Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports


Kyle Shanahan’s patience set Jimmy Garoppolo up for success with 49ers

Aug 22, 2018 at 10:35 AM0


The whole situation with Jimmy Garoppolo had the potential to go very wrong. It didn't, and Garoppolo owes head coach Kyle Shanahan a debt of gratitude.

Ten months after being traded from the New England Patriots to the San Francisco 49ers, Garoppolo is the most hyped quarterback as NFL teams head into the new season. Armed with a new $137.5 million contract and a deeper understanding of Shanahan's playbook, he is ready to meet the high expectations surrounding him.

The 49ers were coming off of their eighth-straight loss when they acquired the quarterback. Shanahan and company had just lost 33-10 to the Philadelphia Eagles. They needed help fast.

"That was a bloodbath," general manager John Lynch told Robert Mays of The Ringer. "We almost had to finish that game with a tight end [at tackle]."

Given the circumstances, it would have been easy to throw Garoppolo into action and hope he could revive the 49ers' season. Shanahan was bombarded with questions about his new quarterback on a daily basis. The questions came from the media, fans, and even his wife.

They asked: "How much of the playbook has he learned? When will he play? When will we finally get to see your guy? What are you waiting for?"

Shanahan didn't succumb to the outside pressure. He had a plan for Garoppolo and never wavered. Shanahan remained patient.

Shanahan and Lynch joined the 49ers armed with six-year contracts. That affords the duo the ability to be patient as they rebuild the roster to match their vision. The 49ers could have drafted a quarterback last year with the second-overall pick. Instead, they traded down one spot and still didn't acquire a franchise quarterback. They could have thrown the massive surplus of salary cap money at free agents as a short-term fix. After all, the 49ers had the resources to sign each of the top players available.

Shanahan and Lynch aren't looking to have short-term success. They are building for the long haul. They are trying to do things the right way. It just turns out things have progressed quicker than initially projected.

"We didn't really try to have a schedule," Lynch recently told Damon Bruce on 95.7 The Game. "I think that's why it was important to have the six-year deals. For no other reason that it could allow us to make decisions for the right reasons. We wanted to set up a situation.

"I think anybody can go out with the money that we had at our disposal and just spend an insane amount of money and compete right away. But can you sustain it? We wanted to build this thing the right way. We wanted to effect a culture by bringing in great people who represent the core values that we're all about. I think when you do that, you have an opportunity to make it sustainable."

Shanahan and Lynch knew they could accelerate the rebuilding process if they found their franchise quarterback. For a long time, two names outside of the draft were at the forefront as potential targets. They were Kirk Cousins, whom the Washington Redskins had franchise tagged for a second-straight season, and Garoppolo.

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports


The 49ers reached out to the Patriots about Garoppolo before last year's draft and were shut down. It seemed like he would not be part of the team's plans. Shanahan moved forward with Brian Hoyer as his quarterback and the hope that he would be able to reunite with Cousins, whom he was familiar with from of his time as the offensive coordinator in Washington.

Then the 49ers received an unexpected call on October 29 from Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. The next morning, Garoppolo was on a flight to the Bay Area to join his new team.

Still, even after surrendering a second-round pick, the 49ers were willing to be patient. Shanahan and Lynch agreed internally not to anoint Garoppolo as "the guy." The understanding was that they surrendered a draft pick to give him a tryout — nothing more. After all, Shanahan knew what he potentially had in Cousins, who was scheduled to become a free agent. Garoppolo arrived with about a game and a half of NFL film to his resume.

Was he as fearless in the pocket as he was years earlier at Eastern Illinois when Shanahan — then a member of the Cleveland Browns — scouted him? Was Garoppolo able to make all of the throws associated with great NFL quarterbacks? How would he be in the locker room? Was he a true leader?

These were all questions that needed to be answered with Garoppolo in the building. As for making the throws, Lynch was impressed right away.

"One of the first throws, it was like, 'Holy ----, this guy. Wow. We've got a chance,'" Lynch told Mays.

The 49ers general manager was eager to see what Garoppolo could do in a game. He pushed for Shanahan to play him right away and the head coach said, "No."

"We had to put him in a position to succeed," Lynch explained. "And once we talked through that, it's not my decision anyway, but I said, 'You're absolutely right. We've got to be patient.'"

The 49ers continued to be patient as Garoppolo absorbed the playbook. They could afford to wait. After all, the team had the franchise tag and a whole lot of salary cap space at its disposal, so there was no real rush to throw him to the wolves — until there was.

A late-game injury to rookie starting quarterback C.J. Beathard during a Week 12 matchup against the Seattle Seahawks forced Shanahan's hand. Garoppolo entered the final minutes of the game and looked flawless in his limited snaps, even without a complete grasp of the playbook.

Beathard did not start another game last season. The 49ers moved forward with Garoppolo. The tryout had begun.

The 49ers' patience paid off. Garoppolo understood enough to be effective as the starting quarterback. Actually, he was more than effective. His leadership and decision making elevated the play of everyone around him. Garoppolo answered every question in Shanahan's head.

"He has a special capability of just rallying the guys and creating respect." fullback Kyle Juszczyk said of his quarterback.

It wasn't until Garoppolo's third start and third victory that Shanahan started to forget about Cousins. The next morning, Shanahan went to Lynch and told him to get a deal done.

"Jimmy went out there and played very well," Shanahan told ESPN's Adam Schefter in April. "In the first game, I was extremely excited. In the second game, I was even more excited. By the third game, I think we all kind of forgot about free agency and about the draft and we're like, 'Alright, we can isolate on one guy right now.'"

Garoppolo was finally their guy.

"Did Kyle know sooner than he let me know, and he just wanted to be extra sure? That kinda deal? I don't know," Lynch said. "But I remember when he came in and said, 'All right, go.' That made me happy because, yes, he does have such a high standard. When he said go, it was like. 'All right, it's on.'"

Two months later, the 49ers signed Garoppolo to a five-year contract, ensuring that they would not have to use the franchise tag and he would not hit free agency. Patience was key during the entire process and the 49ers appear to be on course for success.

* Lynch quotes courtesy of The Ringer and 95.7 The Game.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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