San Francisco invests in it’s future signing Jeff Garcia

Aug 11, 2001 at 12:00 AM

It has been a drama all his life right up to when he first set foot on to the soil at 3-Com Park in San Francisco. It has always been about just one factor that he has struggled with all his life and that is a measure of respect for Jeff Garcia.

He was awarded that respect finally as the 49er’s cast their vote for Jeff Garcia to lead them into the next decade, and reach the milestone that they haven’t reached for so long the destination the Super Bowl.

Just three years ago, Jeff Garcia could not even get personnel directors to return his telephone calls as the former San Jose State quarterback sought to return to the United States after five full seasons in the Canadian Football League.

He remained optimistic and was identified eventually by the quarterback guru himself in Bill Walsh, as he was brought back and blessed with the starting position shortly into the 1999 season after Steve Young’s abrupt career ending injury.

Jeff since then has been on a rampage to gain the respect he so truly deserves, at 31-years old he made the Pro Bowl last season after passing for 31 touchdowns and a team-record 4,278 yards. It was his second NFL season and his first as a full-time starter, but the 49er’s were thrilled by his aggressive play and his maturity.

On Wednesday July 25th, Garcia just before training camp signed a six-year, $36 million dollar deal. The deal includes a guaranteed $8.1 million in bonuses over the next two years. This is an exact indication of the faith and the respect the franchise has come to acquire for Jeff Garcia, all the skeptics can now back off.

“It is our policy, that we don’t usually discuss all the numbers of our contracts in great detail,” general manager Terry Donahue said, “but in this case I wanted to give the media and the fans in San Francisco an opportunity to see how strong our commitment to Jeff is.”

With the signing of Jeff on that Wednesday, the 49er’s guaranteed themselves that he would be on the practice field the next day for training camp with no hold out. They would have liked to have signed him much sooner, but their limited salary-cap space made the deal very difficult.

Overall they came to a deal that will pay Jeff a hefty amount in the second year of his contract in order to create a cap-friendly number this year. The last two years of the contract are voided if Garcia meets certain prerequisites.

No one believed that Jeff could be the contender for the coveted quarterback position after Steve Young, every 49er fan clung to a hope that Steve Young would be able to last forever. We somehow made ourselves to believe that he was here forever.

But after a shaky start as Steve Young’s replacement in 1999, Garcia settled into the role brilliantly last season, earning a trip to the Pro Bowl. Though he is one of the smallest quarterbacks in the league at 6-foot-1, the 49er’s feel comfortable handing him the reins because he fits so nicely in the West Coast offense. He is mobile; he has great pocket instincts and is very careful with the ball.

Last year a true indication was made of that, as Garcia threw 31 touchdown passes versus only 10 interceptions. Obviously his offensive line a consistent strength in the 49er legion had something to do with that, but overall Jeff deserves some credit for such a feat.

“You know what was so great about the development of Jeff Garcia was that he had to earn his stripes,” coach Steve Mariucci said of the former Canadian Football League star who started 10 games (winning only two) as a rookie in 1999. “He was thrown to the wolves early; probably earlier than he was ready for. He wasn’t handed the starting job. He had to earn it. He had to play well. And he had to prove himself time and time again.” “But he kept pressing on, kept fighting for a job. He showed toughness, he showed leadership ability, and he showed veteran-type awareness and maturity.”

I cannot help but acknowledge the fact that Jeff in my opinion was a prototype player in the same mold as Steve Young was in almost every aspect. He demonstrated the same techniques and applications as Young in so many instances. I felt like this was the man that would lead us into the next generation of 49er accomplishments.

“Essentially, the contract means that Garcia will be the 49er’s starting quarterback for the for-see-able future. The contract “gives you a great picture of our confidence in Jeff,” said general manager Terry Donahue. “We are extremely excited about the deal. We truly believe Jeff is on his way to being one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, the quarterback who can get us back to the playoffs.”

There was a lot of fear as the deadline for training camp approached, as Jeff was expected to be embroiled in a contract hold out, that would have meant him not participating in camp until a contract was settled upon.

As an exclusive free agent, Garcia could not even show up for work until the contract issue was settled, a possibility that certainly didn’t set well with 49er’s coach Steve Mariucci.

Jeff had been faithful and always diligent about working hard and practicing during the off-season, showing up every day at the 49er’s complex in Santa Clara to workout and study game film.
This is why Mariucci feared a protracted holdout would stymie the continued development of the quarterback who spent five years in the Canadian Football League before joining the 49er’s in 1999.

Garcia has been a testament of faith to what keeping your nose clean and honest hard work will accomplish for you, if you only apply yourself on a daily basis to those fundamental principles. He has been instrumental in encouraging his teammates when they have been down. He has been outstanding in his community and doing charitable work.

Jeff has created a snapshot of himself now not only to his team but to the world as well, and it is up to us to acknowledge him for his generous contributions and give him the honest respect that he so deserves.

During those tense negotiations both parties were in positive positions entering the talks: An exclusive rights free agent, Garcia was bound to the 49er’s as long as they tendered him an offer, which they did.
As for Garcia? Well, put it this way: Would the 49er’s like to start their season with Garcia, Rick Mirer or second-year quarterback Tim Rattay?

The very thought of either back up opening the season as a starting quarterback is enough to make any general manager rethink his negotiating strategy. “The deal shows that the 49er’s are committed to Jeff as their future,” said Steve Baker his agent, who added that the possibility of a holdout was never an option. “We felt it was extremely important for him to be in camp and build upon last season.”

Steve Mariucci has been very gracious with Jeff, and has been a driving force for him to succeed. Much in the same way as when he was Green Bay Packers quarterbacks coach in tutoring Brett Favre. He has displayed the same intuition and encouragement in seeking resolution to the contract issue surrounding Jeff and his future with the 49er’s.

You have to stop and wonder why Mariucci is so steadfast in rounding Garcia into one of the best quarterbacks in the league, I believe it’s because he has the ability and knowledge to make that a reality.

“He’s earned this job in a rebuilding process,” Mariucci said. “So, he’s got to feel that we can be a good offense and we’ve got some improving defense. He’s going to get better and better as we go, and as he develops and matures in this organization, the team is going to grow around him.”

The deal in which Jeff signed was structured as to give the 49er’s cap relief in the first year. His cap figure for 2001 is only $600,000. However, bonuses, incentives and escalators in the deal can pump up the value of the contract significantly. Here are some examples.

If Garcia guides the 49er’s to the playoffs in at least one of the next three seasons, his salary will jump to that of the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks, which is close to $7 million per season. No matter what Garcia does in the next two seasons, his salary and bonuses provide him with at least $10 million.

I believe it was most essential to get a deal done for Jeff Garcia, Ideally, dollar signs should not follow football players onto the field. However realistically, they still do. Should we not have had a deal done and allowed this matter to fester he would have been labeled like an unproven hanger-on and it would have sent a dismal message to him, to his teammates and to everyone.

Jeff Garcia has one of the most prestigious jobs in all of professional sports, and that is being the starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49er’s. To not have a deal or a deal that had some substance and meaning to it would have degraded his position.

Garcia more than earned his contract last year, making the Pro Bowl, and finishing as the fifth-rated passer in the league to top it all off. Some in the industry and even some fans still believe that it maybe was a fluke.

If losing running back Charlie Garner damages Jeff Garcia’s effectiveness this season, the 49er’s might be compelled to admit they made an error. But when Garcia earned the job, through relentless hard work and being scrutinized day in and day out, he also bought himself some patience. He proved he should not be abandoned on a whim, or even after a single season of decline.

As in most contract agreements between a franchise and an elite player it is critical that each show each other a measure of commitment. Jeff takes over the reins of a franchise that was steered by the golden boys of Notre Dame and Brigham Young. To become complacent now, he’d have to be some kind of a freak.

Even though Garcia had some encouraging numbers last year, the stigma still remains as to the fact that they did not come on a winning team last year at 6-10. All that they really proved was that Garcia can play; not that he can win and bring them to the next level. I believe that with the appropriate players around him, that he will be able to do just that.

In a world of so much doubt and hesitation and impatience, it will be difficult for Jeff to win over even the harshest of his enemies. However he believes that first he must start with himself, proving to him that he can take the team to the next phase.
Should he do that he then will address those issues that surround the rest of the team, for now he expresses his confidence in a coaching staff that is astounding in what it has done with so much raw talent.

Jeff Garcia, a Bay Area product who grew up in Gilroy and attended San Jose State, spent five years in the CFL, and won the Grey Cup with Calgary in 1998 before Bill Walsh signed him to back up Young in 1999. After Young was injured early in the season, Garcia started 10 games and threw for 2,544 yards and 11 touchdowns.

“Jeff has proven he wants the job he has by the way worked in the last off-season and in the current off-season,” Mariucci said. “He has come to camp a better quarterback both years.”

Jeff Garcia was the NFL’s fifth-rated passer last season with a 97.2 quarterback rating. He threw just 10 interceptions; none in any of the 49er’s six victories. Garcia was an exclusive-rights free agent, meaning that the 49er’s needed only to make him a qualifying offer of $389,000 to retain his rights.

Jeff has had to struggle for almost everything he has seemed to accomplish, he was a career passing leader at San Jose State, but he failed to attract the attention of NFL scouts when his college career ended. This forced the Gilroy native to ply his trade in the cold confines of the Canadian Football League, a place where careers go to die.

But somehow that was not to be the case with Jeff Garcia; he used the league as a platform to show his stuff, and he used it as a springboard to the NFL in 1999, when he auditioned for the Raiders, Jaguars, Rams, Dolphins and 49er’s.

What was one of the most humiliating times for him at this junction in his life was when working out for those teams the slights just kept coming. When Garcia visited Jacksonville, the team had him toss passes to an employee; apparently, there were no receivers in town, so the Jaguars trotted out a public relations assistant to catch his throws. To this day, Garcia considers the experience the ultimate joke.

There was just one man that remembered him for what he was and what he possibly could bring to the 49er’s one day, and that was Bill Walsh himself, the very magician that had found so many great and elite quarterbacks so many times before.

He was the ultimate ally, Back when coaching Stanford, Walsh got a first-hand look at the lanky quarterback with the average arm but daring style of play during a game against the Spartans, a contest Garcia nearly won all by himself.
The image of this quarterback running around and delivering one impossible pass after another was indelibly etched in Walsh’s memory. And when he got the chance to bring Garcia to the NFL, he pounced on the opportunity.

Still nonetheless there are so many 49er fans that still hold on to the glory days of the past, like a time warp they travel there often to obscure their memory of what has happened to the 49er’s these past two seasons. It is time for those fans to come to reality and believe that we need to reconvene for the future build and improve each and every year so that those days may somehow return full circle.

“I think I’ve come a long way,” Garcia said. “It’s been an uphill battle throughout. But Bill Walsh opened the door for me, and I’m appreciative.”

Once again Jeff Garcia will be in the spotlight of criticism, and for him to conquer that he will have to go out and do it without Charlie Garner or Jerry Rice as both wear Oakland Raider uniforms now.
Even though the connection is not mentioned as to the connections of yesterday, the aerial connection between Jeff Garcia and wide receiver Terrell Owens will continue to damage opposing teams as they come to play the 49er’s.
It will be relied on more than ever as this season approaches. The fact that Charlie Garner will not be there to alleviate some of the pressure on Jeff, has to make you wonder if he should crack under so much duress.

That is why the rehabilitation of Garrison Hearst is being talked about so much and considered a pro football miracle in all itself because of the nature of his injury. Drafting Pittsburgh’s Kevan Barlow as insurance and leaning on second-year running back Paul Smith will be crucial for Jeff to mix it up and stay productive.

As training camp rolls along it is of no measure that Jeff can ideally relate to so many young and nervous faces out on the practice field, athletes that have come to try out for one of the most prestigious football franchises in all of history.
Every team has it’s share of long-shot free agents, but for the last two summers, the 49er’s have invited more than their share to training camp. The team’s cap situation forces them to search for cheap rookie labor.

Every rookie that comes and plays during camp are human beings full of excitement and hopeful aspirations of making the team. They possess desire a desire that has been sharpened because the player at the top of the team started out just like they did. Jeff Garcia knows and will always remember where he started from and how his roots began to grow over time with hard work.

Thirty-six free agents compose a large part of the 49er’s 90-man roster, most of the players being rookies. These are the players just like the last two seasons that will claw, scratch and dig to find themselves a steady place of employment on the 49er roster come regular season.

“He wasn’t handed the job;” 49er’s Coach Steve Mariucci said. “He had to earn every penny he has ever made. He went from high school to a junior college, to San Jose State to Canada to sitting on a bench. Nothing was ever handed to him on a silver platter.”

Whatever the circumstance the fact remains is that Garcia is a shining example for these rookie free agents to stand up and take notice of, for he is the catalyst from which they could come from.

"I’m wearing his shoes,” said rookie wide receiver Jimmy Farris, who’s trying to make the team as a free agent from the University of Montana. Farris wasn’t thrilled with the shoes he was wearing when he strolled by Garcia’s locker, where a new shipment of 15 cleats had just been delivered. “He said, 'Do you want a pair?” Farris related. “And he gave me two pairs.” The redheaded Farris somehow even shares a resemblance of Jeff Garcia, In fact, his friends in Lewiston, Idaho, labeled him “Little Garcia.”

Of all the roles Garcia has wanted to assume it has been the leadership role the most, he feels he can only be better by the way he effectively leads the team by example, he spends a lot of time and energy proving that on a daily basis.

Another player Bruce Wiggins, a free agent center from the University of Arizona, has acknowledged Garcia’s potential. I’ve talked to him quite a bit.” “He’s the consummate leader.”

“He’s the type of guy, if you need something, he’ll tell you,” former Mississippi wide receiver Grant Heard said. “He’s a coach on the field.”

Garcia has made it a point to go out and help long-shot players more so than other NFL stars, he does so because he knows where his roots came from and what each individual is feeling at the time, he shows compassion and infinite amount of patience with these athletes. “I know how I appreciated people, who would take me aside, and keep my confidence up and keep me positive,” Garcia said.

If there is any one place that will break someone’s human will especially an aspiring athlete feeling like they are on the break to stardom it will be NFL training camp. Nothing will decimate a player’s self-esteem more. Everyone is a number basically and you have to really shine for your number to stand out among the coaches.

“You have to be completely focused on yourself,” said burly defensive tackle John Schecht from the University of Minnesota. “You can’t get discouraged if you see somebody next to you doing better than you.”

Free agents that come to training camp must think of every angle possible in order to make the final cut to be on the team roster, that’s why rookie wide receiver Jimmy Farris, for example, knew he had to prove his special-teams mettle if he’s going to make the team. That’s why he and his agent shipped tape of Farris special-team’s play in his freshman and sophomore years to 49er’s special-team’s coach Bruce DeHaven.

Training camp is almost an excerpt right out of the movie “Gladiator” where many prized athletes are brought on to an arena to display their strength, courage and stamina. To ultimately feast on the main prize and that is a chance to be recognized and picked by some proven force that will relate to them on an equal level.

It has to be emotional as well as physical for when the competition heats up, and bodies fall down and are crushed, minds are also damaged as they are compelled to understand that they must start from all over again. The brutal finish is unbelievable.

In 1999, Jeff Garcia remembers getting courted by the Dolphins and the 49er’s. There was so much more to his decision to head for San Francisco than its proximity with his native Gilroy.

“I knew (former general manager) Bill Walsh was in my corner,” Garcia said. “I knew I would be more than just a training-camp quarterback.” However Jeff was fortunate to have such a prestigious evaluator, not many ever have that commodity. In most situations to a rookie free agent in training camp the odds seem insurmountable at best.

“I think one thing you have to do is continue to be a competitor,” Garcia said. “Don’t get down, keep competing; if you don’t make it here, maybe you make it some place else.”

Being the quarterback Jeff works closely with the wide receivers, and he knows making the team, as a free agent wide out is nearly impossible barring injury. “Our receiver situation is basically set,” Garcia said. “It’s going to be very difficult.”

However he encourages that the process should still continue as talent is revealed almost everyday that goes by. The experiences that these young men will go through will forever be etched in their minds and hearts as they continue to strive to make a professional roster.

“Soak it all in and grow as much as possible,” Garcia advised. “See what happens. See where the chips fall.”

With his new contract one would speculate that Jeff Garcia would become a different person having never known what it is like to have so much money, he has been used too much smaller contracts that paid little all his life.

He has admitted that it will change nothing about his character and the way he lives his life, saying he would still continue to go bargain hunting, and that he has made some plans to set aside some of the money to take care of both his family and himself.

“What this enables me to do is to start to set things up for me and my family’s future and hopefully my kids and my kid’s kids,” Garcia said. A day after signing the deal. “Obviously, I’m in a better situation, but it’s not going to change me from looking for the best price for something.”

Jeff Garcia represents a huge investment for the 49er’s as a team, including a $10 million commitment in the first two years that could foul the 49er’s payroll structure if he were lost to an injury.

Everyone in the 49er front office acknowledges that there are always risks when signing prized players to lucrative and prestigious contracts, everyone is going to hurt should that player fall to injury or some other serious predicament.

“Every player that we sign to a large contract is at risk, everyone,” General Manager Terry Donahue said. “But I don’t think you can harness a player and try to control how he plays or impart rules on how he plays.”

Garcia has been genuine and crafty in the way that he has been able to avoid the rush and serious injury over the last two seasons. He also now understands how important it is for him to stay healthy throughout the season because of the large contract, and that he will have to be more careful in making decisions regarding his well being on the field.

Many times Jeff can be seen like last season lowering his head and diving for a first down or a touchdown at the goal line and think nothing of it. But now he is forced to rethink some of his philosophies and his game management decisions, as he is the main man now more than ever.

“My approach has always been gung-ho,” Garcia said. “I looked at it like, “Why should I be looked at any different than a running back. They get hit a lot more than I do. What’s a couple hits? But when it’s the quarterback, people are trying to take your head off, basically. They want to knock you out of the game, and they give you their best shot.”

Garcia has admitted that he needs to reevaluate the way he runs and the way he takes off and takes risks with his physical being, but he will not slow down and he will never stop trying to make a play out of nothing, no matter what it takes.

This has caused mental fits for head coach Steve Mariucci, as he had to go through the same mentality with Steve Young and his risk taking over and over again. He also said that reducing the risk for high-salaried quarterbacks makes economic sense and football sense.

“The more important part of that is he’s your quarterback and you need to keep your quarterback healthy,” Mariucci said. “There’s naturalness to his running and improvisation. It’s kind of a double-edged sword. He might take some hits and come up a little dizzy from time to time, but most of the time he makes first downs and moves the sticks.”

Whatever the scenario and however you want to play it out inside your head I believe that Jeff will continue to do what he does best, and that is trying to move the chains at whatever cost it might take. He will continue to sacrifice himself although he can expect a much angrier head coach upon returning to the sideline.

Jeff will always do whatever it takes to move the team in a positive direction, and try to take advantage of the weaknesses of his opponent, he will be a leader both on and off the field and already has made huge strides in that direction. I say to the skeptics and fans that still doubt him back off!

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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