With trade for Garoppolo, 49ers finally ditch backwards team-building strategy

Photo courtesy of @MarcusSanz via Niners Nation

For a team that’s 0-8, with an uncomfortably large number of their better players suffering injuries severe enough to miss multiple games or the rest of the season, the 49ers seem pretty smart.

Relatively speaking, anyway. Because over the previous three seasons, one could easily argue that the franchise, from top to bottom, was engaging in some of the dumbest behavior possible.

At the beginning of last year, the 49ers’ goal should’ve been to find their franchise quarterback. They failed. At the beginning of this season, the goal still stood. They neglected to draft a quarterback in the first round, indicating that Kyle Shanahan didn’t think much of Mitchell Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes, DeShaun Watson, or any of the others — other than C.J. Beathard, who the team somewhat surprisingly took in the third round.

Beathard still has the chance to develop, probably at a pace more suited to his skill set, because the 49ers pulled off the biggest trade of the year yesterday in acquiring Jimmy Garoppolo from the Patriots for a second round pick in the 2018 draft.

Similar to when they signed Kyle Shanahan, I am not just optimistic about this move … I believe this was the best possible acquisition they could’ve made (and wrote as much back in February), given their circumstances and what is/was available.

That’s right, 49ers have done exactly what I suggested in signing Shanahan and trading for Garoppolo, not long after firing Trent Baalke (something I was advocated for years before it was finally done).

If this ship goes down, I’m going down with it in this instance. Because for the first time since 2013, I’m on board with what they’re doing.

This effectively closes the door on Kirk Cousins

Well, provided the 49ers can work out a long-term deal with Garoppolo, that is. And since Shanahan was able to make Cousins into a franchise (at least in terms of salary) quarterback, and Matt Ryan an MVP, Garoppolo would be nuts to not take the 49ers’ money — in part because they have so much of it available, but also because getting first-team practice reps under Shanahan for the next several years will undoubtedly make Garoppolo a better quarterback than he already has shown himself to be in the few chances he was allowed in New England.

To say I was 100% against putting the team’s hopes into Cousins isn’t exactly true … let’s say 98%. Is Cousins an above-average starter? Yes. Is he accurate? Yes. But I have never gotten the feeling watching Cousins play that this is someone who can win consecutive playoff games unless the rest of the team around him is nearly unbeatable. His ceiling is higher than most, and perhaps he’d rise even higher if he reunited with Shanahan, but Garoppolo could soar ahead of Cousins and become a top-five quarterback over the next few years.

Yes, that’s some completely subjective speculation.

But after watching Cousins for the last few years, and noticing how shaky he looked at times when facing the 49ers a few weeks ago, it’s impossible to me to make the leap required to say he should be making around $30 million per year. The 49ers have cap space. Lots of it. But once they start trying to contend, that space will vanish as quickly as the cash my grandparents used to include in my birthday cards years ago.

Plus, the waiting game with Cousins would’ve been excruciating for a team without much to bank on otherwise. Generally NFL teams don’t lose their franchise quarterbacks, and Washington may have done whatever it could to extend Cousins. Now the 49ers don’t have to worry about what Washington will do, what Cousins wants to be paid, or fighting other teams for his services.

Cousins, 29, is also a little over three years older than Garoppolo, which is important for a team that still has a solid two years of acquisitions and growth to go before they can approach relevancy. That is, if the first eight games of this year is any clue, as the team’s lack of depth and star talent makes keeping games competitive more difficult with each passing week.

The mental edge is incalculable

We’ll get to how outstanding this trade was just from an “x-for-y” standpoint. But having the future quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers in the building is going to settle everything down, something this franchise has needed since moving to Levi’s.

The roster can be built around Garoppolo’s strengths, instead of Trent Baalke’s backwards philosophy of loading up on assets and figuring any decent quarterback could thrive based on the cumulative total of the “talent” — ahem — he amassed. This, despite the fact that Baalke wasn’t exactly building the team toward a specific scheme, in part because of the coaching carousel he helped create and because his passion was clearly tilted toward the defensive side.

An NFL team’s identity is based almost solely on the quarterback, unless its defense is historically great (and that’s usually a short-term deal). Garoppolo may be an unproven commodity, with an excellent small-sample-size resume for the NFL’s marquee team, but his presence will make it much easier to attract free agents. And if his intangibles match his physical gifts, the team will rally around a central figure knowing he’ll make their lives easier and their paychecks larger with each win.

What a heist!

I’m not sure if the 49ers are exactly tanking as much as Baalke tanked them himself before the year began, with terrible drafting and a constant roster churn that produced a lot more rough than diamonds. It’s impossible to create a winner out of thin air when the cupboard is bare and over half the roster is new to the team in 2017.

But this 0-8 record is already paying dividends, as the Patriots saw their chance to recoup some value from Garoppolo with the 49ers’ second round pick, which should be in the No. 33-35 range.

Tom Brady is still great, and paying two quarterbacks eight figures wasn’t tenable, especially with the Patriots’ defensive needs so obvious this year, so they jumped at the chance to trade a quarterback who, months ago, was supposedly worth MULTIPLE first round selections.

Not quite the gamble people are making it out to be

Garoppolo’s impending free agency could throw a wrench into a trade that at the moment looks like a perfect transaction, but so what? If his agent won’t agree to a reasonable offer from Paraag Marathe and John Lynch, or the personalities of Garoppolo and Shanahan don’t mesh (which seems highly unlikely, since Shanahan pulls the strings in Santa Clara and clearly prized Garoppolo), they can always reconsider going after Cousins, or grab one of the top available quarterbacks in the 2018 draft with a top-three pick (as long as Garoppolo doesn’t show up after the bye and ruin this year’s tankapalooza by winning a few games).

And as high as the 49ers’ picks will be in each round, giving up a second-rounder isn’t quite as drastic as the YouTube scouts might tell you. The 49ers haven’t even had a pick in the second round since 2015, when Baalke took Jaquiski Tartt. Before Tartt, their second pick picks over the last decade were:

  • 2014: Carlos Hyde (garbage time superstar who drops passes when he sees oncoming defenders and probably won’t be with the team next year)
  • 2013: Tank Carradine (any year now!)
  • 2013: Vance McDonald (three catches this season for Pittsburgh)
  • 2012: LaMichael James (thanks for the Super Bowl fumble)
  • 2011: Colin Kaepernick (best of the bunch who the 49ers were intent on sabotaging once they soured on Jim Harbaugh)
  • 2010: Taylor Mays (biceps … and not much else)
  • 2008: Chilo Rachal (gave up like 18 sacks to Aldon Smith in 2012, Rachal’s last year in the NFL)

If Garoppolo ever becomes even close to Cousins’ equal, you do this trade every single time.

Now comes the hard part: building a team around him when your best offensive player (Joe Staley) is in the twilight of his career and taking a beating trying to keep his team from allowing pick-sixes. However, there is at least a few bright spots. Matt Breida has shown flashes, Pierre Garçon is a strong presence with dependable hands and maniacal desire, George Kittle looks better every week, and Kyle Juszczyk is an outstanding fullback.

That means they still have to rebuild a broken offensive line, as well as find a true No. 1 receiver and another running back to replace Hyde. But with a still-outstanding set of draft picks, oodles of cap space, and a quarterback/coach combination that might not repel free agents for the first time in years, they are in a position to make a jump back to relevancy a lot sooner than I would’ve thought after watching them flail on Sunday in Philadelphia.


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