It’s Wednesday, Dec. 7, and there is still no clear picture of the timeline for Jimmy Garoppolo’s return to the field.
On Sunday, his season was declared over. Just like Trey Lance in Week 2, Garoppolo’s foot got rolled up while being tackled. Lance suffered a broken ankle, and the fracture for Garoppolo was in his foot.
Then, on Tuesday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Garoppolo will not need surgery on the broken foot. He did not suffer a Lisfranc injury, so with his recovery time for his actual injury usually taking seven to eight weeks, he could return to the field during the playoffs.
Another day has passed, and there is another update on Garoppolo’s injured foot. Per The Athletic’s David Lombardi, medical experts have said that under the correct circumstances, Garoppolo could be ready to play in six weeks. That would put him on the field for a 49ers’ wild-card game.
According to Kyle Shanahan, though, that final scenario doesn’t appear to have much of a chance. He spoke to the media on Wednesday, and confirmed that Garoppolo doesn’t need surgery, but rehab should still keep him out until deep in the playoffs at best.
The 49ers are championship-level racing machine, but need someone in the driver’s seat who knows how to use the clutch. Maybe Brock Purdy can figure out how to work it, but the likelihood that he will be able to shift gears quickly as Garoppolo is not very high.
Garoppolo will certainly feel a natural pressure to return to the field as fast as possible to lead the team, but his NFL career is also currently at a crossroads. Whether or not he can lead the 49ers to a Super Bowl championship may determine much of his football future.
Do not forget, that for all intents and purposes, the NFL told Garoppolo that they don’t want him. He and the 49ers were ready to move on from each other, and it would be logical to think there would be a robust trade market for a quarterback that came within a few plays of leading a team to a second Super Bowl appearance in three seasons. For many other quarterbacks, the answer would be “yes.” For him, the answer was a resounding “no.”
There was so little interest that he returned to the 49ers on a restructured contract and practiced on a different field from the rest of the team during the summer. Then Trey Lance suffered a season-ending injury in Week 2, and left tackle extraordinaire Trent Williams went down the following week and missed a month of action.
Just like Garoppolo’s 2021 season, the 49ers got off to a slow start. Then, as Williams, and other players, returned to the lineup the team improved. They also traded for Christian McCaffrey. The 49ers haven’t lost a game since Oct. 23.
Garoppolo had a chance to lead some other talented 49ers’ squads to championships in 2019 and 2021. He crumbled late in both games, and the 49ers blew leads. Also, teams have watched tape on Garoppolo. They know that he is not a dynamic quarterback. He can’t turn plays that begin negatively into positive ones. At least not with any regularity.
If the team is good, he can lead an offense that only asks him to throw deep down the field when the play is wide open, and not attempt a ton of long throws outside the numbers. Give Garoppolo a sturdy offensive line, players who can create after the catch, and a dependable running game, and under those ideal circumstances, he can lead a very good offense. However, that’s not good enough to justify trading desirable draft picks, or starting-caliber talent in return for the privilege of paying him a starting quarterback salary.
But if he actually wins a Super Bowl, the math may change. Even though Garoppolo is the same quarterback with or without his fingerprints on the Lombardi Trophy, the glow from it can still make players appear greater than they actually are. Combine that with Garoppolo being an unrestricted free agent after this season, maybe there is a lucrative contract waiting for him.
A fairy-tale ending to this story is still available for Garoppolo, but only if the 49ers win with him behind center. If they lose without him it’s going to be a tough free-agent market. If the 49ers win a title with Brock Purdy as their starting quarterback, he might need to get used to the baseball cap life.
There is never a good time to break a foot, but the timing of this injury is especially bad for Garoppolo. He was leading arguably the best roster in the league, but also a roster that is in a battle for the playoffs due to those early season losses. Now he has to hope that Mr. Irrelevant plays well enough to keep the 49ers in the tournament over these next five games, and also that he will be healthy enough to suit up at all this postseason.
Yes, the 49ers fans and staff may be uneasy about how the rest of the season will play out, but the consequences of this season are higher for no one in this situation than Jimmy G.