After a crushing loss in Super Bowl LIV, the San Francisco 49ers were meant to exact revenge on the rest of the NFL via a ‘Revenge Tour 2020’. Well, five weeks into the 2020 season and it seems the rest of the NFL is getting revenge on the 49ers.
The Niners currently stand a 2-3 after an embarrassing 43-17 defeat to the Miami Dolphins. There was a long list of reasons for the 49ers downfall against the Dolphins, including cornerback Brian Allen giving up 21 whole points on his own, but perhaps the most glaring issue lies at quarterback.
Jimmy Garoppolo was yanked at half-time for C.J. Beathard after recording 77 yards throwing, completing 7/17 (41.18%) of his throws, with 2 interceptions and QBR of 15.7. The only scoring drive San Francisco had when Garoppolo was in the game happened when Garoppolo did not throw one pass. All in all, it was a complete and utter disaster.
According to 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, Garoppolo was benched at half-time, and performing so badly, due to his ankle not being fully healed. If this is the case, then Garoppolo’s performance is on the 49ers coaching staff as much as it is him. However, after a terrible performance in Week One against the Arizona Cardinals, combined with a less-than-ideal end to the 2019 season, Garoppolo does not deserve the benefit of the doubt.
At the end of the season, the 49ers have the opportunity to move on from Jimmy G. The Niners would only eat $2.8million in dead cap if they decide to cut ties with Garoppolo, so the option is there for general manager John Lynch. However, just because the option is there does not mean the Niners should act on it and let go of the best quarterback they’ve had since 2013 Colin Kaepernick.
So, should the Niners move on from Garoppolo? Let’s run through the arguments.
Argument against cutting Garoppolo
The most glaring reason for keeping Garoppolo is that finding franchise quarterbacks is extremely difficult. Before Garoppolo arrived in 2017, the Niners had gone through Blaine Gabbert, a washed-up Kaepernick, Brian Hoyer and C.J. Beathard. Shanahan’s record as head coach with Jimmy Garoppolo is 20-7. If you include the playoffs then the record with Garoppolo is 22-8. On the other hand, Shanahan’s record without Garoppolo is 4-21.
Although it is understood that Shanahan is a fantastic head coach and an even better play-caller, the discrepancy in record with and without Garoppolo is too big to ignore. The fact is, Garoppolo is a franchise level quarterback. He can execute an offence, stay calm under pressure, read a defence, make checks at the line and deliver throws on target more often than not. Moreover, he’s loved in the locker room and shows a great rapport with tight end George Kittle.
In 2019, Garoppolo ranked within the top ten of quarterbacks within a list of valuable quarterback stats. Per Sports Info Solutions, Garoppolo ranks fifth in completion percentage (69.1%), fifth in touchdowns (27), third in yards per attempt (8.4), eighth in QBR (102.0) and third in on target percentage (73.9%).
The statistical evidence is clear, Jimmy Garoppolo is a franchise level quarterback in the NFL. This is what makes Garoppolo’s performance against the Dolphins and to a lesser extent the Cardinals, all the more puzzling and damning.
A huge factor in Garoppolo’s struggles this year is the offensive line. Despite adding All-Pro Trent Williams in lieu of losing Joe Staley at left tackle, as well as only losing right guard Mike Person, the 49ers o-line has been a disaster this year. Per SIS, Through 74 drop-backs, Garoppolo has been sacked 7 times, that’s a sack percentage of 9.5%. The only quarterbacks with a higher sack percentage are Jeff Driskel (14.1%) and fellow 49er Nick Mullens (9.8%). Joe Burrow, the most sacked quarterback in the NFL, ranks just below Garoppolo with a sack percentage of 9.1%.
Safe to say, whether it be due to communicational issues or just being straight-up beat, the 49ers offensive line is actively harming Garoppolo in 2020. And his play is suffering as a result.
The fact of the matter is, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. And if the Niners decided to end the Jimmy Garoppolo journey then they may be in a far worse position than when they started.
The Argument For Cutting Jimmy Garoppolo
If you wanted to make this argument, then there is a large amount of evidence to support you. While Garoppolo did technically lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl in his first full season as a starter, he was virtually invisible during the playoffs culminating in a failed game-winning drive in the Super Bowl. The narrative surrounding Garoppolo is that he is a fine quarterback, but if you want your team to take the next step, to take the leap, to climb the mountaintop, then you need a better signal-caller.
Narratives aside, on the field, Garoppolo seemingly has not been able to recover his pre-playoff form thus far. So far this season, Garoppolo has struggled when his first read/hot read is not available, he’s unable to work through his progressions and is panicking under pressure.
Moreover, beyond this season, the biggest knock on Garoppolo’s play is that he can’t throw outside the numbers and deep downfield. In 2019, Garoppolo ranks eighteenth in completed air-yards (1,782), dead-last in air-yards percentage (44.8%) and third from last in average throw depth (6.3). The evidence is quite damning.
There is nothing wrong with having a game-manager at quarterback. Having a top-calibre quarterback that can execute an offence is a luxury not a tonne of teams can afford – as seen by the 49ers quarterbacks before Garoppolo. However, when you look at the top teams in the NFL and their quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, they all excel at throwing the deep ball.
Garoppolo does have a nice deep ball whenever Shanahan can scheme up some nice play action and Garoppolo has time to set his feet, establish the read and commit to the throw. However, out of regular drop-backs, Garoppolo very rarely throws the ball deep. And when he does, it’s sometimes to a running back in double coverage.
Should the 49ers move on from Jimmy Garoppolo at the end of this season? Probably not. The only real option to improve on the position would be Dak Prescott. However, after the brutal injury Prescott suffered against the Giants, it is unlikely that Dallas would cut him loose (even Jerry Jones isn’t that heartless) and John Lynch is unlikely to spend that much money on a quarterback coming back from a horrific injury.
In some dream world, the Niners could either tank for Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence or trade up in the draft for him. Although, is it worth dropping a proven NFL commodity in Garoppolo in order to start a rookie behind a lacklustre offensive line? No.
For right now, Garoppolo’s play has been marred by a shortened preseason, a bum ankle and an offensive line that is dire in pass protection. The knee-jerk reaction after the Dolphins game is clear and visceral, but it is important to to be swept up in hot-takes and hyperbole. Garoppolo is a top fifteen quarterback in the NFL and for right now, the Niners just need to ride the storm.