How Jimmy G's up-and-down 49ers tenure should be remembered


Upon completion of his cross-country trip that late-October day in 2017, Jimmy Garoppolo was anointed as the 49ers' franchise quarterback.

He was the player entrusted with the responsibility -- and expectation -- of bringing the organization back to prominence. What a memorable 5 1/2-year ride it was with Garoppolo as the face of the organization.

“I’m so grateful to Jimmy for everything he did for our organization," 49ers general manager John Lynch recently told NBC Sports Bay Area. "He played some really good football and was a great teammate.”

Garoppolo's time with the 49ers came to an end Monday after the quarterback reportedly agreed to a three-year, $67.5 million contract with the Las Vegas Raiders, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.

It was not a surprise, of course.

Coach Kyle Shanahan two days after the 2022 NFL season said he saw "no scenario' in which Garoppolo would remain with the 49ers -- not when Trey Lance and Brock Purdy were under contract and slated as the top two quarterbacks (in whatever order) for at least two more seasons.

While Garoppolo never became the star player the 49ers hoped they were getting in a trade from the New England Patriots, there is little debate he leaves the organization in a better place than when he arrived.

“First of all, he comes in and looks like a movie star," Lynch said. "Then, he gets on the field and he’s a really gifted thrower.”

The 49ers were 0-8 in the first season of the Shanahan-Lynch regime when the deal was made to acquire Garoppolo.

He arrived at Levi's Stadium for the first time in the passenger seat of a black Chevy Suburban. He stepped out amid a throng of media, 49ers employees and his agents.

It was clear Garoppolo, after serving 3 1/2 years as Tom Brady’s backup in New England, was comfortable in the 49ers’ driver’s seat.

At his introductory press conference, Garoppolo began speaking even before Lynch or Shanahan could say a word.

"I think Kyle will tell you a great quality of a quarterback is taking charge," Lynch said that day. "I thought I was starting. But, hey, have at it, Jimmy."

He moved into the starting lineup for the final five games of the 2017 season. The 49ers won each of those five games to pump some life into the win-starved fan base.

"When you win your first five games, he was on fire," Lynch said. "It did create a lot of energy. We talk about where Levi’s Stadium is now as a home-field advantage. I think a lot of that started with that run we started with Jimmy."

It started out like a storybook. Garoppolo experienced immediate success with little knowledge of the playbook. He was deemed ready to play after only a month with the team.

After leading the 49ers to five consecutive victories to finish his first season with the club, the 49ers awarded him with a five-year, $137.5 million contract.

The big contract, of course, led to even bigger expectations and pressure to perform.

Garoppolo proved to be a leader in the years that followed, especially with his handling of the 2021 and '22 seasons after the club traded up to No. 3 overall to select his successor, Lance, in the NFL draft.

Garoppolo brought hope with him to Santa Clara, and he largely delivered. When he was on the field, the 49ers won a lot of games. The 49ers were 38-17 in the regular season when he was in the starting lineup. The club won four of his six postseason games.

Garoppolo, with his charm and good looks, represented a new era for the 49ers. And in the just two seasons in which he appeared in every game, the 49ers advanced to the Super Bowl.

However, that game ended in disappointment as the 49ers blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead in a 31-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV.

Almost immediately, Garoppolo lifted the profile of the 49ers after the franchise went through one of its lowest points.

The 49ers struggled through the organizational dysfunction of former general manager Trent Baalke and his uneasy pairings with head coaches Jim Harbaugh, Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly.

The new regime of Shanahan and Lynch provided optimism for the future. It was clear this was not going to be a simple rebuild. Thus, CEO Jed York gave them matching six-year contracts.

Their first season together was a throw-away. Lynch and Shanahan planned to defer on the quarterback position until 2018 free agency, when Kirk Cousins would become available.

The 49ers passed on Mitchell Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson in the 2017 NFL Draft. Instead, they went with a placeholder veteran, Brian Hoyer, at quarterback and selected C.J. Beathard with the No. 104 overall pick.

And that is the way their quarterback situation remained until the middle of the season when their future came into focus. Cousins no longer was an option after Garoppolo landed in their laps.

On the eve of the NFL trade deadline, New England coach Bill Belichick made a call to Shanahan, who was on his way into the office. He offered Garoppolo to the 49ers for a second-round draft pick. Take it or leave it.

After Shanahan had a short conversation with Lynch, they opted to take it.

Immediately, Garoppolo took the spotlight as the most talked-about player on the team. And that is where he remained until this day.

Garoppolo, 31, figured to leave the 49ers a year ago. Two days after the 2021 season, Garoppolo said his farewells, certain the 49ers would trade him in the offseason. But his trade value tanked when he opted for shoulder surgery.

Garoppolo accepted a significant pay cut to remain with the 49ers as Lance's backup. But he was in the backup role for just one game. He moved back into the starting lineup when Lance sustained a season-ending fractured lower leg in Week 2.

Garoppolo was playing the best football of his career when he sustained a season-ending injury of his own -- a fractured left foot in Week 13 against the Miami Dolphins that opened the door for Purdy.

Injuries marred Garoppolo's time with the 49ers, beginning in his second season.

The 49ers entered the 2018 season with high hopes, but it came crashing down in Week 3 against Kansas City when Garoppolo sustained a torn ACL in his left knee.

In all, four of his five full seasons with the 49ers were marred by injuries.

After he missed 23 games due to injuries in his first three full seasons, the 49ers decided to build around somebody else.

On March 26, 2021, the 49ers sent first-round draft picks in 2022 and '23, along with a third-rounder in 2022, to the Dolphins, moving up to No. 3 overall to select Lance to ultimately replace Garoppolo as the team's quarterback of the future.

“The biggest thing with Jimmy is his injuries. That’s been very tough for us when he's been hurt,” Shanahan said on April 26, 2021. “It's happened two out of these three years, and that's where it starts, and Jimmy knows that.”

But Garoppolo remained with the 49ers two more seasons. Twice more, injuries sidelined or limited him greatly at the end of the season.

Now, the book closes on Garoppolo’s time with the 49ers.

In 55 regular-season starts, Garoppolo completed 67.6 percent of his pass attempts (No. 1 in franchise history) for 13,599 yards with 82 touchdowns, 42 interceptions and a passer rating of 99.2 (second only behind Steve Young in club history).

In 2019, when he started every game, his 3,978 passing yards ranked fourth in club history. His 69.1 completion percentage was third in 49ers history for a single season. Joe Montana and Young had only one season apiece in which they completed a higher percentage of passes.

The 49ers again were a favorite to go all the way this past season. But when the club advanced to the NFC Championship Game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Garoppolo was nothing but a spectator, unable to play due to his fractured foot.

RELATED: Report: Jimmy G-Shanahan relationship soured before Eagles loss

Purdy sustained a torn elbow ligament on the 49ers' sixth offensive play of the game. Then, backup Josh Johnson was ruled out early in the third quarter due to a concussion.

“I wish I had a helmet,” Garoppolo told Jennifer Lee Chan of NBC Sports Bay Area before exiting the locker room at Lincoln Financial Field.

Garoppolo walked up to 49ers owners Dr. John York and Denise DeBartolo York and gave each a hug. As he walked away, he told them, “Everything will work out.”

Garoppolo came so close to placing his name alongside Montana and Young as San Francisco’s Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks.

Instead of comparisons to Montana and Young, Garoppolo's legacy with the 49ers is more difficult to define.

The Jimmy Garoppolo Era was fun. A favorite of the 49ers' ardent fan base, Garoppolo always will be a popular figure when he returns to Levi's Stadium to face his former team.

The 49ers are set up to be contenders for a while with an already-strong roster. Lance was brought in to keep the team near the top of the NFL. Purdy showed he can get the job done, too.

Yes, things looked a lot different for the 49ers when Garoppolo appeared on the scene to help rescue a team that looked hopeless during the 2017 season.

But quarterbacks around these parts are judged by championships, and the trophy case looks no different than when he arrived.

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