With Jimmy Garoppolo back in the starting lineup for tonight’s game against the Broncos, the San Francisco 49ers are right where they were at this point last year with a playoff-caliber roster being led by a veteran quarterback who is capable of playing deep into the winter.
But the winding, turbulent road that got them here has been months in the making. When Trey Lance went down for the season on Sept. 18 — suffering a fractured and dislocated ankle on a quarterback run against the Seahawks — it brought San Francisco full circle.
The Niners are still firmly committed to Lance for the future. But as Jimmy G prepares today to take his first snap as the starter since all the way back to Jan. 30 in the NFC Championship Game against the eventual Super Bowl-champion Rams, multiple sources involved detailed the various stops along the way.
Here is how we got here broken down point-by-point:
- Garoppolo is starting because Lance is out for 4-6 months following his injury last Sunday on a run/pass option that resulted in the QB running through the line of scrimmage. Lance’s injury is described as a triad, meaning he broke his fibula and tore his deltoid and syndesmotic ligaments in his ankle. Lance had successful surgery this past Monday for what the team called a fibula fracture and ligament disruption (the tearing of ligaments caused by dislocation).
- But just after their loss in the NFC title game, it was clear the 49ers were moving on from their playoff QB, handing the ball to Lance, for whom they sent massive future capital to trade up. Meanwhile, Garoppolo — on the books for a mostly non-guaranteed $25.6 million contract for the 2022 season only — was rehabbing a shoulder injury he had battled late in the season.
- Several QB-needy teams were interested in a potential trade for Garoppolo, with the Washington Commanders and the Indianapolis Colts as the most notable. Both teams eventually moved on to quarterbacks who did not need surgery, with Washington acquiring Carson Wentz from the Colts and Indianapolis later trading for Matt Ryan.
- By late February, it was clear rehab wasn’t working for Garoppolo and surgery was needed. To fight through a shoulder injury that affected his throwing late in the season — and would continue to affect him going forward if he did not have a procedure — it was not wise for his short-term and long-term health. The shoulder was a problem and with rest and rehab not helping, it would continue to be. And at just 30 years old, Garoppolo is looking at several more years on the field.
- Garoppolo and his team had a choice. They could opt for surgery in early March, which would ruin a trade market that was percolating for the 49ers and one that would likely net Garoppolo a new deal from a team that was prepared to commit to him. Or Garoppolo could put off surgery, allow the 49ers to trade him and cross his fingers that he could pass a physical. That scenario would then saddle his new team with a QB with a surgically repaired shoulder who could not throw until July. If Garoppolo opted for surgery, he would likely be saying goodbye to tens of millions of dollars this spring. The “choice” was obvious for his long-term health, despite a surgery negating a potential trade that would net the Niners a draft pick — Garoppolo needed to repair his shoulder, despite his desire to be a starting quarterback on a new team.
- Garoppolo had surgery on March 8 to repair a torn capsule in his throwing shoulder, a procedure performed by Dr. Neal ElAttrache, one of the nation’s leading shoulder specialists. Garoppolo did not throw until July but was mostly ready by camp. Jimmy G then used his time in training camp by throwing on the rehab field to strengthen his arm. Had a team traded for him, he would have participated on a limited basis in camp and then ramped up his activity. Instead, Garoppolo was off to the side, throwing in front of 49ers fans while his team participated in training camp practices.
- The 49ers, motivated to trade Garoppolo to reap a significant reward similar to the last time the team traded a starting QB, gave his agents permission to seek a trade in March. However, the unknowns surrounding Garoppolo’s health following surgery made it impossible even if Garoppolo had restructured his contract. Carolina eventually moved on to trade for Baker Mayfield, who was healthy by June after undergoing his own offseason shoulder surgery.
- With Lance now the 49ers’ starting quarterback and Garoppolo needing to throw — and it being in San Francisco’s best interests for Garoppolo to be healthy enough to trade — an agreement was made. Garoppolo had a license to work out in the 49ers facility while the team treated him with the utmost respect. Although it appeared somewhat awkward from an outside perspective, it also protected Jimmy G in the event he suffered an injury away from the facility. The agreement worked for both sides, and every day he threw, 49ers coaches and general manager John Lynch were able to watch him and see the progress in his rehabilitation, which was evident.
- As the training camp went on, there was no trade interest for Garoppolo. No other teams had a need at quarterback beside the Browns following Deshaun Watson’s 11-game suspension, and Cleveland lurked with interest only if Garoppolo was released, which is what most teams assumed would happen. Only that release never came. When Shanahan broached the topic of remaining in San Francisco with Garoppolo, it was clear that this was the best choice for all parties.
- The result was a restructured contract that gave Garoppolo $6.5 million fully guaranteed with the chance to make much more through incentives. Just today, he can earn $350,000 like he did last week by playing the bulk of the snaps and earning a win.
Unbelievably, after the parties had a very public and amicable goodbye, they are back together with Garoppolo as the 49ers’ starting quarterback.