© Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
What do you really expect him to say? There is no universe in which Kyle Shanahan is going to, all of sudden announce to the world, and relinquish all the leverage the 49ers have, that they are moving on from James Richard Garoppolo.
That did not happen on Monday. Shanahan said about what you’d expect him to say. The 49ers have won a lot of games with Garoppolo as their quarterback. Without him, well, they’ve been abysmal.
So, if they are going to replace him, it damn well better be someone they feel confident they can return to a Super Bowl with. He was asked multiple times about Garoppolo, who he all but confirmed will miss the rest of the season with an ankle injury.
Here’s your standard, yes, “he’s our guy”-type answer.
“Yes, I do believe Jimmy is going to be our quarterback next year.”
Good? We done here? Everyone satisfied?
That answer is not worth much. What followed, though, does provide some, if only slight, insight into how Shanahan views Garoppolo and the quarterback position.
He said if not for his injuries, he believe Garoppolo “would have taken steps forward,” and recalled how he’s an avid note-taker. As for the injuries, he said they were “unfortunate,” not directly addressing the fact that he will have only played 28 of a possible 51 games in the last three seasons, good for… 54 percent.
Shanahan absolutely did not lock in Garoppolo as the starter.
“You can’t say anything with certainty,” Shanahan said. “You don’t sit here and make promises on anything. We build a football team. It’s your job to put the best team together, year-in and year-out.”
Shanahan scoffed at the notion that Garoppolo’s salary, set to be $26.9 million, or 11th-most in the NFL next season, is too much, pegging that as middle of the pack and, “that’s just how much they cost.” He said his salary ranked in the 13th-to-19th range, which was only true in 2019, when Garoppolo’s $20 million salary was 15th-most.
This year, Garoppolo’s $26.6 million salary ranked fourth-most in the NFL. In 2018, his $37 million salary was the highest in the league.
What Shanahan declined to address is that while Garoppolo’s deal is not in the upper upper echelon of quarterback salaries, it is still expensive, and his deal is almost fully non-guaranteed. Unlike most quarterbacks and even most pricey, veteran deals, he can be cut, and the 49ers get most of that money—$24.1 million to be exact—back in cap space next season, when the cap is projected to drop, or at best, hold steady.
So, if they did go with a cheaper veteran and a rookie, or one of the two, they would still save a significant amount of money.
Shanahan’s main point is that Garoppolo wins, and their other quarterbacks don’t.
“Look at Jimmy’s record when he’s been here,” Shanahan said. “Jimmy, you can win with. He’s proven that. He’s proven he’s a starting quarterback in this league. We had a couple other guys who got opportunities this year, who played like they have a chance at times to be starting quarterbacks but they did play like backups overall.”
Here’s what the 49ers’ three quarterbacks have done as starters:
- Jimmy Garoppolo: 24-8
- Nick Mullens: 5-11
- C.J. Beathard: 2-9
The door is not shut on anything, though. Shanahan said they’ll evaluate the quarterback position like they do every position, including last year, when they considered going after Tom Brady, but decided against it.
“You look into every avenue, and you see if there’s something out there that can get you a ton better,” Shanahan said. “Same answer for every position. But look at Jimmy. Look what he’s done. Look at where he’s at financially and we better have a very good answer if you’re going to find something better than that because Jimmy’s shown in one year that he’s the guy who can take us to the Super Bowl. And I also think Jimmy’s gonna get a lot better the more he plays.”
One intriguing option? Keep Garoppolo and draft a rookie. Shanahan did mention the Alex Smith-Patrick Mahomes situation in Kansas City.
“Most teams do have an issue with a second team quarterback, unless they’ve drafted a guy, and then had their starter from the year before,” Shanahan said. “You know, someone like Alex [Smith] when they had Patrick [Mahomes].”
The main issue here is that if the cap does tighten up, and it’s not near where it currently is, that leaves a real limited amount of space to work with for, the following players, among the 40-plus who expire this offseason: Trent Williams, Kyle Juszczyk, Jaquiski Tartt, Jason Verrett, K’Waun Williams, Richard Sherman, Ahkello Witherspoon, Nick Mullens (RFA), Emmanuel Moseley (RFA).