The 49ers and Los Angeles Rams have a lot in common.
The NFC West rivals, who will play one another Sunday at SoFi Stadium, are both coached by offensive geniuses, both of whom were raised in the family business of football and whose coaching careers began with Jon Gruden's Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Rams and 49ers also both have highly paid quarterbacks with the initials "J.G." whose skills are often questioned.
To varying degrees, Rams QB Jared Goff and Jimmy Garoppolo, his injured 49ers counterpart, shouldered the blame for their franchise's most recent Super Bowl losses. Goff and Garoppolo are third and fourth, respectively, in salary-cap numbers among quarterbacks this season, and their contracts have forced or will force their teams to make tough decisions in free agency.
So, which quarterback would NBC sports analyst Chris Simms rather have?
"It's close," Simms told NBC Sports Bay Area's Grant Liffmann earlier this week. "I don't look at either guy as a top-10 quarterback in football. I think they're guys that are middle of the pack, somewhere in that 16, 17 range, somewhere like that. Garoppolo has more ability to make throws in the pocket and be more versatile that way. Goff is certainly better on the edge, a better athlete. Can create a little bit more on his own, and his age and lack of injury history -- I'd probably go with Goff right now.
"I don't say that comfortably. I don't. I think it's very close there. I think, really, the injury history and age is what puts Goff a little bit ahead of Jimmy Garoppolo right now, for me."
Goff, 26, and Garoppolo, 29, entered the NFL under much different circumstances. The Rams traded up to draft Goff with the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, while the Patriots drafted Garoppolo late in the second round (No. 62 overall) in 2014. Both were viewed as long-term options at the position, but Goff took over as the Rams' starter as a rookie while Garoppolo learned under Tom Brady.
Garoppolo has completed a higher percentage of passes in his career (67.1) than Goff (63.3), compiled a better passer rating (98.9 vs. 92.5) and averaged more yards per attempt (8.2 vs. 7.6), but Goff has been decidedly more durable. Goff has started at least 15 games in every season he has been the Rams' full-time starter so far, while last season was the first Garoppolo started 16 games for the 49ers. A torn ACL in 2018 and multiple high ankle sprains in 2020 forced Garoppolo to miss 18 games (and counting) during that time.
The 49ers would keep minimal money against the cap if they trade or cut Garoppolo after this season, as his salary isn't guaranteed in 2021 or 2022. The Rams would face significant penalties if they did so to Goff ahead of '21, but he also doesn't have a guaranteed salary after that season.
Although the 49ers and Rams both have flexibility with regards to Garoppolo and Goff, coach Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay have publicly praised their oft-questioned QBs. Shanahan said just this month he expects Garoppolo to be the 49ers' starter next season, while McVay has defended Goff from claims that he is a system QB.
Despite the similar circumstances, the 49ers (4-6) and Rams (7-3) are trending in opposite directions. LA is tied atop the division, while San Francisco is alone in the basement. Goff has been healthy whereas Garoppolo has not. That factor barely separates the two QBs in Simms' pecking order and could, ultimately, be what ends up creating quite a bit of distance between the Rams and 49ers this season.