The savior is staying put.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo agreed on Thursday to sign a five-year contract with the San Francisco 49ers, a deal that will make him the highest-paid player in NFL history.
The NFL Network reported Garoppolo’s contract is worth $137.5 million, with $74 million guaranteed, and will pay him an average of $27.5 million annually — an NFL record. ESPN reported the contract will pay Garoppolo up to $90 million the first three years — another NFL record. He would have made roughly the same amount of money had he signed the non-exclusive Franchise Tag three seasons in a row.
For months, 49ers general manager John Lynch said he would give Garoppolo the franchise tag if the two sides couldn’t work out a long-term deal. Of course, they did work out the deal. And it seems Lynch used the non-exclusive franchise tag as the baseline for it.
Garoppolo, 26, has started only seven games in the NFL. He has never lost a start.
He played college football at Eastern Illinois, where he passed for 13,156 yards and 118 touchdowns in four seasons. The New England Patriots took him in the second round of the 2014 draft. And he sat on the bench for two full seasons as a backup behind future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady.
In 2016, the NFL suspended Brady the first four games for allegedly deflating footballs in the AFC championship game. Garoppolo started in place of Brady and won two games before spraining the AC joint in his throwing shoulder and returning to the bench. Those two games were Garoppolo’s only starts in the NFL before joining the 49ers.
After the 2016 season, the 49ers hired Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan, and they quickly tried to trade for Garoppolo. But New England turned them down.
The Patriots kept Garoppolo until the day before the 2017 trade deadline. They didn’t want to lose him. But they couldn’t afford to give him a contract extension and keep Brady, too. So they kept Brady and traded Garoppolo. If they hadn’t traded him, they would have lost him for nothing during free agency. He was an impending free agent.
The Patriots called Lynch on Oct. 30 and offered him a trade: Garoppolo for the 49ers’ second-round pick in 2018. Lynch accepted without asking Garoppolo if he was open to signing a contract extension with the 49ers.
Lynch took a risk.
When Lynch made the trade, the 49ers had no wins. Their record was 0-8, they couldn’t protect their quarterbacks and their No. 1 receiver, Pierre Garcon, was out for the season with a broken neck.
The 49ers seemingly could not put Garoppolo in a position to succeed. And there was no guarantee he wanted to tie his future to their franchise.
The 49ers didn’t play Garoppolo right away. He sat on the bench and learned the playbook for a month while the 49ers continued to struggle.
In an exclusive interview with The Press Democrat on Nov. 4, former 49ers GM Scot McCloughan said Garoppolo is no savior on his own.
“He needs talent around him,” McCloughan said.
But he didn’t need talent around him. That’s what everyone learned.
After a Week 12 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, the 49ers’ record fell to 1-10. Late in the fourth quarter of that
game, rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard got hit in the knee and had to exit the field. Garoppolo replaced him, attempted two throws, completed both and tossed a touchdown pass on his second attempt.
The next week, Garoppolo was the starter.
And the 49ers won. They beat the Chicago Bears. Then they beat the Houston Texans, the Tennessee Titans and the Jacksonville Jaguars. And then the LA Rams, who were resting most of their starters a week before the playoffs.
Garoppolo made the entire 49ers team better. He made the defense better by extending drives and keeping it fresh. He made the offensive line better by getting rid of the ball quickly and avoiding sacks. And he made little-known Marquise Goodwin seem like a No.1 receiver.
Before Garoppolo became the starting quarterback, Goodwin averaged 2.5 catches per game and 52.5 receiving yards per game. After Garoppolo became the starting quarterback, Goodwin averaged 5.8 catches per game and 76.8 receiving yards per game.
Garoppolo’s numbers were excellent, too. In six appearances and five starts with the 49ers, he averaged 8.76 yards per attempt and completed 67.4 percent of his passes. Those averages ranked first and fourth, respectively, in the NFL among quarterbacks who attempted at least 175 passes last season.
In addition, Garoppolo threw seven touchdown passes and five interceptions — a modest ratio for a quarterback who otherwise played so well.
But the 49ers are probably most impressed by his win-loss record. He led the team to five consecutive wins.
Before he was the starter, they had lost 22 of their previous 26 games. They had no direction, no hope. They were wandering in football purgatory.
Now, they have their savior to guide them to the Promised Land.