Jimmy Garoppolo Came And Went
10:28 AM EDT on March 14, 2023
The San Francisco 49ers' fan base is hilariously nicknamed the Faithful, which over the decades has been shown to be either a deftly delivered bit of sarcasm or a magnificent oxymoron. Your average 49er fan is largely there when he or she needs you rather than the other way around, and while that actually makes sense from a customer relations standpoint, it is hardly proof of the undying loyalty they claim to possess.
We know this because yesterday they were finally delivered from the clutches of Jimmy Garoppolo, who only helped midwife their current run of glory but was scorned and shunned in equal measure for being prettier facially than stylistically, and in return they get to take on the seemingly more onerous task of liking Sam Darnold, who is on his third team and well past his new-car smell.
Garoppolo signed a deal to temp in hell ... err, a three-year deal to play for the Las Vegas Raiders, which if the Raiders play their cards as they typically do will be a one-year deal that owner Mark Davis hates before Halloween. Garoppolo had been the most maddening of successful quarterbacks in San Francisco, the once beloved alternative to Brian Hoyer who commanded the run-dependent/risk averse Kyle Shanahan offense to 2.5 conference title games and one Super Bowl in four years, but also was blamed for not being more exciting or durable, one crime dictated by the circumstances of the job he was asked to perform and the other simply a matter of bad luck in a dangerous job. Mostly, he saved a moribund franchise from its own worst instincts and got the traditional kick in the groin with mountaineering shoes for his services.
He was never great, to be sure, but he wasn't asked to be. His arm was accurate (68 percent completion rate in his final four seasons, with 70 touchdowns and 34 interceptions) but not wondrous (he is still blamed for losing the Super Bowl by overthrowing Emmanuel Sanders, even though the much-praised defense gave up three touchdowns in the final quarter), and he was held responsible for a series of injuries that caused him to miss 31 of his possible 86 starts. This last one is particularly stupid even for football fans, because in a game based on rampant carnage, the victim is always blamed for not surviving the armies of homicidal mesomorphs wishing to deliver those injuries. "The greatest ability is availability" is not a clever saying but proof if proof were needed that most football cliches are based on the central truth that the injured deserve what they got.
And now, as final punishment for falling afoul first of the Faithful (it's always fun to type that knowing what a delightful marketing deception it is) and then of Shanahan, he gets to spend what is left of his career learning what Derek Carr needed nine years to discover—that you can never score enough points to hide a Raider defense.
But proving that no good scapegoating goes unpunished, the 49ers have exchanged Garoppolo's limited but statistically provable charms for Darnold, who may be pressed into service if A) Brock Purdy isn't all that post-surgery and B) Trey Lance isn't all that post-surgery. Their joint provable asset is that they both still have the new-car smell that Garoppolo long ago lost, but their joint limitation is that they remain more rumor than truth. That's why Shanahan, who is the team's true general manager and football overlord no matter how many times people type the words "John" and "Lynch," needed a firm hand on site in case the very real possibility happens and came up with Darnold, who can fairly be described as a failure on two teams devoted to failure. His head coaches included offensive masterminds Adam Gase and Matt Rhule, which meant that whatever Darnold isn't can be linked at least in part to them.
That said, Shanahan's great gift and most enduring conceit is that he can make lots of quarterbacks look good in a system that is not quarterback-dependent. If he has to run the ball 45 times with Darnold rather than Purdy or Lance, he will do it cheerfully. Whatever secret fantasies he harbors in being more like Andy Reid, his resume in San Francisco tells you who and what he actually is, and that is a deep believer in playing the percentages—a defense-first, run-heavy team with a 40-year-old kicker who never amazes from distance but is nearly uncanny from inside 50. He can do that with someone from USC just as well as someone from Iowa State or Eastern Illinois or North Dakota State. The resume makes no never mind to him.
As for Garoppolo, whatever issues he might have had with Shanahan at the end (or maybe at the beginning for all we really know), he'll find out what life is like on the other end of the quality stick with Josh McDaniels and the loosely described Raiders organization. He is almost surely a stopgap to take them from 6-11 to 8-9 to 6-12 with a new guy they will probably draft next month. We'd say he deserves better, but deserves ain't got nothin' to do with it. You get what you get until the parole board releases you, and Jimmy Garoppolo just got what he wanted, if not necessarily what he needed. And so, if truth is told, so did the 49ers.