For the first two months of the offseason, the biggest question surrounding the 49ers was how they would, or rather if they would, address the quarterback position this offseason.
A number of names were batted around as potential replacements or backups/training camp competition for Garoppolo. Sam Darnold was one of the names that was thrown out as a good fit to bolster the QB room in Santa Clara, but the prevailing thought was that Darnold would cost the 49ers too much to acquire and that picking up his fifth-year option would be a move that was hard to stomach given Darnold's early-career showings with the New York Jets.
However, Monday showed the price to acquire Darnold wasn't as high as many believed as the Jets dealt the USC product to the Carolina Panthers for a 2021 sixth-round pick and a second- and fourth-round pick in 2022. All it cost to acquire Darnold, who still is just 23 years old and was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, was three picks that might yield the Jets two key players if they draft properly.
Either way you slice it, that's pennies on the dollar for a young quarterback who has the talent to turn things around now that he doesn't have to share a building and an offense with Adam Gase anymore.
The low price to acquire Darnold tells us even more than we already knew about the 49ers' decision to trade the No. 12 overall pick and future first-round picks in 2022 and 2023 to move up to the No. 3 slot in this year's draft to select their next face of their franchise.
If Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch were focused on finding a way to replace Garoppolo or even give him a competent backup, they could have Darnold for much less than they gave the Miami Dolphins and kicked the can down the road on their QB future, believing the QB room of Garoppolo and Darnold would be enough to contend for a Super Bowl in 2021.
Instead, Shanahan clearly fell in love with the talent atop this year's QB class, seeing something he believed would elevate the franchise for a number of years once whomever they draft takes over for Garoppolo.
If the 49ers' main goal post-free agency was to make a change under center and in the quarterback room, they could have done that without surrendering a lot of draft capital. The 49ers wouldn't have wanted to pick up Darnold's fifth-year option at $18.8 million fully guaranteed, but they could have acquired him for a few Day 2/3 picks and had a young backup with starter potential behind Garoppolo while holding onto the draft capital required to make a big move in the future.
The price the Panthers paid for Darnold shows Shanahan and Lynch are confident they will be getting a star at No. 3 overall. Not just a quarterback with potential, but someone they believe is a can't-miss. A must-have. It also shows that the decision to make the trade wasn't a referendum on Garoppolo's ability. If the power duo truly were unsatisfied with Garoppolo, Darnold was one of many options they could have explored to inject a QB change into the 49ers' veins.
When the season ended in December, Shanahan and Lynch meant what they said in defense of Garoppolo. And he still, at least at the moment, will be the starter in 2021. The 49ers want to avoid putting all-or-nothing pressure on a rookie quarterback. The 49ers wanted to add depth behind Garoppolo and give the guy with a 24-8 record another chance to cement himself as their guy.
Then they turned on the tape and saw something they were infatuated with. Someone they couldn't live without. Prospects with ceilings Garoppolo can't match. So Shanahan and Lynch made the bold move to stake their tenure on the name they call at No. 3 overall.
They plan to keep Garoppolo for now, hoping a healthy 2021 season will boost his value and they can acquire a first-round pick from a QB-needy team next offseason. Garoppolo should be worth more than Darnold on the trade market. He has proven that he can win games when healthy and his contract is one that affords his team much-needed financial flexibility. But the 49ers won't find that first-round pick for him this offseason. Maybe the Chicago Bears or New England Patriots will send them a second-round pick.
But Garoppolo's value to the 2021 49ers is higher than a second-round pick. The 49ers believe they can win in 2021 with Garoppolo under center and Justin Fields, Mac Jones or Trey Lance holding a clipboard.
Their franchise-defining trade wasn't about a desire to replace the guy that took them to the Super Bowl 16 months ago. They still believe in Garoppolo. If they didn't, they could have acquired Darnold for a fraction of the price it cost to move up for Fields, Jones or Lance.
They just saw something that was too good to pass up.