Programming note: Watch the REACH Scholarship Awards hosted by Ronnie Lott and Brandi Chastain on Tuesday, June 23, at 5 p.m. PT on NBC Sports Bay Area and streaming here.

A lot of the offseason talk surrounding the 49ers has revolved around Jimmy Garoppolo and whether or not he's the type of quarterback who can win a Super Bowl.

Despite having a solid first full season as a starter and leading the 49ers to a Super Bowl berth, Garoppolo became an offseason punching bag with sports show pundits coming out of the woodwork to throw a haymaker at the 49ers quarterback.

The 49ers were open about their discussions about Tom Brady, who ultimately signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Those talks didn't surprise former 49ers legend and Pro Football Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott, who knows that with quarterbacks there's always another option no matter how good you.

"Joe Montana was being discussed," Lott said laughing in a video interview Monday with NBC Sports Bay Area. "If you go back and you look at [Montana's ] career and you can go back and you can see moments where people started discussing [replacing] him. You have moments where people are always going to be discussed and the reason they are always going to be discussed is because there are always going to be things that people see wrong at that position. It's like if you're a great pitcher there's always something. You can't throw the slider."

 

The Brady talk should serve as a way to put pressure on Garoppolo to take his game to new heights in 2020.

Lott expects Garoppolo to elevate his play this season due to the genius of coach Kyle Shanahan and the experience factor.

"In this case, to me, [Garoppolo] has only played a couple years," Lott said. "What I believe is that he's going to get better and the reason he's going to get better is that he's going to understand the offense better, he understands a lot more about the discipline of the offense and another thing I think is going be great for him is that being with the guy --arguably the best offensive mind in football, that's Shanahan -- all of a sudden you have to be able to know that you're going to find ways to enhance your game because he's going to find ways to enhance your game. Bill [Walsh] would enhance Joe's game because he found ways to understand what more Joe could do with his game and that's the same with Jimmy.

"I think that having the two of those guys continue to be in the laboratory together and continue to get better, it's going to be much better. And what I mean by much better, they so close to winning that Super Bowl and when you look back at the game, just maybe, a lot of times in these games you never know ... I can look at a lot of games that we should have lost that we won and there are a lot of reasons and factors for how we handled the moments of those games. My point is I think Jimmy is going to get better at handling the moments of all games."

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Garoppolo was solid in 2019, throwing for 3,978 yards and 27 touchdowns while being the NFL's most accurate deep passer. Garoppolo also was one of the most efficient red zone quarterbacks in the NFL, completing 62.5 percent of his passes on throws inside the 10-yard line, including 16 touchdowns which tied Lamar Jackson for the most in the NFL.

It wasn't all good with Garoppolo, though. He also threw 13 interceptions and had another eight interceptions dropped by defenses. Garoppolo also was aided by the way in which Shanahan calls games, relying mostly short, safe passes to the likes of George Kittle and Deebo Samuel who could rack up the yards after the catch.

Garoppolo ranked third-lowest in Average Intended Air Yards (6.5) and second-lowest in Air Yards to the Sticks (minus-2.5), while his receivers led the NFL in yards after the catch at 6.6.

Garoppolo has been a polarizing figure this offseason. That comes with the territory of being a highly-paid quarterback for a marquee franchise. He has warts to iron out, of that there is no doubt. But he showed a lot of potential last season, especially late in the year when he led the 49ers to shootout wins over the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams.

 

I ranked Garoppolo as the No. 12 quarterback in the NFL. Squarely in the group of talented signal-callers who can win a Super Bowl with the right pieces around them and have the potential to enter the elite tier if they raise their game to the next level.

With Shanahan's guidance, Lott and the 49ers expect him to do just that.

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