Bears Insider

Jimmy G is reason 49ers' awkward Lance situation was success

Bears Insider
Jimmy Garoppolo, Trey Lance

The 49ers raised eyebrows last offseason. Not because they moved up in the 2021 NFL Draft to select Trey Lance, but because they planned to keep him and Jimmy Garoppolo on the roster for the 2021 season.

Employing the Alex Smith-Patrick Mahomes model was a gambit that could have blown up in the 49ers' face. In recent years we've seen veteran starting quarterbacks bristle when teams drafted their replacements. It either led to or exacerbated a fractured relationship between Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. While Tom Brady and Garoppolo remain friends, reports have suggested Brady asked the New England Patriots to trade Garoppolo in 2017, and that Bill Belichick's decision to draft Garoppolo put the wheels in motion for Brady to eventually leave Foxboro.

Telling a quarterback who just took you to a Super Bowl he's not the long-term answer isn't an easy conversation. But then asking him to put it all on the line for you for one more season while his replacement leans over his shoulder is the recipe for a situation that could have quickly become untenable for many in Santa Clara.

But it didn't.

Because while Rodgers started putting in the nuclear codes when Jordan Love arrived, Garoppolo welcomed Lance, raised his game and never, at least outwardly, let the calls for Lance to start get to him.

Garoppolo is limited as a starting quarterback and his roller-coaster play ranges from exhilarating to maddening.

But for all the on-field warts that had coach Kyle Shanahan choose to start the clock on Garoppolo's time in the Bay, the 30-year-old starting quarterback carried himself like the leader of the franchise. Even when the 49ers were 3-5 and it looked like his time might soon be over, Garoppolo maintained an even-keel, kept the locker room intact and helped turn the ship around.


“I think Jimmy Garoppolo deserves a ton of credit because of the way he handled the situation," general manager John Lynch told Bay Area media during a video conference call Tuesday "I said it to the team yesterday, that the way not only he went about competing, competition brings out the best in everyone, it certainly did with Jimmy, but the way he also welcomed Trey and helped him along the way, it was a really nice thing to see. And I think it speaks volume to who he is.

"Trey's obviously, they're both very similar in that they're both Midwest guys who kind of have Midwest values, they're good people and that showed itself and I think was a great example for our team that you can compete at the highest levels, but still all be working for the same goal and that was especially true. And so I’m real proud of the organization and those individuals for pulling it off.”

It wasn't easy for Garoppolo. He has said as much since the 49ers' loss to the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship Game. Knowing any snap can be your last can grind you down. The pressure on every throw is ampliied when your hand-picked sucessor is standing on the sidelines.

That Lance is a humble 21-year-old, who was willing to sit and learn from Garoppolo eased the situation. As did Shanahan and Lynch's honesty about the situation and where it was headed.

But it was never easy, and it was clear by the end, that it wore of Garoppolo.

“It was difficult at times," Garoppolo said Tuesday. "There was times where if you lose sight of what your main point of emphasis is, what you're trying to do in in this building, you get distracted. And I mean, there was plenty of opportunities for that, but, when things happened in the offseason and we made the trade and everything and picked Trey, it kind of made things clear for me, honestly, it gave me a clear course of what I wanted to do, what I wanted to accomplish this year.

"It honestly made things simpler in some ways, because it took the weight off my shoulders. Now it's just go play football and enjoy this last year with the guys and create as many relationships as I could. And that's really what I tried to do this year and thought it worked out pretty well.”

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On Monday, Lance said Garoppolo would be one of his "best friends" for life. That speaks volumes about who Garoppolo was day-in and day-out in the 49ers' building during a season that was anything but stable.


Garoppolo's lasting 49ers legacy might be that he arrived and helped take a team from the NFL dumpster and elevate it back to Super Bowl contender status. Perhaps it's that he was just good enough to get the 49ers where they wanted to go, but not good enough to be a difference-maker in the biggest moments.

But if the 49ers end up having the success with Lance at the helm they envision, Garoppolo's legacy might be that he kept everything intact when it could have splintered. That his handling of an incredibly awkward situation made the veteran teammates who would follow him no matter what, comfortable with what was to come.

Garoppolo said Tuesday that he hopes he left the 49ers better than he found them. It would be hard to argue that he didn't. The Garoppolo 49ers were 10 minutes away from a title in Miami, and three plays flipped their NFC title game loss to the Rams. In a different universe, Garoppolo is a two-time Super Bowl winner.

Shanahan and Lynch both said there's a world in which Garoppolo returns next season. But the veteran signal-caller said a fresh start would be beneficial, and then he said his goodbyes to the 49ers and their fans.

"Faithful, thank you very much for everything," Garoppolo said. "It's been crazy, man. Just all the comebacks at Levi's, comebacks on the road, ups and downs. It's been a hell of a ride guys. I love you guys.”

Then, Garoppolo exited to face his uncertain NFL future. His time as a 49er likely over, Garoppolo spent his final season as the glue that kept everything together when it could have easily fallen apart.

He took a tenuous situation and made the most of it. He elevated his game, blocked out the noise, and brought the 49ers to the brink of another Super Bowl berth. No matter what he faced, Garoppolo just kept coming.

Garoppolo is why the 49ers aren't spending this offseason patching up holes and reworking the foundation. He made sure the transition, one he had no say in, would go as smoothly as possible. He never broke under extreme pressure, and as a result, the 49ers and their plans didn't either.

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