By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Jimmy Garoppolo is hurt.
Despite looking just fine while beating the Patriots a little over a week ago, the quarterback left the 49ers’ Week 8 loss in Seattle after three quarters and did not return. And he won’t be returning for some time.
After aggravating his high ankle sprain, Garoppolo is set to miss six weeks — but possibly longer. Adam Schefter indicated that surgery may be needed, which would obviously extend that absence.
As such, it seems as though Garoppolo’s tenure in San Francisco may be over.
The 49ers have paid all of their guaranteed money to Garoppolo, thus making his employment a year-to-year arrangement for 2021 and 2022.
Considering the Niners gave up a second-round pick and invested some $67 million in the QB over the past three years, the team may feel compelled to keep him. But given the injuries (he’ll have missed at least 23 starts since 2016 due to injury by the end of his current absence) and the lack of development (34 TDs and 18 INTs in his last 22 games), the Niners may choose to go in a younger, cheaper direction.
And with a 4-4 record and a last-place standing in the NFC West, this may be a reset year where John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan assess all options.
One person who feels as though Garoppolo’s time in San Francisco may be over is the man who served as the Jimmy G. to Joe Montana.
“Can we get to a place where Kyle Shanahan, this innovative offensive coordinator, one of the best head coaches in the league, can find a quarterback that he can trust and just be expansive with, rather than protect?” Hall of Famer Steve Young said on ESPN. “I think that’s been the issue with Jimmy, and I think that 25 million dollars and a shrinking salary cap, with this injury, I just don’t know how Jimmy ends up being the quarterback for the 49ers next year. It’s about the relationship between Kyle Shanahan and Jimmy. That’s what matters. They’ve created a system that Jimmy can be successful in. It’s not the system that Kyle wants to run.”
Young added: “Kyle is going to be a coach there for 10 years. He will be one of the long term coaches when he’s finally done. Does he want Jimmy, to concoct an offense for or him, or does he want somebody who can actually be expansive and ‘do all the things that are in my brain rattling around,’ That’s what Kyle wants to do.”
Those are strong words from the second-best quarterback in Niners history, who did not mince words about Garoppolo’s limitations. Perhaps Young was riffing off the top of his head, or perhaps Young was rather well-informed with that opinion. The latter does seem more likely.
And if the 49ers choose to traded or cut Garoppolo before next season, one has to wonder whether Bill Belichick will swoop in to reclaim his prize from the 2014 draft.
Obviously, Belichick liked what he saw out of Garoppolo during the QB’s time at Eastern Illinois — enough to feel inspired to draft Garoppolo with the 62nd overall pick before dropping subtle hints that Tom Brady’s time was running short. There was even that October 2014 report — for what it was worth — that said the Patriots would be switching from Brady to Jimmy “sooner than later.”
As we know now, the greatest quarterback of all time embarked on a bit of a late-career renaissance, going out and winning three Super Bowls, being the MVP of the league at age 40, yada, yada, yada. That whole “Brady being great thing” threw a wrench in the Garoppolo-for-the-future plan hatched by Belichick.
So it’s worth wondering if Belichick will want to try to make it work with Jimmy a second time around. All of those postgame congratulatory texts from 2017 surely won’t be forgotten by either party.
The Patriots’ current quarterback situation is certainly not stable. Though some eager folks called for a Cam Newton extension after three games this season, he’s since thrown zero touchdowns and five interceptions as the Patriots have slid to 2-5. Signing Cam long term may not be the answer.
Likewise, Jarrett Stidham — drafted as Jimmy G. 2.0 in New England — has fallen flat on his face whenever he’s gotten an opportunity thus far in his young career. He has thrown just 27 passes and — incredibly — four of them have been intercepted. Only 13 of them have been completed. His performance during training camp was so uninspiring that he began the season third on the depth chart, behind career backup Brian Hoyer.
So the answer may not currently be in Foxboro. Which makes you wonder how Belichick will attack year two (and beyond) of the post-Brady era in New England.
Might Garoppolo’s injury history and stagnant growth dissuade Belichick from offering up some of the team’s ample cap room for the QB this coming spring?
Or, with the Patriots potentially owning a top-10 draft pick, might Belichick utilize that rare opportunity to seek out one of the best QBs in the college game, thereby adding a new signal caller for five years at (likely) less money than Garoppolo may command?
Or … might the 49ers assess their own options and realize their grass might not be any greener without Jimmy G. punching the clock in Santa Clara?
The answers have not yet materialized, of course, but the coming weeks and months will be rather interesting to watch, as a door may indeed open for James Garoppolo to return to Gillette Stadium, just as Belichick envisioned six years ago.