49ers

Jimmy Garoppolo owning Cardinals bodes well for 49ers starting strong

Jimmy Garoppolo owning Cardinals bodes well for 49ers starting strong

The 49ers couldn't have started any stronger last season. They reeled off eight straight wins before a nail-biting, last-second overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 10. 

Expecting another 8-0 start by San Francisco isn't exactly realistic. To compete for another NFC West title, however, the 49ers will need another strong start. Luckily for them, Jimmy Garoppolo has owned the 49ers' first opponent of the 2020 regular season. 

Dating back to his time with the New England Patriots, Garoppolo is 3-0 against the Arizona Cardinals. He has thrown for 1,005 passing yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions while completing 74.78 percent of his pass attempts. 

The Cardinals gave the 49ers a real scare in Week 9 last season, but Garoppolo played about as well as a QB can. As Kyler Murray showed the world how dangerous he can be, Garoppolo was too much for Arizona's defense to handle. Garoppolo finished the game completing 28 of his 37 pass attempts for 317 passing yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions to lead the 49ers to a 28-25 road win to preserve their perfect season. 

He wasn't quite as dominant in the 49ers' Week 11 36-26 home win over the Cardinals, but Garoppolo did throw a career-high 424 passing yards to go along with four touchdowns, two interceptions and a 75.56 completion percentage. 

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This certainly doesn't mean the 49ers are guaranteed to come out on top when they welcome the Cardinals to Levi's Stadium in Week 1 this season. The Cardinals are on the rise after Murray won Offensive Rookie of the Year, and Arizona gave him one of the best receivers in all of football by acquiring DeAndre Hopkins from the Houston Texans.

The Cardinals also drafted perhaps the perfect George Kittle stopper by adding Clemson's do-it-all linebacker/safety Isaiah Simmons with the No. 8 overall pick this year.

To keep it short and simple, the NFC is loaded with teams that became stronger through free agency and the draft. The Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints are offensive juggernauts. The Green Bay Packers had an odd draft strategy, but still have Aaron Rodgers. The Minnesota Vikings are strong, the Philadelphia Eagles find ways to win and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers added some guys named Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski

Then there's the Seattle Seahawks. When Russell Wilson is your starting quarterback, you always have a chance. The Seahawks' December schedule also is much easier on paper than the 49ers, meaning San Francisco needs a strong start even that much more.

[RELATED: How 49ers' Bourne, Jimmy G have formed strong chemistry]

Garoppolo has dealt with an offseason full of questions after crumbling late in Super Bowl LIV. Getting off the ground running with a win over the Cardinals is exactly what he needs to quiet his doubters and what the 49ers need to chase the No. 1 seed in the NFC yet again.

If history means anything, it certainly is on Jimmy G's side.

Why Colin Cowherd would hire 49ers' Kyle Shanahan to coach his NFL team

Why Colin Cowherd would hire 49ers' Kyle Shanahan to coach his NFL team

There currently are 32 NFL franchises, and for the vast majority of us, at no point during our lives will we have any chance of owning one of them.

But, forget reality. What if you were able to purchase a team? Who would you hire as head coach?

Fox Sports' Colin Cowherd gave his answer to that question Wednesday, but first established the five criteria by which he would form his list of the top 10 coaches he'd want to lead his franchise. They were:

1. Age does not matter 
2. Easy to work with 
3. The less controversy, the better 
4. Innovative thinker 
5. Relates to players

Based on those criteria, Cowherd landed on 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan as his top choice (h/t 49ers Web Zone).

"I know he has had a couple of Super Bowl moments you don't love," Cowherd explained Wednesday on "The Herd," "but I think San Francisco was right. I think he's intense. I think he has got the lineage from his dad (Mike Shanahan). I think he has a system, but he is nimble enough to manipulate the system and listen to (general manager) John Lynch and others. I think he's obsessively driven, which is probably most of these guys.

"But if I start my franchise today, I get the (experience from his) dad, I get him, I get playoff experience, and I also think he has got a chip on his shoulder because he thinks he should have won that Super Bowl last year. And he thinks he should have won that Atlanta Super Bowl against New England when he was the [offensive coordinator]."

Though the 49ers don't have new owners, they clearly share similar feelings about Shanahan, having just recently signed him to a six-year contract extension. He led San Francisco to a nine-win improvement this past season, and already has made it clear the expectation is to get back to the Super Bowl for a second straight year.

[RELATED: Bryant Young knows 49ers in good hands with Shanahan, Lynch]

Should the 49ers accomplish that goal -- and prove victorious in Super Bowl LV -- what few criticisms there are of Shanahan no longer would be valid.

For reference, here is Cowherd's full list:

1. Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco 49ers
2. Sean McDermott, Buffalo Bills 
3. Doug Pederson, Philadelphia Eagles 
4. Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams 
5. John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens 
6. Matt Nagy, Chicago Bears 
7. Brian Flores, Miami Dolphins 
8. Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma Sooners 
9. Urban Meyer, formerly Ohio State Buckeyes 
10. Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers

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NFL rumors: George Kittle's 49ers contract could land around $13M annually

NFL rumors: George Kittle's 49ers contract could land around $13M annually

The elephant in the room at this point of the 49ers' offseason is the absence of a contract extension for standout tight end George Kittle. He is entering the final year of his rookie deal which will pay him $2.1 million, and is due to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the upcoming season.

After cementing himself as the best tight end in all of football over the last two seasons, Kittle's inevitable extension has long been expected to reset the market at the position. Austin Hooper currently averages the highest annual salary of any tight end after signing a four-year, $42 million contract with the Cleveland Browns in free agency earlier this offseason.

Estimates for what Kittle could average on his next contract have ranged as high as $20 million per season, but the real number likely is somewhere between there and Hooper's annual rate due to the expected drop in league revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Athletic's Matt Barrows reported Wednesday that someone "in the know" told him that Kittle ultimately would get a contract extension averaging $13 million per season.

That's a far cry from $20 million, but as Barrows noted, it still would make Kittle the highest-paid tight end by a fairly wide margin. Though Kittle probably is worth more than that, the salary-cap uncertainty caused by COVID-19 likely will rule out the possibility of a market-shattering contract. The unprecedented situation could result in a creative deal.

[RELATED: Report: NFL preseason halved; 49ers-Raiders game remains]

The Athletic's David Lombardi recently suggested that it might make sense for Kittle and the 49ers to come to an agreement on a contract that is partially tied to the size of the salary cap moving forward. 

"The 49ers can offer Kittle a guaranteed base annual salary or signing bonus before using a percentage-of-the-cap scale on top of that to pay him commensurate to cap increases in future years, when the NFL’s revenue outlook should be rosier," Lombardi wrote. "That's just an idea. But since this is uncharted territory, creative contract structures cannot be ruled out -- especially if they help break a potentially problematic impasse."

Creativity aside, if an agreement can't be reached on a contract extension, the 49ers would still have the ability to apply the franchise tag to Kittle -- which would pay him the average of the top five tight-end salaries -- for the 2021 and 2022 seasons. That option obviously wouldn't provide Kittle with the long-term security he likely desires, but there's ample motivation on both sides to get a deal done for San Francisco's most indispensable offensive player.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]