Jimmy Garoppolo sticking around as the backup in the San Francisco 49ers quarterback after all the goodbyes since February is one of the offseason’s biggest shockers. It probably shouldn’t be. Jimmy G and the Niners re-committing to each other ends a summer of long, drawn-out farewell NFL episodes that went nowhere.
Deebo Samuels erased the Niners from his social media pages, demanded a trade, and then slid into a long-term contract extension. Kyler Murray scrubbed the Cardinals and then engaged in a bit of stand-off over his extension while someone within the organization leaked complaints about his personality and preparation. Then, there’s Garoppolo who is unwanted, but well-compensated. Unfortunately, there may be consequences for Trey Lance, who was supposed to be entrenched as the full-fledged starter in 2022, but will now likely be on a short string.
Seinfeld’s 97th episode as a metaphor elucidates the 49ers’ off-season brinkmanship with Garoppolo. The premise of Jerry’s storyline in “The Switch’’ revolves around his brief relationship with Sandy. Things are going well, except she’s a non-laugher, which means her only response to Jerry’s jokes is a monotone, “You’re funny.” As you can imagine, Jerry the comic is quite bothered by this. I’m not going to give an oral history of the entire bit, so stay with me.
Eventually, he meets her roommate, Laura and after a quick conversation, he’s drawn to her vivacious laugh and other qualities prized by the superficial male. Jerry summons George and explains that they’ve got to attempt “the switch,” which George is vehemently against.
At one point, George tries to talk Jerry out of it by explaining the improbability of it succeeding. “Do you realize in the entire history of western civilization, no one has successfully accomplished the roommate switch? In the middle ages, you could get locked up for even suggesting it!”
The plan they eventually concoct during a montage scene includes an elaborate manipulation beginning with Jerry raising the idea of a ménage à trois. Instead of being insulted, Sandy (the non-laugher) is intrigued and so is Laura. Ultimately, Jerry finds it weird and loses them both.
Swap roommates for 49ers quarterbacks and the quarterback room could be just as awkward. In the 49ers scenario, Garoppolo is Sandy, Lance is Laura, Kyle Shanahan is Seinfeld and everyone may end up getting screwed over by this volatile arrangement. Rather than moving on from Garoppolo, Shanahan is trying to scoot around the elephant in the room.
On Tuesday, they opted to restructure the final year of Jimmy G’s deal and keep him in San Fran as the NFL’s highest-paid backup. Just like Jerry’s “switch,” the 49ers are bound to have buyer’s remorse. As the saying goes, if you have two quarterbacks, then you have none at all.
Following the 49ers’ loss to the Rams in the NFC Championship Game, in which the Niners punted instead of putting the ball in Garoppolo’s hands on a pivotal fourth-and-2, Jimmy G was asked if he expected to be a 49er next season.
“I was talking to John yesterday about finding the right destination and whatever the future holds, just doing it the right way,” Garoppolo responded. “I’ve got a long career ahead of me. I’m excited about it. I’m excited about the opportunities to come. I just want to go to a place where they want to win.” In July, Garoppolo was seeking trades with the 49ers’ permission.
Does that sound like someone who’s ready to surrender to being a backup? After months of telling Lance he was the guy, it would appear that his stalled development already has the 49ers swinging halfway back to the pedestrian passer who rode the defense to a Super Bowl in 2019. What else is Lance supposed to think?
Earlier this month, Shanahan declared that the 49ers were moving on from Garoppolo. He was so gone that a few days later Garoppolo was being disparaged through leaks coming from inside the 49ers’ house. According to a former member of the 49ers’ 2018 coaching staff, once Garoppolo’s original $137.5 million extension was signed, he did what franchise quarterbacks don’t do by mentally checking out immediately after the season ended and clocking back in for training camp.
“Once he left that press conference, nobody heard from him for weeks and weeks,” the anonymous coach told Mike Silver of the San Francisco Chronicle. “He didn’t return calls, he didn’t return texts — he basically just vanished. And we were looking at each other going, ‘What just happened?’”
If the Niners treated special clauses anything like the Arizona Cardinals did with Kyler Murray, Garoppolo would be contractually obligated to show some initiative outside of mandatory training camps to earn the bulk of his $137.5 million contract.
Since then, Lance has submitted more uneven training camp and preseason performances. Will this embolden him to slip even further into the background? Or will a slow start by Lance light a spark under the ass of Garoppolo?
Or does he see Lance as someone he’ll be starting over by November when the Niners come crawling back? And what happens if the Niners come crawling out of the gates? There is a multitude of questions. The list of backup signal callers San Fran could have resorted to, if they didn’t want the man formerly known as Jimmy Jesus in the Bay Area hovering over Lance’s shoulder, is extensive. Tyrod Taylor has been the talisman for Josh Allen, Davis Mills, Justin Herbert, and Baker Mayfield.
It’s not as if the Niners are keeping around an actual franchise quarterback on the field. In the Niners locker room, teammates may end up looking past Lance and at Garoppolo. Tua Tagovailoa just endured two years of this push-and-pull stunting his growth as the Dolphins tinkered with dumping him for Ryan Fitzpatrick and Deshaun Watson trade rumors. No precedent should make San Fran believe this ends pretty for Lance or Jimmy G.