During the San Francisco 49ers’ press conference to officially announce Jimmy Garoppolo’s record-setting five-year deal, general manager John Lynch had a throwaway line that resonated.
“We want to become a destination where everyone wants to be,” Lynch said during the press conference, which was streamed on the team’s site.
That might not have been possible without the quarterback sitting to Lynch’s left at the table. While a $137.5 million deal for Garoppolo after seven career starts is risky, it buys the 49ers much-needed optimism and a path back to relevance.
The 49ers’ fall off the NFL map was swift and hard. Starting in Jim Harbaugh’s last season, the 49ers are 21-43. They haven’t made the playoffs in four seasons. The 49ers moved into brand new Levi’s Stadium in 2014 and gave fans no reasons to come watch the team in it.
Solomon Thomas and Reuben Foster were exciting rookies on defense. The 49ers have other good pieces. But nothing can energize an NFL franchise like a promising quarterback. The 49ers were 1-10 when Garoppolo got to start. They went 5-0 down the stretch, with Garoppolo playing very well. The 49ers went from a flatline to a team everyone wants to see in 2018. It’s no wonder the 49ers handed Garoppolo a blank check. It’s hard to put a price tag on hope.
“We had some success down the stretch, and you could see pieces were falling into place,” Garoppolo said. “We’ve got a long way to go but I think you can see we’re going in the right direction.”
Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan tried to temper expectations for Garoppolo and the team, noting often they had a long way to go. Garoppolo isn’t guaranteed to build upon what he did down the stretch. He still has less than a half-season worth of starts. But the 49ers decided to go all-in, and weren’t going to mess around with the franchise tag and trying to do this dance a year from now.
“We had that as an option, and we didn’t want to use it,” Lynch said of the franchise tag. “We wanted to make Jimmy a 49er for a long, long time. Do you have to have some faith to do that? Absolutely. He earned that.”
Garoppolo wanted to get it done too, and that became easy when the 49ers offered the largest deal (in terms of money per year) in NFL history.
“This is where I want to be,” Garoppolo said. “I wanted to get this done as fast as possible, and it’s only going to help our team going forward in free agency.”
Lynch noted the team is still among the top few teams in available cap space, even with Garoppolo’s huge 2018 cap number, and he said the team will be “aggressively prudent” in free agency. Garoppolo is an exciting young player, and free agents will consider that when making free-agent decisions (though, as always, money speaks the loudest).
The 49ers had a brief but great stretch early this decade when Harbaugh became coach. Before that, they were bad for the better part of a decade. Since Harbaugh left, they’ve been practically unwatchable. Thanks to their suddenly wealthy quarterback, at least the 49ers and their fans can dream of better days ahead.
“We have one goal in mind, and that’s to get to a Super Bowl and win it,” Garoppolo said.
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