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If you don’t have a grain of salt, you should find one. It is the only logical, health-conscious way with which to listen to Kyle Shanahan’s press conferences. Once a paragon of openness, Shanahan has turned a corner this year when it comes to sharing information.
He’s no Bill Belichick, but he’s made a discernible—and understandble—shift towards keeping his cards closer to his chest. So, when he does make statements about the future, it’s crucial not to take a blind bite of the apple.
On Tuesday, in a statement which should surprise exactly no one, the head coach did not disavow his still-under-contract starting quarterback, and is optimistic he’ll return this year.
“I expect Jimmy to be our starter next year,” Shanahan said. “I expect him to come play with us this year. We have six games left. We are not out of the playoffs yet. I’ve been on a team that was 3-6 going into a bye week that ended up winning their division. I think we have guys on this team capable of finishing this the right way. We got to do it one game at a time and I hope Jimmy can come back and be a part of that.”
Shanahan was of course referring to the 2012 Washington Football Team, which won seven-straight games following a Week 10 bye en route to a playoff berth, before being ousted in the Divisional Round in that infamous game which shifted the trajectory of Robert Griffin III’s career.
Perhaps the more notable part of Shanahan’s supposed avowing of Garoppolo was that, he didn’t exactly avow him. He clarified that no decisions have been made, leaving the door open for, well, anything.
“To think that we’ve made any decisions on anybody going into the future isn’t the case,” Shanahan said. “Jimmy’s won a lot of games for us this year. It’s a lot harder to win games when he’s not here. And I’m just hoping we can get him back.”
We are at Week 11 and the 49ers are on a bye. There is no scenario in which Shanahan would choose this moment to announce Garoppolo will be gone next year.
Garoppolo has two very easy-to-cut years left on his contract, but success does not favor the path of announcing to the world that you’re done with your quarterback, let alone one who may still have some trade value and is 24-8 as a starter.
Could Garoppolo return next year? Of course. But even him returning is not mutually exclusive with drafting a rookie to eventually upstage him or bringing in a veteran to compete with him.
Shanahan provided some expected lip service. But just as crucially, he made clear the future has yet to be decided, and lessened the impact of that nominal support. The balance of those impending quarterback decisions may revolve around draft position, which is anyone’s guess.