When you have a chance to land a potential franchise quarterback, you don’t ask a lot of questions.
That was the 49ers’ instinct when, to their surprise, they learned Monday that Jimmy Garoppolo, who had caught Kyle Shanahan’s eye before the 2014 draft, might be available in a trade. General manager John Lynch said he’d inquired about the New England Patriots backup in the offseason and was “quickly shut down.”
When Garoppolo’s name was floated just a day before the trade deadline, Lynch said, there was only a brief pause.
“We thought about it for about 10 minutes and said, ‘It’s too good an opportunity to not take advantage of,’ ” he said. “So we jumped at it.”
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Lynch and Shanahan introduced Garoppolo – he’ll wear No. 10 – at a Tuesday afternoon news conference at which they openly said they envision the 25-year-old as their quarterback of the future. Garoppolo, meanwhile, was careful to thank the Patriots and his four-year mentor, Tom Brady, but was equally clear that he wanted a chance to emerge from Brady’s long shadow.
“I’m eager to get out there and show what I can do on a Sunday,” he said. “This league is tough. It really is. When you get your opportunities, you need to take advantage of them. You don’t know when you’re going to get another.”
Garoppolo’s opportunities over the last four seasons were few considering Brady’s stature and durability. The Patriots understudy started the first two games last season when Brady was serving a four-game suspension. But Garoppolo was hurt in the first half of the second game he played and has attempted only 94 regular-season passes.
Lynch and Shanahan said they studied each of those throws – plus Garoppolo’s more abundant preseason snaps – during the offseason. Shanahan also went back to his 2014 notes on Garoppolo.
Then the Browns offensive coordinator, he watched Garoppolo work out at an Eastern Illinois pro day, had dinner with him and confirmed Tuesday that Derek Carr and Garoppolo were at the top of his quarterback wish list that April. Cleveland ended up drafting Johnny Manziel, a favorite of Browns owners, in the first round.
“It starts with ability,” Shanahan said of what he saw in Garoppolo in college. “He has the ability to make plays with his legs. He’s a very good thrower. And most importantly, he hangs in that pocket and keeps his eyes downfield and is up for any challenge.”
Though Garoppolo played in a spread system against lower-tier college competition, Shanahan said the skills he saw then have translated to the NFL. Garoppolo completed 66 percent of his passes as a senior at Eastern Illinois and 67 percent of them with the Patriots.
“He’s looked exactly like the player we thought he could be,” Shanahan said. “Watching how he handles himself, how he carries himself, talking to people that I have a lot of respect for and hearing what they say about him as a man, as a leader – I think he’s the exact type of guy you’re looking for.”
Of course, Garoppolo must have a long-term contract to be San Francisco’s long-term quarterback.
He’s not signed beyond the season and there is no contract extension in the works. His agent, Don Yee, was at the 49ers facility when Garoppolo arrived from the airport Tuesday and sat next to Paraag Marathe, the 49ers’ top contract negotiator, during the news conference.
Lynch said the 49ers had options, including giving Garoppolo the franchise tag. San Francisco has more salary-cap space than any other team this year, a cushion that will roll into 2018.
“There’s a lot of options at our disposal,” Lynch said. “We’re just getting to know him. Honest to God, we need to get him in the playbook, so that’s where we’re going to start; first thing’s first.”
Shanahan said the jump from the Patriots playbook to his offense won’t be nearly as big as the one Garoppolo made from Eastern Illinois to the NFL. But he said the process will be like learning a foreign language and that rookie C.J. Beathard would continue to start in the near future.
The 49ers released veteran Brian Hoyer on Tuesday, meaning Garoppolo and Beathard are the only passers on the roster.
“By no means are we trying to rush the process,” he said. “I would definitely not expect it this week. We’ll look at it each week and when we feel that he’s comfortable and has a chance to go in there and have some success, with the time he’s put in and the reps that he’s got in practice, then we’ll decide when that time is right.”