If the selection of Trey Lance in this year’s draft didn’t already make it clear, then the last San Francisco 49ers game likely did. The clock is ticking on Jimmy Garoppolo’s time as San Francisco’s franchise quarterback.
There are several reasons for this. One has remained relatively consistent over the four and a half years he’s been in San Francisco, and even—albeit briefly—in his time in New England. Garoppolo can’t seem to stay on the field. They say the best ability in an athlete is availability, and the 49ers quarterback just hasn’t stayed available. In his four full seasons with the 49ers so far, Garoppolo has only started even half of his team’s games just once: when he stayed healthy for all of the 2019 season.
Since coming to the Bay Area, Garoppolo has started: five games in 2017, three games in 2018, 16 games in 2019, and six games in 2020. He won’t get another full season this year either, since he’s already missed two games with an injury. That isn’t a sustainable method for success and we’ve seen the results that have come from it. The 49ers’ only winning season with Garoppolo as their starter was the year he stayed healthy. They went 13-3 and won the NFC Championship.
Now, I understand that injuries are sometimes just a factor of life in the NFL. Not all quarterbacks are blessed with the Eli Manning “Gumby” quality that lets them bounce off hits like it’s nothing. Maybe Garoppolo is just unlucky, or the 49ers’ training staff has been letting him play before a full recovery. What I can hold him accountable for though, is how he plays when he is on the field.
Look at his Sunday Night Football performance against the Indianapolis Colts last weekend, for example. He threw two interceptions and lost a fumble on a completion rate under 60% for a passer rating of 60.9. A lot of that I can easily chalk up to horrific weather in San Francisco that night, especially since Wentz didn’t put up numbers that look exceedingly better. What I can’t as easily blame the weather for are the decisions he made and receivers he missed all game.
Check out this play:
Garoppolo looks directly at Deebo Samuel on his left side for the entirety of the play. He doesn’t try to fool the safety with his eyes, and he doesn’t progress through his reads when he sees tight coverage on Samuel outside. Instead, he gets anxious in the pocket with some additional pressure closing in and forces the throw.
On the other side, coming out of his break even earlier than Samuel is Mohammed Sanu, who could not have been more open. With the safety already cheating toward Samuel because of the quarterback’s eyes, Sanu sped by blown coverage on the right side and had nothing but grass in front of him if Garoppolo looked that way. (No, Greg Cosell, Sanu didn’t break “an hour after the ball was released.”) Instead, a forced throw into good coverage led to an easy Colts pick.
That may have been one of the worst starts of Garoppolo’s career, but what we’ve seen from him so far this year doesn’t indicate that things are trending upward overall. For one thing, the 49ers are 2-3 in his starts, and for another, Garoppolo is underperforming his career averages in completion percentage, yards per attempt, and interception percentage. All the while, one of the top quarterback prospects of the 2021 class is just waiting in the wings for his time to shine.
The 49ers seem to be all but out of playoff contention in an NFC West that has a pair of one-loss teams in the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams. Nevertheless, head coach Kyle Shanahan seems set on going down with the Garoppolo ship, saying he “would guess” the current starter will remain QB1 going forward.
Lance is nearing a return from a knee sprain and it’s only a matter of time before he takes over as the starting quarterback in San Francisco if the 49ers continue to drop games. If the 49ers lose in Chicago this weekend with Garoppolo under center, prepare for a change in signal-caller.