The 49ers should put the franchise tag on quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo next year and wait to sign him to a multi-year deal.
Yes, Garoppolo has been the best Christmas present this franchise could ever want. He’s a thrower, a leader, an instiller of a sublime confidence that’s underpinned the 49ers current four-game winning streak. The only thing one needs to know about him is his teammates simply call him, “Franchise.”
For many, that’s enough to warrent a long-term deal right now. However, there are a few things Garoppolo hasn’t done yet. He hasn’t lost and he hasn’t played poorly, and of course, he will.
The 49ers should see how he rebounds after a loss or after he’s thrown a couple of interceptions. Essential to any quarterback is the ability bounce back after playing dreadfully and losing a game for his team. From what everyone’s seen, Garoppolo will be able to rebound, but we still haven’t seen it.
There’s risk in this strategy. Garoppolo won’t like it. It puts him at risk to lose tens of millions if he sustains a career-ending injury, although, he’s probably insured if something that happens. Nevertheless, Garoppolo may think, what more do they want after winning four starts and playing well in every game?
But there’s a greater risk for the 49ers in signing him to a long-term contract. What if Garoppolo goes into a mental funk after a bad loss? What if he doesn’t recover? What if it turns out he’s just a brilliant quarterbacking streak across the midnight sky that simply fizzles out. It’s happened before – Matt Flynn, the former Packers backup, who signed a big contract with the Raiders is probably the best example.
Subbing for Aaron Rogers in 2011, Flynn nearly toppled the Patriots. The next week, he threw for 480 yards and six touchdowns in the Packers’ season finale. Everyone raved about him.
The next year, Flynn signed a three-year, $20.5 million deal with Seattle, and then got beat out in training camp by rookie Russell Wilson. He was shipped to the Raiders with the idea he would be the starter. Six months later, the Raiders cut him. He bounced around the league and eventually left the game in 2015.
He actually spent time with the Patriots and Garoppolo in June of 2015 to provide a veteran presence to Garoppolo following Tom Brady’s deflate-gate suspension. The Patriots released him two months later.
Flynn’s sample size was even shorter than Garoppolo’s. He basically parlayed his 480-yard day into a bonanza that won him over $10 million. Garoppolo has become a national sensation by making a 10-lose team into an instant winner.
Nevertheless, Flynn’s a cautionary tale and quarterbacking might be the most fickle athletic endeavor in sports. The 49ers would be smart to wait and to give Garoppolo more time to see what he can do when he knows the entirety of the Shanahan offense.
More importantly, everyone needs to see what happens when Garoppolo is slammed by adversity. Should the 49ers sign him to a long-term deal without knowing the answer to that question when they don’t have to?