It’s truly an outcome not many -- and perhaps no one -- saw coming.
After taking a pay cut to remain with the 49ers as their backup quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo was thrust back under center on Sunday when starter Trey Lance suffered a season-ending ankle injury.
The veteran signal-caller jolted life back into a somber Levi’s Stadium crowd after a 27-7 victory over the Seattle Seahawks, thanks largely in part to his performance. It’s a moment Garoppolo described as “unreal” and “full circle” after the game, and one that probably wouldn’t have happened if 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan didn’t suggest this summer that he stay on the team.
“It was right in the middle of training camp, [Kyle] kind of just called me in one day and threw out the idea, and it really wasn’t even on my radar until he said something about it,” Garoppolo told Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer after Sunday's big win. “And then he kind of laid it out and obviously the restructure is what it is, I think it had to be done just with the situation. I know it sounds weird, but things kind of just fell into place, honestly. It wasn’t like I was planning on this happening or anything.
“But I’m a big believer in, if you’re a good person, good things will happen to you.”
And it turned out to be a good thing for the 49ers, too, after the heartbreaking end to Lance’s second NFL season. It wasn’t the original plan, but a lack of trade partners for Garoppolo had him pondering where he ultimately would end up, and Shanahan’s suggestion sparked a light bulb in his head.
“I mean, honestly, at one point, I didn’t think I was going to be a Niner,” he told Breer. “I was pretty set on going to a couple different teams I had in mind. And then all of a sudden things switched [at the] last second.
“There was a lot of familiarity with the organization, the offense, teammates, all that stuff played a role. It was just a good opportunity. I know we got a good team here and I know everyone keeps saying this, but we’ve got a chance at the Super Bowl, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Returning to play for San Francisco as a backup made more sense to Garoppolo than starting over with a new team, he told Breer, so he took the pay cut. The restructured contract added up to less than Lance’s base salary for the season -- the 49ers’ one condition -- but featured plenty of play-time incentives should Garoppolo end up back on the field.
With Sunday’s win, the quarterback earned an additional $350,000 on top of his $6.5 million base salary for 2022. He can earn that total for each game moving forward if he plays at least 25 percent of snaps ($250,000) and if the 49ers win ($100,000).
Garoppolo has reiterated how much he hurts for Lance in the aftermath of the 22-year-old’s injury, having suffered a season-ending ACL tear early in the 2018 campaign.
But now he has to do what Shanahan and the 49ers brought him back to accomplish in such a scenario: Leading the offense week-in and week-out, which certainly is a job he’s already very familiar with.
That comfortability was on display Sunday as Garoppolo completed 13 of 21 passes for 154 yards and a pair of touchdowns -- one through the air and one on the ground. After he scored on a 1-yard quarterback sneak in the game’s fourth quarter, he was surrounded by his teammates.
And that had to remind him why he chose to return in the first place.
“Oh yeah, those are my guys,” he told Breer. “Going to a new team in the middle of training camp? I’ve been traded in the middle of the year; it’s hard to learn a new offense all of the sudden like that, new players and getting accustomed to all that stuff. It was just a very familiar situation here.”
After all of the offseason drama, Sunday’s events and Garoppolo's return to the roster in general were pretty impossible to see coming. And while there are some things Garoppolo takes personally from the last 18 months, he admitted to Breer, he isn’t stressing the small stuff.
“You just got to worry about the things you can control,” he said. “We’re in the f--king NFL, man. Go have some fun.”