ORLANDO, Fla. – General manager John Lynch wants to make one thing clear about the 49ers’ quick decision in October to accept the trade proposal to acquire quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo from the New England Patriots.
It was a lot more like Christmas morning, Lynch said Monday at the NFL owners meetings, than it was a time for mourning.
Lynch raised more than a few eyebrows last week when he said during an early morning interview on ESPN radio that coach Kyle Shanahan was “in mourning” because the master plan was to eventually acquire Kirk Cousins as the 49ers’ franchise quarterback.
Lynch said the greater point he was trying to make is that Garoppolo made believers out of everybody in the organization shortly after his arrival in Santa Clara. The 49ers in February signed Garoppolo to a five-year, $137.5 million contract extension early this offseason.
“That day was really like Christmas to us,” Lynch said of the Oct. 30 trade with New England for a second-round draft pick. “Jimmy was a guy that we had coveted. We did a lot of work on him in the offseason. We’d attempted to make a deal. It was rebuffed on a couple of occasions. Shoot, when that opportunity fell into our lap, it was like Christmas.”
It was clear Shanahan has a high opinion of Cousins based on their time together with Washington and what Cousins has accomplished while starting 16 games each of the past three seasons. Shanahan considers Cousins as a better fit for his system than even Matt Ryan, who put together an MVP season in his second and final season with Shanahan as his coordinator with the Atlanta Falcons.
Cousins would be available in the offseason as an unrestricted free agent. With the 49ers out of the quarterback market, Cousins signed a three-year, $84 million fully guaranteed deal with the Minnesota Vikings.
When Lynch and Shanahan were hired in tandem a year ago, the 49ers did not have a quarterback under contract. And while they investigated their options at quarterback during the 2017 offseason, they believed it was in their best interest to play the waiting game and begin last season with placeholder Brian Hoyer as the starter.
“One of the first things we talked about, we got to get this position right,” Lynch said. “That’s the thing everyone is looking for. And we got to find that. A lot of people pop into that conversation. Kirk is now with the Vikings and we’re very happy for him. There was history there. So when there’s history, yeah, he’s in the conversation. But there were a lot of other people in the conversation, as well.”
After the 49ers made the trade for Garoppolo – after being rebuffed in previously trade talks with the Patriots – the onus fell on Garoppolo to prove he was the man for the job.
“I think the thing that impressed me so much was that he kept earning our respect, day-in and day-out, by the way he responded in the building, by the way he conducted himself around his teammates, by the way he played,” Lynch said. “That was obvious. So he earned the right, not only to become our starter, but he earned this contract that we gave him. We were happy to do it.”
Lynch said he and Shanahan believed Garoppolo was capable of being a face-of-the-franchise type of player. Then, he proved it on and off the field. After Garoppolo took over from rookie C.J. Beathard as the starter, the 49ers finished the season on a five-game win streak. A team that opened the season 1-10, finished with the momentum of a 6-10 record.
“We weren’t promising anything to anyone, and he was going to have to go earn it,” Lynch said. “The great part of this story is, he did. I think that’s something that Kyle and I both believe. You have to earn everything you get in this league. Shoot, we had a tremendous opportunity fall in our lap.
“We were given each other high fives and chest-bumps. There are so many conversations that go into what we were going to do at that position, but we had no assurances on anything. Then all of a sudden, this opportunity presented itself and we were thrilled. It didn’t take long – 10 minutes, may be a stretch. We were pretty convicted right away.”
And Lynch said Garoppolo did not wait long to begin proving to the 49ers that he was worthy of being – at least for a period of time – the highest-paid player in the game.
“There are certain things that became apparent the first day he came out on the field and threw it,” Lynch said. “It’s impressive. It’s impressive to watch the guy throw a football. There are very few people in this world that can (throw it) like him.”
Lynch said Garoppolo impressed the organization with the work he put in to learn Shanahan’s complex offensive system and it’s verbiage, which is completely different than what he experienced during his 3 ½ seasons with the Patriots. Garoppolo put in long, tedious hours of study to be prepared for when his time came to step onto the field.
Garoppolo wore a list of the play calls on his wristband as an insurance policy. After the final game, Garoppolo said he never once had to refer to the cheat sheet during his five starts.