarterback in 2021. The organization is sending signals it remains behind Garoppolo for the upcoming season.

The model under such a scenario are the Kansas City Chiefs, who traded up to draft Patrick Mahomes in 2017 after a season in which the team had an 11-4 record in games Alex Smith started.

Smith remained with Kansas City for one more season, and had the best year of his career. After that season, the Chiefs traded Smith to Washington, who rewarded him with a new contract, too.

RELATED: 49ers must buck trend of NFL teams drafting QB busts in trade ups

Garoppolo has reason to be extremely disappointed in the happenings of Friday. He has every right to feel abandoned.

But the best thing he can do for his career is to remain engaged, fight to keep his starting job as long as possible, and have the kind of season that makes him even more attractive to teams around the league for the future.

At the same time, the 49ers should continue through this offseason with a price in mind for what it would take for them to trade Garoppolo and turn over the most-important position on their team to a rookie.

The 49ers might be thinking that Garoppolo will be their starting quarterback right now, but we all know how quickly things can change.

If the 49ers were to trade Garoppolo before the season, the cap savings of $23.6 million on his contract can roll over to the future. That money could be used on possible extensions for Fred Warner, Nick Bosa, Deebo Samuel and Mike McGlinchey.

 

If he returns to open 2021 as the starter, Garoppolo would face immense scrutiny. This will not be an easy season for him.

The first time the 49ers lose a game in which Garoppolo did not play at a high level, there will be a loud clamor to get the rookie onto the field.

The 49ers have a roster that is built to win now, so Shanahan would not have a lot of tolerance for the growing pains that come with a first-year pro at the quarterback position.

After all, Fields saw significant action in his final two college seasons. Jones and Lance each only had one full season as the starter. Those three players have a lot to learn.

But all you have to do is read Shanahan’s sideline body language to know that Garoppolo has been a source of frustration, too.

And it would seem to be easier to put up with a rookie making rookie mistakes than it is for a seven-year pro to be making those same errors.

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