USA Today Sports

San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch "really believes" Jimmy Garoppolo will be back as the team's starting quarterback in 2021, but the rest of the NFL isn't so sure. That includes Garoppolo's old squad, the New England Patriots, who still have the 29-year-old signal-caller as their top target for the upcoming season. That's according to Greg Bedard of the Boston Sports Journal, who reported this week that Garoppolo is "far and away their 'Plan A'" at quarterback for this season.

"The optimal situation for the Patriots this coming season," Bedard said on his Patriots podcast, "is Jimmy G coming back here."

That would require the 49ers initiating or at least listening to trade offers for Garoppolo, who is under contract through 2022. But that doesn't seem out of the realm of possibility, regardless of Lynch's latest insistence that Garoppolo could return under center. Lynch, after all, is still just one year removed from admitting to a potential pursuit of Tom Brady as a Garoppolo replacement, and coach Kyle Shanahan has been even more upfront about the possibility of upgrading at QB ahead of 2021.

The Patriots' reported interest in Garoppolo comes as no surprise. Four years after trading the former second-round draft pick to San Francisco, New England is in dire need of a successor to Tom Brady, who gave way to a middling and injured Cam Newton in 2020. The Patriots are reportedly not enamored with this year's crop of free agent QBs, which would include Newton, and they've reportedly already been calling about every veteran signal-caller perceived to be available via trade.

Garoppolo spent the first four seasons of his career in New England as Brady's backup. A two-time Super Bowl champion with the Pats, he's posted solid numbers as a starter for the Niners but has also struggled to stay on the field, missing 23 games since 2018.