Jimmy Garoppolo came to the 49ers in the middle of the 2017 season and immediately became a team leader -- perhaps, even, the team leader.
And that was before he stepped onto the field for a game.
It was nothing he did or said. It all came naturally through the way he carried himself and connected with those in the locker room.
Back then, it was easy.
The 49ers were 0-8 when Garoppolo traveled across the country after three-and-a-half seasons with the New England Patriots. Garoppolo provided hope for the future. He was the future.
And it was mostly that way until March 26.
That was the day coach Kyle Shanahan called Garoppolo to share with him the career-changing news. He and general manager John Lynch decided the organization was going to find a replacement for Garoppolo.
Garoppolo has two years remaining on the lucrative deal he signed after the 2017 season. At some point, the 49ers will turn the team over to Trey Lance, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Upon receiving the unwanted news, Garoppolo admits he experienced “a million emotions.” He strongly suggested one of those initial thoughts was to ask for a trade to get out of town and start fresh with another NFL team.
But, ultimately, Garoppolo determined the way he wanted to handle the uneasy situation was to embrace it — accept the challenge of the competition with the rookie quarterback.
Garoppolo texted Lance shortly after he was selected to offer him congratulations and welcome him to the 49ers. He handled that situation with grace and kindness. He also set the tone for the rest of the roster.
In that moment, and how Garoppolo has carried himself ever since, he has proven to be an even-stronger team leader than anyone could have ever imagined.
This is the kind of thing that fractures locker rooms. Long-time 49ers fans recall the divide, debate and controversy for the years in which Joe Montana was the starter and Steve Young was striving to replace him.
Ultimately, that situation worked out fine. The 49ers followed one Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback with another.
Garoppolo’s actions and words through this point have sent a message to the team and the fan base that there is no reason to take sides.
Garoppolo is showing his support for Lance, which sends a strong message to everyone around the team.
At the same time, he is empowering Lance to eventually take over as the quarterback and leader when Garoppolo ends up going to a different team -- whenever that might be.
This could be an incredibly difficult and awkward situation for everyone associated with the 49ers. But Garoppolo said he wants to just act naturally and let relationships take hold organically.
It is not the ideal situation for him, but Garoppolo has devoted himself to making the most of the situation for himself and for the team.
On the 49ers’ practice field, Garoppolo still looks like the starting quarterback. He is the player who could be most-responsible for the fate of the team in 2021.
And, for now, that seems to be good enough for him and everyone else in the locker room.