The 49ers have acquired an intriguing, young quarterback who doesn’t have much NFL experience but who has been groomed in the best organization in the NFL under the best quarterback in the NFL. That’s perhaps the best way to characterize their trade for Jimmy Garoppolo: A lot of upside, but some notable question marks as well.
Winning characteristics. Garoppolo caught Kyle Shanahan’s attention prior to the 2014 draft and he has a lot of the attributes Shanahan wants: intelligence, fearlessness, a lightning quick release – maybe the fastest in the NFL – and light feet for moving around in the pocket. Most of all, he’s accurate and knows how to hit a receiver in stride. Garoppolo completed 66 percent of his passes as a senior at Eastern Illinois and 67 percent of them with the Patriots. During the most recent draft, Shanahan’s highest-rated quarterback was Mitch Trubisky, who went No. 2 overall to the Bears. Garoppolo is similar in a lot of ways to Trubisky.
Terrific tutor. Garoppolo played in a spread system in college at a small school against suspect competition. Over the last four years he’s learned how to run a huddle, how to take snaps from center, how to operate a play-action game. More important, he’s seen first-hand how Tom Brady operates. He’s seen the intensity and commitment it takes to be the best quarterback in the game. The upcoming draft is supposed to be rich with quarterbacks. The best ones, however, are underclassmen and would take time to adjust to the NFL. Garoppolo knows exactly what goes into the job.
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A second-round pick. When the Browns were eyeing Garoppolo in the offseason, his price tag reportedly was a first-round pick. The 49ers got him for a second rounder, albeit one that likely will come at the top of the round. Still, the 49ers also have the Saints second rounder. And if they end up with one of the top three picks in the draft (which seems likely), they could deal that pick to a team that’s seeking a quarterback and land more draft picks. If for some reason Garoppolo doesn’t work out and the 49ers don’t sign him to a long-term deal, they would get a compensatory pick. That wouldn’t make up for their trade but would take away at least some of the sting.
Sizing him up. Garoppolo isn’t huge. He’s slightly above 6-foot-2. He started two games in 2016 when Brady was serving a suspension, but was knocked out of the second before halftime due to a sprained AC joint in his shoulder. That’s notable since the 49ers’ starting tackles currently are a pair of guards, Zane Beadles and Erik Magnuson. The 49ers have given up 27 sacks so far; only the Indianapolis Colts have allowed more (33). And that’s mostly with Joe Staley and Trent Brown at tackle. Staley (eye socket) will be out until at least Nov. 26.
Little experience. Because of Brady’s iron-man qualities, Garoppolo has attempted only 94 regular-season passes. Similarly sized Kelly Holcomb and Austin Davis also looked good in their initial starts. They did not once NFL defenses figured them out. During his brief role as starter in 2016, Garoppolo was running a team that eventually would win the Super Bowl. He’s gone from a Super Bowl team to team in line to coach the Senior Bowl team. How will he fare on an 0-8 squad?
Why trade now? It seems clear that the Patriots were not going to be able to keep both Brady and Garoppolo next season. So why didn’t the 49ers just wait until free agency and try to land Garoppolo then, which would have saved them their second-round pick? Perhaps San Francisco didn’t want to get into a bidding war with other teams. Still, it seems that by trading for Garoppolo without an extension in hand, the quarterback and his agent, Don Yee, now have a lot of leverage.