This time last year, the San Francisco 49ers were undefeated through the first five weeks of the regular season and were beginning their march to a 13-3 record (best in the NFC) and an appearance in Super Bowl LIV. While they didn't come away with a Lombardi Trophy, they were a mere quarter of the way from doing so before Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs ripped off a 21-0 run in the fourth quarter to snatch that title away. The loss certainly stung, but the 49ers' future was overwhelmingly bright. It still is.
A big question, however, that San Francisco will soon face is who'll be the quarterback leading the franchise -- one that is filled with All-Pro and Pro Bowl talent across the roster -- into this promising era. Of course, the logical answer is Jimmy Garoppolo, the club's current signal-caller and the one who helped the Niners reach the Super Bowl a season ago. If you had asked this question in the midst of last season, you'd likely get a resounding answer that favors No. 10. As the world has learned over the last few months, however: 2020 is far different than 2019.
With Week 5 of this season in the books, the 49ers are at the bottom of the NFC West with a 2-3 record and are fresh off of a 43-17 shellacking at the hands of the Miami Dolphins. That game saw the return of Jimmy Garoppolo after he missed the previous two games due to a high ankle sprain, but this comeback was anything but ceremonious. The 28-year-old struggled mightily in the first half, completing just seven of his 17 throws for 77 yards and two interceptions. As San Francisco walked out onto the field for the second half facing a 30-7 deficit, head coach Kyle Shanahan handed the offense to C.J. Beathard and had Garoppolo on the bench.
"Watching how we were playing as a whole (and) watching how he was playing, you can tell he was affected by his ankle," Shanahan told reporters postgame when asked why he made the switch. "I know he doesn't normally throw the ball that way and I think he was struggling a little bit because of it. The way the game was going, I wasn't going to keep putting him in those positions knowing we were going to have to throw it a lot to come back. I think it hurt him from being at his best."
To Shanahan's point, Garoppolo was far more efficient prior to injuring his ankle to begin the year. Over the first two weeks, he completed 67.35% of his passes, averaged 195 yards through the air per game, and totaled four touchdowns with zero interceptions. Good, but not spectacular.
That brings us to the main question: Will Jimmy Garoppolo be the best option for the 49ers beyond 2020? It's a fair question to ask, especially with the flexibility that the franchise is about to have with its current starting QB this offseason. Once the 2020 season comes to a close, the 49ers have the ability to get out from under Garopplo's $137.5 million deal he signed back in February of 2018 relatively unscathed. If they moved on, they'd clear roughly $24 million off their cap in 2021 and only have $2.8 million and $1.4 million in dead cap charges over the next two seasons.
Having the ability to rid themselves of Garoppolo so easily does make one wonder if John Lynch and the rest of the 49ers brass would ever have a wandering eye towards some of the quarterbacks that could be available this offseason. Those quarterbacks could include Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, Sam Darnold, Daniel Jones, and Dak Prescott. If San Francisco viewed one or more of these QBs as an upgrade, it'd certainly be worth kicking the tires to help a team locked-and-loaded for another Super Bowl run when healthy.
The 49ers have an immensely difficult schedule the rest of the way in 2020, with games against the Rams, Patriots, Seahawks, Packers and Saints on deck before their Week 11 bye. While it's a tough road, this is a critical time for Garoppolo -- who has already received some doubt about being able to take the 49ers over the hump after he missed Emmanuel Sanders for a possible game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl LIV -- to return to form and quickly.
If he doesn't, he may give San Francisco something to think about, which would put his future in the Bay Area in serious jeopardy.