The 49ers were expected to make an aggressive move at quarterback in the spring. It turns out they couldn’t wait that long.
On Monday, the team agreed to trade for New England Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who was scheduled to be a free agent in March and who would have been one of the prizes on the open market.
ESPN reported that San Francisco sent a 2018 second-round draft pick to the Patriots for Garoppolo. The 49ers are projected to have more than $100 million in salary-cap space next year, so extending the quarterback’s contract is not problematic, nor is giving him the franchise tag.
The 49ers had extra picks in the second, third and seventh rounds in the upcoming draft. The extra second rounder originally belonged to the New Orleans Saints; the deal for Garoppolo is for the 49ers’ own second-round pick, which undoubtedly will come at the beginning of the round. At 0-8, the 49ers are off to their worst start in franchise history and Garoppolo’s addition gives them at least some appeal in the second half of the season.
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The 49ers long have been linked to Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins, whom Kyle Shanahan coached in Washington and who also is scheduled to be a free agent in 2018.
Shanahan also has had a liking for Garoppolo. The 49ers coach was the Cleveland Browns’ offensive coordinator in 2014 and was asked to evaluate all of the draft-eligible quarterbacks that year. That’s when he first scouted the dark-haired quarterback who threw 53 touchdowns and nine interceptions his final year at Eastern Illinois. Garoppolo was named that year’s Walter Payton Award winner, which is given to top offensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision.
“He was a very good thrower,” Shanahan told CSN Bay Area in February. “Tough guy, kept his eyes down the field, could get rid of the ball fast. Really liked the person. Had a chance to go out to dinner with him and stuff. He played at Eastern Illinois, and it was a different type of offense where you can’t always evaluate with how quick they get rid of the ball. But I really thought he was a very intelligent, tough player with a good throwing motion.”
The Browns ended up taking Johnny Manziel in the first round; the Patriots took Garoppolo in the second round, No. 62 overall.
He’s been Tom Brady’s backup since, which has meant scant playing time. He started two games at the start of the 2016 season while Brady served a four-game suspension and threw four touchdowns and no interceptions in those contests, both of them Patriots victories. Adding in some mop-up duty the rest of the year, he finished 43 for 63 for 502 yards and a 113.3 passer rating.
Garoppolo, who turns 26 on Thursday, hasn’t thrown any passes this year. The Patriots traded another quarterback, Jacoby Brissett, on Sept. 2 to the Indianapolis Colts and he’s started seven games, the first coming on Sept. 17.
As any 49ers fan will tell you, a franchise that can claim Y.A. Tittle, Joe Montana and Steve Young has struggled at quarterback since the 2014 season.
The 49ers are expected to release veteran Brian Hoyer, who started the first six games of the season but who was replaced by third-round pick C.J. Beathard in the last 2 1/2 contests. Hoyer, 32, signed a two-year, $12 million contract with the 49ers during free agency, looked sharp in the offseason, but failed to take control of the offense during the regular season.
The Patriots may end up signing him, which would be the second time in his career Hoyer serves as Brady’s backup.
Beathard, meanwhile, has been roughed up in his two starts, including a two-interception game Sunday in rainy Philadelphia in which his offensive line was decimated by injuries.
The 49ers were without their three top offensive tackles and finished the game with Zane Beadles at left tackle and undrafted rookie Erik Magnuson on the right side. Shanahan said Monday he didn’t know who would play left tackle in coming weeks. Joe Staley is expected to miss at least two games with fractured eye socket.
With that in mind, it’s difficult to see Garappolo stepping into the 49ers’ lineup before his protection is bolstered.