SANTA CLARA (AP) — Jimmy Garoppolo sat down on the dais in between San Francisco general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan, leaned into the microphone and thanked the 49ers and the New England Patriots for the trade that gives him a chance to be a starter in the NFL.
He already passed his first test.
“Kyle will tell you a great quality in a quarterback is taking charge,” Lynch said. “I thought I was going to go first.”
After waiting 3 1/2 years as Tom Brady’s backup in New England, Garoppolo is ready to have the chance to be the starting quarterback of his own team after being traded to San Francisco for a 2018 second-round draft pick.
Garoppolo started two games during his time with the Patriots and has thrown just four passes since getting hurt in his second start in Week 2 of the 2016 season.
“I’m eager to get out there and show what I can do on a Sunday,” Garoppolo said. “This league is tough. It really is. When you get your opportunity, you have to take advantage of it because you don’t know when you’ll get another.”
That was the feeling as well for the 49ers (0-8), who are off to the worst start in franchise history in the first season under the leadership of Shanahan and Lynch.
They could have waited until free agency and tried to sign Garoppolo without giving up a valuable draft pick. They also could have targeted a more proven player like Kirk Cousins or opted to use what should be a high draft pick on a quarterback.
Instead, they got a head start on the rebuilding process by acquiring a player they initially tried to get in the offseason but were quickly shot down by the Patriots before they could even make an offer.
“An unbelievable opportunity came our way in the midst of what has really been a tough season,” Lynch said. “Where we are right now is not fun. ... Is that going to fix all our ills? Absolutely not. We had the opportunity to get better as an organization and we took advantage of that.”
Shanahan has had his eyes on Garoppolo since the draft process in 2014 when Shanahan was offensive coordinator in Cleveland. He ranked Garoppolo as one of the top two quarterbacks in that draft but the Browns ended up using their first-round pick on Johnny Manziel instead.
“It starts with ability,” Shanahan said. “Jimmy has the ability to make plays with his legs and he’s a very good thrower. Most importantly he hangs in that pocket, keeps his eyes downfield and is up for any challenge.”
Garoppolo has little NFL game film to go on but his performance in those two starts last year when Brady was suspended was impressive. He completed 42 of 59 passes for 496 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.
The Niners also looked at his preseason work and at his college tape at Eastern Illinois and believe he answers the questions they have had at quarterback ever since Colin Kaepernick started regressing following a stellar 2013 campaign.
“I don’t think you have to be some quarterback savant to see, albeit in limited time, he’s very impressive,” Lynch said. “You have to love the pedigree, where he came from, the organization.”
Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert split the quarterback duties in San Francisco the past two seasons before the new regime decided to go in a different direction. The Niners tried to acquire Garoppolo in the offseason but were unable to and signed free agent Brian Hoyer and drafted C.J. Beathard in the third round instead.
Hoyer, who also began his career as Brady’s backup in New England, started the first six games before being benched for Beathard. Hoyer was never viewed as a long-term option and Beathard struggled in his two starts although he was hampered by a banged-up offensive line that left him under relentless pressure.
Beathard will remain the starter at least for this week’s game against Arizona as Garoppolo learns the new offense.
Even with the trade, the Niners still are well-stocked for the draft. They have New Orleans’ pick in the second round, an extra third-rounder from Chicago and a seventh-rounder from Kansas City.
San Francisco also is projected to have more than $100 million in salary cap room, which provides ample space to sign Garoppolo to a long-term deal before he hits free agency or use the franchise tag on him if they can’t.
The Patriots weren’t eager to get rid of Garoppolo and turned down potential deals in the offseason in hopes they could groom him to eventually replace the 40-year-old Brady.
But with Garoppolo hitting free agency next offseason and looking for a chance to start, that looked increasingly difficult to pull off so the Patriots made the move.
“We had probably had, in my opinion, the best quarterback situation in the league for the last, call it 2½ years,” coach Bill Belichick said. “It’s just not sustainable given the way that things are set up. It’s definitely not something that we wanted to walk away from and I felt like we rode it out as long as we could. We, over a period of time, explored every option possible to try and sustain it. But at this point felt like we had to make a decision.”