Jimmy Garoppolo left 49ers in better shape than when he arrived

Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

The 49ers are set to part ways with Jimmy Garoppolo after a complicated tenure. Regardless, the team is better because of his presence.

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has all but played his final game with the San Francisco 49ers. And in all likelihood, he’s also held his final press conference with the media, one which probably made even the most skeptical critics appreciate Jimmy G’s time in the Bay Area.

Garoppolo was far from perfect ever since being acquired from the New England Patriots for a second-round NFL Draft pick just before the 2017 trade deadline. There were the injuries: a torn ACL early in the 2018 season, multiple high-ankle sprains in 2020 and then the thumb and shoulder sprains late in 2021.

And, of course, the reality Garoppolo was good enough to help the Niners win games when healthy but not good enough to carry them over the top and to a Super Bowl championship.

All of those reasons, perhaps more, convinced San Francisco to turn the page and act aggressively, trading two future first-round NFL Draft picks, in addition to a 2022 third-round selection, in order to grab Garoppolo’s heir apparent, Trey Lance, at No. 3 overall last spring.

There’s no doubting Garoppolo’s place in the league as a starting-caliber quarterback. He is one of the 20 best in the world at what he does. But in a league where being in the top 10 in this same category almost always equates to being a perennial Super Bowl contender, Garoppolo’s standing is not enough.

Just as The Ringer’s Benjamin Solak:

"So Garoppolo isn’t the second-best quarterback in the NFL. Nobody thinks he is. He also isn’t one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL. He runs the 49ers offense well and even has the traits—confident throws, quick release, pinpoint accuracy—to maximize it. That puts Garoppolo somewhere in the middle. And for quarterbacks, somewhere in the middle is the worst place to be. …Garoppolo isn’t just a mediocre quarterback—he’s a mediocre quarterback because his towering peaks are matched with plunging valleys, and the aggregate of those highs and lows settles somewhere into an unsatisfying middle. There isn’t an argument left that hasn’t been made for or against Garoppolo, because anyone with a Game Pass subscription or a few stats sites bookmarked can draw enough examples to make those arguments."

49ers fans who’ve watched Garoppolo since 2017 know this all too well.

But, does that mean Jimmy G’s tenure with the Niners was an absolute failure? Absolutely not.

Jimmy Garoppolo made 49ers better in spades

Garoppolo will leave San Francisco with 11,162 regular-season passing yards, eighth most in franchise history, and his 3,978 pass yards thrown in 2019 currently stands fourth best for a single season in 49ers history, too.

But those marks are stained by the 38 regular-season interceptions thrown and career 2.9 interception percentage with San Francisco, going along with the playoff collapses he endured during Super Bowl LIV and the 2022 NFC Championship game when the 49ers simply needed him to be “good enough.”

He wasn’t, unfortunately.

Still, there are other non-quantifiable traits and elements that have to be taken into account here, and they go beyond the lazy argument of “Jimmy G just wins” many of his proponents over the years have made.

Indeed, the Niners went 31-14 in regular-season games Garoppolo started, while their other quarterbacking experiments (Brian Hoyer, C.J. Beathard, Nick Mullens and even Lance) propelled San Francisco to an 8-28 without Garoppolo.

“Since I’ve gotten here, it’s all been about I want to leave the place better than when I got here,” Garoppolo said in the presser. “It’s always something that I’ve tried to live through and whatever it is, growing up, school, football, other sports, I always try to do that with every place I went. It’s one of those things you look back on it and just how far this team, this organization has come in four years. It’s pretty wild.”

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While he’s certainly not the sole reason the 49ers improved from the rebuild’s start in 2017, he played a massive role in it.

During that stretch, the Niners made the NFC Championship game twice, won one of them to advance to the Super Bowl, and returned to a level of respectability out of the doldrums of the 2015 and 2016 campaigns. San Francisco generally won games when he was on the field and usually lost them when he wasn’t. Garoppolo earned more than his fair share of allies in the locker room, too, and that’s also highly important.

The only thing missing was being able to perform at a slightly better level.

Still, despite all the criticisms (many of them deserved), Garoppolo will leave San Francisco in a better situation than it was before he arrived. It’s hard to ask for much more.

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