Everyone around Levi’s Stadium wants to see Jimmy Garoppolo on the field, not standing on the sidelines, studying the playbook, conversing with his new coaches and teammates.
The mood is one of curious desperation. Curious, because Tom Brady’s former backup is talented and well-tutored and long coveted by several teams, and desperate because 49ers fans are enduring the worst start in the history of their storied franchise. They are a little confused, a little more hopeful, but not exactly sure how to proceed.
Well, join the club.
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After the pounding rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard absorbed in Sunday’s 20-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch shouldn’t be merely cautious about tossing their prized acquisition into the scrum before he is more familiar with his, um, surroundings. They should be absolutely terrified.
Introducing Jimmy G. to the current 49ers way Sunday would have been cruel and unusual. Better the rookie play along. Pressured and chased all afternoon, his teammates falling all around, poor Beathard was hit 16 times and sacked on five occasions. Shanahan afterward looked like he was hit by a dozen or so semis.
But that wasn’t the worst of it. Before the 49ers limped into the locker room, they suffered injuries to wide receiver Trent Taylor (rib), linebacker Elijah Lee (knee), fullback Kyle Juszczyk (neck) and strong safety Jaquiski Tartt (wrist), the latter after his bruising takedown of Cardinals 6-foot-6, 270-pound tight end Troy Niklas.
See where this is going?
There is only one reasonable direction for these 49ers: Stay the course. Let the losing streak continue organically. Keep the momentum and this 2017 version of California karma going. When someone named Frostee Rucker is disqualified for mixing it up with Carlos Hyde late in the game, remember that Christmas is less than two months away and the calendar hits 2018 a few days after that. Pull a Gregg Popovich and rest (wink, wink) Garoppolo for the sake of his health and the sake of the next playoffs, which in this situation means the next round of OTAs.
Shanahan appears to be thinking hard about this. He is making a list and checking it twice, and after the punishing tenor of this latest defeat in a half-empty stadium, hinted at checking it three and four and perhaps five times.
“Yeah, I’m going week to week right now,” he said, referring to plans for Garoppolo, “but it definitely doesn’t make it easier. We’ll see these injuries pan out tomorrow. Hopefully we can get healthier. We have two quarterbacks on our roster and I’d love to give both of them a chance to play this year. And I’d love to get Jimmy in eventually. But a lot of stuff is going to factor in and, hopefully, we can get healthy and Jimmy can pick this stuff up as he goes.”
Garoppolo, who spoke with reporters in the locker room briefly after the game, didn’t exactly sound eager to force the issue. He is a free agent, remember, and though it’s unlikely the 49ers would have relinquished a second-round draft pick if they weren’t confident about retaining him, he seems like a bright guy, and bright guys like options. It also is impossible to ignore Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson, Andrew Luck or, in other words, the obliterated ranks of elite NFL quarterbacks.
“I won’t know until it happens,” said Garoppolo, referring to his anticipated playing schedule, “but I’ve always got to stay ready. Some of the calls I know, and some I don’t. I’m trying to get as much as I can as fast as I can.”
There are other reasons to slow down, long-term stability among them. Since Steve Young retired following a concussion-plagued 1999 season, the procession of starters or pseudo-starters who have passed through the 49ers turnstiles is ridiculous.
Jeff Garcia, Alex Smith, Colin Kaepernick, Tim Rattay, Trent Dilfer, Ken Dorsey, Cody Pickett, Shaun Hill, Troy Smith, Blaine Gabbert, J.T. O’Sullivan. Enough already, right? Most weren’t talented enough, and the few who were could argue that their success was hampered by the constant changes of coaches, offensive coordinators, etc., and a lacking supporting cast.
Now think about that for a moment, too. Garoppolo just left a situation where Brady, 40, has been a fixture – and a fossil in age only – since he replaced Drew Bledsoe as the New England Patriots’ starter in 2001.
“You only go as far as your quarterback takes you,” noted Garcia, who works with the 49ers pre- and post-game broadcasts. “Obviously great defenses help you win championships. But the teams that consistently are in the mix have that position solidified, and as we have seen throughout the league, there is a definite shortage of valuable quarterbacks. It (the Garoppolo deal) is not a lock, but there is a belief he is the player they can build around, because when you look at that roster, there are a lot of other needs.”
He listed a few, then listed a few more. Offensive line. Wide receivers. Tight ends. Running backs. “And that’s not even tapping into the defense side,” Garcia added.
If the 49ers succeed in signing Garoppolo to a multiyear contract or using the franchise tag to secure him through 2018, that would enable Lynch to address all those above-mentioned needs. And the more you lose, the better the odds are for getting a high draft pick. Several teams are in the market for a marquee quarterback, with USC’s Sam Darnold and UCLA’s Josh Rosen currently in a two-man race. A top-two pick would give the 49ers hefty leverage to go along with their estimated $100 million available salary cap space.
So there is no need to rush. Christmas is coming.