When the 49ers traded for Jimmy Garoppolo midway through the season, the two sides seemed headed for the franchise tag, a one-year contract during which they could get to know each other before committing to a long-term relationship.
As it turned out, the chemistry between quarterback and franchise was so strong and so immediate that a feeling-out process became unnecessary, and talk of the franchise tag was consciously avoided during negotiations.
“We felt like we had a good grasp on the talent,” general manager John Lynch said Friday of the team’s initial assessment of Garoppolo. “That was only confirmed when he got here. But what we really learned is what kind of person he is, what kind of teammate he is, what kind of competitor. And when you see that and you have the two things, that’s pretty special.”
Said Garoppolo: “Personally I knew I wanted to be here, and I think it got figured out fairly quickly. You know, I’m really happy the way it worked out and I’m glad to be here.”
Friday’s news conference marking the quarterback’s five-year, $137.5 million contract had the feel of a wedding.
There was the spring-like, 75-degree weather, which was noted by both Lynch and Garoppolo. “It’s not a snowstorm like Chicago,” he said of his hometown. “We just came from that, so I can speak on that.”
The 49ers flew in Garoppolo’s mother, father and three brothers on a private plane. All the men who surrounded Garoppolo on the podium – Lynch, Kyle Shanahan, owner Jed York – wore matching, dark-blue suits with no tie. His friends – 10 or so 49ers teammates – were in attendance. The 49ers even had Levi’s Stadium ringed with signage that said, “Welcome Back Garoppolo Family.”
All that was missing was a cake.
Of course, there were practical concerns at play as well.
Getting a long-term deal out of the way quickly gives the 49ers a clear road-map of their salary cap in coming years. Lynch noted that even with Garoppolo’s massive contract – he’ll count $37 million against the cap in 2018 – only two teams will head into free agency next month with more salary-cap space.
Having Garoppolo signed through 2022 also makes San Francisco more attractive to free agents.
“We wanted to make sure we had good signaling, that we had Jimmy’s (contract) done going into free agency,” said Paraag Marathe, the team’s chief negotiator. “Absolutely, we wanted to build momentum.”
Finally, the five-year deal allowed the two sides to avoid the stigma of having to use the franchise tag.
Starting last year, Shanahan had been linked not to Garoppolo but to Kirk Cousins, one of his former quarterbacks in Washington. Cousins likely influenced the Garoppolo negotiations in a roundabout way after Washington failed to strike a long-term deal with him soon after he became a starter and was forced to use the franchise tag two straight years.
That earned Cousins quite a bit of money – $44 million in two years – but no commitment from the team. He never felt a true attachment in Washington, which last month agreed to trade for Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith. That likely will make Cousins an unrestricted free agent on March 14.
“We knew that was out there,” Marathe said of the franchise tag. “But neither (side) wanted it to get to a point where that was a piece of the negotiation.”
Conventional wisdom had Garoppolo getting the franchise tag, then waiting to see what kind of deal Cousins and perhaps some other veteran quarterbacks received before moving forward with his contract. Why didn’t he wait?
“Because this is where I want to be, honestly,” he said. “I wanted to get this deal done as fast as possible.”
After escaping the Midwest storm Thursday, Garoppolo said he celebrated his new deal with a family dinner in San Francisco.
“I’m still trying to experience some of the Bay Area,” he said. “I’m excited to make this my home for the next five years, hopefully more. I hope to be here for a long time and get to experience all the good things about this area.”