After beating the Cowboys in absurd, idiotic, utterly incomprehensible fashion—that’s a compliment—Jimmy Garoppolo and Kyle Shanahan are still alive, figuratively and, one presumes, literally, though after that game, let’s check all pulses to confirm. We do not have time, space or the mental toughness to rehash how the 49ers won 23–17 in Dallas. But they did. They’ll now head to Green Bay for the NFL’s divisional round, and Garoppolo might just be the most interesting player left in the tournament.
Garoppolo just pulled off the only road win of the weekend, against a 12-win Cowboys team, yet many of his own fans would like to see him benched. He could win the Super Bowl, but his team is almost certainly moving on from him after this season. He threw the worst pass in this game—an interception that was equal parts high and awful, and started the Cowboys’ comeback—but also a couple of fantastic throws earlier. This is easy to forget now, because if you watched the 49ers-Cowboys game, it is hard to remember life before it, but last week Garoppolo engineered perhaps the best and most impressive second-half comeback of the season to get his team in the playoffs, against the Rams in L.A.
Jimmy G is no Aaron Rodgers. He is usually not the reason his team wins. But a team can certainly win with him. In an era when players try to push their way out no matter what their contract says, Garoppolo took a different route. The 49ers filed for divorce last year. Yet he is still living in the house and making the best of it.
For so long, teams seemed to have all the power, and they did what they wanted under the “It’s a business” umbrella explanation. Then players started to assert themselves. In Garoppolo’s case, the 49ers made a business decision, and he made a business decision not to complain about theirs. It speaks well of him, but it was smart, too. Moping would have made other teams wary.
Now? Garoppolo held off Trey Lance. He just won two huge games on the road. His flaws are as real as they were when Shanahan soured on him last year. But his strengths are more obvious now. The 49ers are going to have a hard time winning in Green Bay, especially if defensive stars Nick Bosa and Fred Warner can’t play because of injuries sustained Sunday in Dallas. But Shanahan and Garoppolo have both reestablished their value.
Last spring, Shanahan bet three first-round picks and his coaching future on Lance. That wager was understandable—Garoppolo has proven he isn’t a top-10 quarterback—and it might pay off in huge ways. But it now seems likely that, one offseason after the 49ers decided they would move on, Garoppolo will be the most appealing quarterback on the market.
Aaron Rodgers sounds much happier in Green Bay, where he plays with arguably the best roster in the NFL, than he did last year. The ever-calculating Rodgers has gone out of his way to praise general manager Brian Gutekunst for repairing their relationship. Russell Wilson might still want out of Seattle, but if the Seahawks decide they still want him (as they should), then what? Deshaun Watson is a better player than Garoppolo, but with the serious and disgusting sexual-assault allegations against him, teams should be wary of dealing for him, and it feels gross to even discuss it. Matt Ryan looks like he will get at least one more year in Atlanta.
We’ll see how it all plays out. But if Garoppolo turns out to be the best option, the 49ers should be able to get a haul for him. Colts general manager Chris Ballard, Browns GM Andrew Berry and Broncos GM George Paton are all smart executives with playoff-quality rosters and questions at quarterback, and they all should be looking hard at Garoppolo. Ballard can reasonably look at Garoppolo as an upgrade over Carson Wentz, who would make Indy a legit Super Bowl contender. Paton might take a swing at Rodgers, but if he isn’t available, Garoppolo is worth pursuing. Berry has said he will stick with Baker Mayfield, and a healthy, confident Mayfield is a viable playoff quarterback. But would you take him over Garoppolo right now?
Everybody wants a quarterback the caliber of Rodgers, Tom Brady or Patrick Mahomes, but most teams can’t find one. So they either overdraft or overpay in a trade. Ballard gave up at first-rounder and a third-rounder for Wentz, and at the end of the season the Colts didn’t trust him to throw a pass. The Panthers traded second-, fourth- and sixth-round picks for Sam Darnold, despite ample evidence that he is Sam Darnold.
Garoppolo is 30. He has played in a Super Bowl. His teams have won 70% of his starts. Most of the time, he looks like a good (not great) quarterback. He will start another playoff game next week because he was comfortable betting on himself. This offseason, some smart general manager will probably bet on him, too.