SF 49ers: How long is Kyle Shanahan’s leash on Jimmy Garoppolo?

Jimmy Garoppolo #10 with head coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Jimmy Garoppolo #10 with head coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

After the SF 49ers’ ugly Week 1 loss to the Cardinals, it’s safe to wonder what Kyle Shanahan thinks of Jimmy Garoppolo, both in 2020 and beyond.

No, this isn’t an SF 49ers overreaction piece after the Niners coughed up multiple leads en route to an embarrassing 24-20 Week 1 loss to the visiting Arizona Cardinals last Sunday.

And it’s certainly not a proverbial “call to the pen” for head coach Kyle Shanahan to swap out his starting quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, for his primary backup, Nick Mullens, as many a Twitter pundit might like to see in the hours and days following a shoddy performance from the Niners QB.

But in light of a lot of the evidence, it is fair to wonder whether or not Shanahan is growing impatient with his starting quarterback.

From a statistical vantage point, Garoppolo’s efforts in Week 1 weren’t bad at all. He went 19-of-33 for 259 yards, two touchdowns against zero interceptions and posted a passer rating of 103.0. Tack on San Francisco’s short-handed situation at wide receiver, a third-string center and some of Shanahan’s own questionable play-calling, and it’s foolish to place the entire blame squarely on Jimmy G’s shoulders.

Still, as Niner Noise’s Marc Delucchi pointed out, a massive chunk of the blame does hinge on Garoppolo.

As does Pro Football Focus’ Week 1 recap of Garoppolo’s efforts:

"Despite being under pressure on only nine of his 37 dropbacks, did not fare well. Garoppolo completed none of his four attempts of 20 or more yards downfield. His grade of 49.8 as a passer was better than only Carson Wentz and Sam Darnold of all NFL QBs in Week 1. He also was responsible for one of the Cardinals’ three sacks."

It was a bad game from Jimmy G. No getting around that. And he’ll have a chance to correct things in Week 2 against a lowly New York Jets squad, so there’s room for optimism.

Still, it’s fair to wonder just how patient Shanahan will be with Garoppolo over the course of the season. The head coach’s comments about Garoppolo after the game were pointed, yet fair:

"He had some good plays in there, but just like the entire offense, just missed a number of opportunities that it was going to take to win that game. We had a couple there, but he’s got to play better. We’ve all got to play better on offense, especially, and it starts with me."

In that regard, Shanahan isn’t shying away from the fact a $137.5 million quarterback needs to improve in those situations, but he’s also careful not to place sole blame on Garoppolo either.

That’s good. But will it last forever?

Jimmy Garoppolo’s impact for SF 49ers the last four games

Last season, in the NFC divisional round, Garoppolo attempted only 19 passes as the Niners gouged the Minnesota Vikings on the ground. A week later against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game, Garoppolo was asked to do even less as running back Raheem Mostert ran wild for the 37-20 SF 49ers win.

In that game, Garoppolo had just eight pass attempts.

But the run game didn’t quite carry San Francisco enough in the Super Bowl, partially due to Shanahan’s play-calling late in the game, and Garoppolo’s own efforts weren’t enough to put the 49ers on his shoulders.

Again, something you’d want to expect from a signal-caller in an upper tier of quarterbacks, especially from the financial vantage point.

In some ways, Week 1 emulated Garoppolo’s struggles against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV. A number of throws were wildly inaccurate, and Garoppolo’s poise within the pocket was lacking, too. When he had the opportunity for a big play to happen, both in the Super Bowl and in Week 1, it didn’t materialize.

Just ask former 49ers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders from last February and current Niners wideout Kendrick Bourne after Week 1.

Yet the overall gist of Shanahan’s patience could come down to money, which becomes a major factor in 2021.

Garoppolo is due up to $26.9 million next season, which accounts for 12.5 percent of the team’s current projected spending next season. But he also carries zero in guaranteed money for the next two years, and the Niners could save $24.1 million in 2021 against $2.8 million in dead money. The numbers change to $25.6 million and $1.4 million, respectively, in 2022.

For a Niners team thinking about eventual extensions down the road for linebacker Fred Warner, wide receiver Deebo Samuel and EDGE Nick Bosa, it’s not impossible to think Shanahan could be looking at life after Garoppolo sooner than later.

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And performances like the one seen last Sunday won’t help make Shanahan think Garoppolo is the option needed under center.