SANTA CLARA – Sixteen months removed from signing quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to a contract befitting of a franchise quarterback, 49ers general manager John Lynch said he still is firmly committed to that investment.
Between the time of the five-year, $137.5 million contract agreement and now, Garoppolo has two offseasons of work with coach Kyle Shanahan and his staff, but just four regular-season starts and one lengthy rehab from a torn ACL. Garoppolo receives his entire $51.4 million of fully guaranteed money in his first two years, making it possible for the 49ers to move on without a significant hit on the salary cap next season.
“Jimmy’s a guy who’s extremely talented,” Lynch said on The 49ers Insider Podcast. “We were hopeful, and Kyle was hopeful, that he could work through some trials and tribulations that you go through at that position through the course of last season. We didn’t get that, so you make the best of what the situation is.
“He’s the same guy. We liked, obviously, what that package is all about. Now, we’re excited to see him play. We feel like we’ve improved our team around him and that should certainly help Jimmy, and should help our whole team.”
Lynch and Shanahan signed six-year contracts with the 49ers, so the third season does not necessarily rate as a make-or-break season. But there is a sense of urgency as the 49ers open training camp that has not appeared to be present for a while with an organization that has gone five seasons without a playoff appearance.
“We’ve won 10 games in our first two years, and believe me when we took this over, we knew it was a monumental task,” Lynch said. “The roster wasn’t very good. But having the ability to almost have a clean slate, and having an owner that committed to allowing us the time to make sound decisions, I think that was attractive to both of us.
“We knew we’d have to endure some pain along the way. We did feel that growth curve was accelerated by a big amount when we were able to get Jimmy and see how Jimmy could play for us.”
Lynch said he believes the 49ers were able to add such game-changing players as Dee Ford and Nick Bosa to greatly improve the pass rush. Offensively, big-play threats were acquired with running back Tevin Coleman and rookie wide receiver Deebo Samuel. Lynch also pointed out key pieces on special teams, with the re-signing of kicker Robbie Gould and the draft selection of punter Mitch Wishnowsky.
“We have to continue to grow,” Lynch said. “There are areas I probably won’t share with everyone, where I think we should be better. That’s this whole league. I’m sure the New England Patriots, Bill Belichick, has places on his roster where he believes he could be better. That’s fun. That’s knowing that the work is never done.
"But I do like our group, and I like the talent, and I like the way they go about their jobs.”
One key area where the 49ers cannot help but improve is forcing big plays on defense. The 49ers were the worst team in the history of the NFL last season at generating interceptions. However, the decision was made to focus more on the pass rush and less on help in the secondary even after coming up with just two interceptions in 16 games a year ago.
“Those were some of the common thoughts about success in today’s football that Kyle and I shared,” Lynch said. “We each arrived at those from different experiences: Him from probably playing against tremendous defensive lines, and me from having the benefit of playing with a tremendous D-line and, then on certain occasions, not playing with (a good line) and seeing the difference.”
The only notable moves the 49ers made in the defensive backfield were the re-signing of free safety Jimmie Ward and the addition of cornerback Jason Verrett. Both Ward and Verrett have been plagued by injuries in their careers. The 49ers also believe cornerback Richard Sherman will be healthier and more productive another year removed from Achilles surgery.
“We’re confident that will work itself out,” Lynch said. “It would be great go to get a bunch of guys who’ve had 10 interceptions in a year in the NFL. They aren’t out there. So we got to develop them and we can help them by making our pass rush a force to be reckoned with on a week-in, week-out basis.”