Jimmy Garoppolo starts for 49ers in 2023 (and why it happens)

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

Signs point to the 49ers having (another) final year with Jimmy Garoppolo under center, but there’s a case for him to return (again) in 2023.

No matter how hard they’ve tried, the San Francisco 49ers just can’t quite quit quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

We know how this all got here: Garoppolo was supposed to be traded during the offseason, but a shoulder surgery all but derailed whatever market might have been there. The Niners remained committed to Garoppolo’s heir apparent, Trey Lance, throughout training camp and into the preseason while hoping Garoppolo’s market picked up again.

Except it didn’t, Garoppolo stayed on his reworked contract and then was thrust back into a starter’s role once Lance was lost to the year with a broken ankle suffered in Week 2.

A pretty crazy storyline, one Hollywood probably wouldn’t buy if a screenwriter pitched it.

Garoppolo is going to be a free agent in 2023, and by all the chatter, San Francisco is still fully committed to Lance starting next year while he rehabs from the injury right now.

But, what if there’s a scenario that pins Garoppolo back in a 49ers uniform for yet another year?

As crazy as it sounds, it’s certainly plausible.

Jimmy Garoppolo won’t return to 49ers in 2023, right? Right?

Part of Garoppolo’s contract includes verbiage that prevents the Niners from applying the franchise tag on him, meaning the only way for Jimmy G to return to San Francisco would be if the team welcomed him back.

And, as The Athletic’s Tim Kawakami (h/t 49ers Webzone) pointed out, the only way that happens is if Garoppolo returns as a starter, not Lance’s backup:

"That happened once. It won’t happen again. …If the 49ers and Garoppolo agree to keep this going into 2023, I think Lance would be considered the backup, and I think there could be logical repercussions from that, too."

It makes perfect sense. Why would Garoppolo want to return to the 49ers as Lance’s backup again? The veteran admitted how awkward it was entering 2022 knowing he was QB2 behind Lance, and it’s highly unlikely he’d entertain doing so again.

However, Kawakami illustrated a good point about the possibility of that happening, too. What if the Niners ultimately decide Lance still isn’t ready for 2023?

From Kawakami:

"Garoppolo has to be a live 49ers option for 2023. I believe it’s definitely on the table. How could it not be? Lance is no sure-thing as a playoff-level quarterback in 2023, just like he wasn’t at the start of this season. And this is basically the third entire season Lance has missed (including 2020 at NDSU), at a very crucial development period for any young QB."

The last sentence has to be the most damning of Lance. He hasn’t played a full season of actual on-field football since 2020. The pandemic canceled North Dakota State’s 2021 campaign after just one game, and he saw effectively 10 quarters of action as a starter during his rookie year with San Francisco.

And Lance couldn’t make it through two games during his first year as a starter.

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What if 49ers turn back to Jimmy Garoppolo again in 2023?

Is it a likelihood the 49ers revert back to Jimmy G again next season? Probably not. But it’s possible.

Lance has missed insanely valuable time in his development, and he might never reach the point where he’s an even moderately effective option under center. Tack on the fact the Niners boast a roster that’s capable of winning a Super Bowl now, even if neither Garoppolo nor Lance would be considered an elite-level signal-caller, and one could see why an experienced Garoppolo would take precedence over an inexperienced and now coming-off-a-serious-injury Lance amid that context.

If Garoppolo, however it happens, winds up coming back to San Francisco in 2023, it would be arguably the biggest tick mark against the current regime of head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch, one that only might be covered up by winning a Super Bowl.

As far as an endorsement for Lance? Well, Garoppolo’s return would be pretty disastrous, too.

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