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Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports


Feels Great Maybe? Jimmy Garoppolo’s time on the 49ers could be coming to an end

Oct 15, 2020 at 2:14 PM0


Five weeks into the NFL season, the San Francisco 49ers find themselves digging a hole they might not be able to climb out of this season. Sitting at 2-3, and in last place in an increasingly competitive NFC West, the 49ers are on the verge of removing themselves from any kind of playoff discussion, let alone being a Super Bowl contender. Injuries have certainly played their part, but this 49er roster has been constructed with enough depth to give them a punchers chance regardless.

Far more unsettling than the injuries, however, is the recent play of starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, whom the 49ers paid a handsome sum (pun intended) to be their franchise signal caller in 2018. Outside of one good half against a winless Jets team, this season Garoppolo has looked nothing like the franchise quarterback he is being paid to be. In what felt like a must win Week 5 matchup with the Miami Dolphins, Garoppolo delivered arguably the worst performance of his career, posting an abysmal 15.7 passer rating before being benched at halftime. Head coach Kyle Shanahan said the move to bench Garoppolo was to protect the quarterback, who is still dealing with a high ankle sprain he suffered in Week 2 vs the New York Jets.

The context of this injury is important to consider when weighing the performance Garoppolo had against the Dolphins, although if he was healthy enough to start, he is rightfully subjected to the criticism regarding his play. Garoppolo posted a stat line of 7 completions on 17 attempts for 77 yards, zero touchdowns and two interceptions. Garoppolo's passer rating, as well as his 1.4 QBR, were both league lows for quarterbacks in a start this season. It didn't take any kind of advanced statistic to see that Garoppolo was clearly struggling against an average Dolphins defense, constantly making erratic throws and not having the required velocity to push the ball downfield accurately. Could this be a result of the high ankle sprain he is dealing with? Sure, it's definitely within the realm of possibility the injury is affecting his mechanics. The troubling thing is that Garoppolo's struggles with accuracy issues, as well as his inability to throw a consistent deep ball, were problems well before the ankle was ever an issue.

Statistics without context can often be misleading, as is the case when looking at Garoppolo's completion percentage, which benefits greatly from the play calling and play design deployed by Shanahan. Garoppolo is often given quick and easy reads that provide open looks over the middle. It appears defenses have caught up to the 49ers offense that dominated last season, and as a result have done a better job stopping the run, as well as taking away the short to intermediate area between the numbers, where Garoppolo is at his best throwing the football. Opposing defenses seem content taking away the middle of the field, while daring Garoppolo to beat them deep or outside the numbers, things he has struggled to do with any kind of consistency going back to last season.

Among qualified quarterbacks last season, Garoppolo had the fewest deep balls thrown into tight windows, while also having the 4th fewest deep ball attempts. Those numbers look particularly troublesome when you account for the fact two of the players who had fewer attempts than Garoppolo didn't start more than 8 games last season, while Garoppolo started all 16. Essentially, Garoppolo was not throwing downfield unless the looks were schemed wide open, and on multiple occasions was the beneficiary of a blown coverage or blunder by an opposing defensive back. The problem this presents for the 49ers is that it limits the ceiling of their own offense as defenses don't have to respect being beat over the top. This allows opposing defenses to load up the box, which inevitably restricts the 49ers rushing attack from being the juggernaut it was in 2019.

The ripple effect carries over into the passing game, due to how dependent the 49ers are on play action. Garoppolo's numbers are substantially better when he runs the play action than when he does not, a noticeable disparity that was greater than all but two other quarterbacks in 2019, when Garoppolo posted the 3rd largest decrease in success rate when not using play action. When the play action isn't working, his flaws as a passer become magnified. Add in the fact that Garoppolo isn't very mobile and is stuck behind an offensive line that has regressed significantly, and suddenly the long-term view of the offense's potential starts to become questionable.

It's no secret mobile quarterbacks are taking over the league as defenses evolve and get faster, putting the traditional pocket quarterback on the fast track to becoming antiquated. Having an inconsistent quarterback who can't create outside of the pocket will make it extremely difficult to build any kind of long-term success, especially in the absence of a dominant run game or an elite defense, luxuries the 49ers were lucky to have simultaneously last season. If Garoppolo is going to be asked to beat teams by dropping back and throwing at a high volume with consistency, it is fair to wonder where this team's ceiling stands while Garoppolo is expected to carry the load. I think it certainly removes the 49ers from any kind of Super Bowl contender conversations, and the question quickly becomes, are they even a playoff caliber team under their current identity?

If Garoppolo's play continues to decline as the 49ers progress through the 2020 season, the organization needs to take a hard look at admitting it got it wrong with a player it thought would solidify the quarterback position for years to come when Garoppolo was signed to a 5-year contract extension in February 2018. At the time of the deal, the 49er front office showed tremendous faith in Garoppolo, making him the then highest paid player in the league while including $86.4 million in guarantees over the first three years of the contract. However, the organization included an opt out after the third year, that would allow the team to cut Garoppolo after the 2020 season while only absorbing a $2.8 million cap hit in 2021 and $1.4 million in 2022, according to Spotrac.

If Shanahan and the 49ers are truly ready to move on, the $4.2 million cap hit spread across two seasons would be minor cost compared to the $53.9 million Garoppolo is scheduled to make over that span on his current deal. If Shanahan decides to find a replacement in the 2021 draft, the amount of money saved by having a quarterback on a rookie deal could go a long way in the efforts to retain key impending free agents like Richard Sherman, K'Waun Williams, and the recently acquired Trent Williams. Should Shanahan and the front office prefer a veteran replacement, the freed-up funds would make the pursuit of a player like Dak Prescott or Matt Ryan much more realistic given the financial flexibility.

The bottom line is the 49ers will be faced with a big decision this offseason. They either pull the plug on the Jimmy Garoppolo Experience, or they commit to him for at least another year, during a season that sits in the heart of a Super Bowl window, and those windows typically do not stay open for long in the National Football League. If there is any inkling of doubt after this season that Garoppolo is not the guy moving forward, it would be in the best interest of the franchise to find a replacement who has the ability to create with his legs as well as throw a consistent deep ball with accuracy. A mobile quarterback who can extend plays would theoretically mask the bad play from a struggling offensive line, and the ability to take the top off a defense with the deep ball would open up Shanahan's playbook in a way that has yet to be seen during his time in San Francisco.
The views 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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