The San Francisco 49ers believe they found the future of their franchise in Jimmy Garoppolo, and they showed how deep their faith runs with a massive deal.
General manager John Lynch could have been conservative. Then again, the former hard-hitting safety was never known for his meekness.
Lynch, beginning his second year on a major rebuild in San Francisco, had a litany of options at his disposal. He could have placed the franchise tag on quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, a 26-year-old who has won all seven of his NFL starts. Considering the 49ers have more than $110 million in projected cap space this offseason, it wouldn’t have hamstrung any of his other plans in free agency.
Instead, Lynch showed just how much he and the 49ers believe in Garoppolo, signing him to a record five-year deal worth $137.5 million. In both total and average annual value, it is the largest pact in NFL history.
For Garoppolo, it’s a damn nice payday for someone with ample potential and yet plenty to prove. For the 49ers, the risk is evident but the reward is as well. If the organization believes this much in the player, it’s wise to lock him up now instead of waiting for the price to continually rise.
San Francisco had little reason not to make this deal. If Garoppolo flops, it can presumably move on in a few years once the guaranteed money lessens. If Garoppolo turns into the star they believe him to be, the 49ers will have him on what is considered a cheap deal by 2020.
Lynch also realizes that San Francisco’s contention window is beginning to open, but it can only be slightly cracked without long-term stability at the game’s most important position. Pairing him with a young, innovative head coach in Kyle Shanahan gives the 49ers a power couple that is coming along at the right time, with the Seattle Seahawks re-tooling and the Arizona Cardinals hitting the reset button.
While some will fret about the hefty contract for a relatively unproven player, it’s a wasted exercise. The 49ers are paying for what they believe Garoppolo will become, instead of what he has already been. It’s a wise gamble, especially when compared to free agency, which largely rewards past performance without properly weighing future impact.
If San Francisco is going to return to its glory days, Garoppolo is a good bet to hedge on. Nobody in recent history has enjoyed a better tutelage, getting almost four seasons of sitting in a meeting room with Tom Brady. If Lynch can continue adding weapons around him, particularly on the outside, Garoppolo will be in an ideal situation by the bay after ripening on the vine in Foxborough.
Ultimately, the 49ers secured their future by believing a small sample size will extrapolate over the long haul. It’s bold and it’s a risk, but it could also have San Francisco set up for years.