SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- With free agency approaching (March 14), we're analyzing the quarterback position on the San Francisco 49ers:
2018 cap hits of top returnees:
Jimmy Garoppolo: $37 million
C.J. Beathard: $801,965
Pending free agents: None
Key stat: The profound effect Garoppolo had on the 49ers' passing game is no secret, and there is plenty of statistical evidence that shows just how much of an impact he made. From 2015 to Week 12 of 2017 (the week before Garoppolo became the starter), Niners quarterbacks ranked 30th in the league in total QBR (41.5) and passing yards per game (201.6) and 29th in passer rating (79.9) and yards per attempt (6.56). With Garoppolo over the final five weeks of 2017, the Niners were first in total QBR (80.0) and yards per attempt (8.44), third in passing yards per game (297) and 11th in passer rating (94.0). Sure, it's a small sample, but those stats were enough to make the Niners believers that they've finally, mercifully, found their franchise quarterback.
Money matters: Only time will tell if the 49ers' massive investment in Garoppolo will pay off. The team did not spend much money on the position in 2017, as it waited to seek a quarterback it could believe in long-term. Garoppolo needed just five games to earn a record-setting contract in terms of average annual value ($27.5 million per year). That contract comes with plenty of risk, though the 49ers can realistically get out of it in two years if it doesn't work out. That isn't the plan, though. The Niners believe that Garoppolo will continue to improve, and his contract might turn into a bargain as other top quarterbacks get bigger contracts in the coming years. Given their copious cap space and their longstanding need at the position, it's a financial risk worth taking for the 49ers.
Big picture: Coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch always targeted this offseason as the time to land their No. 1 quarterback. Every move they made last year was geared toward that goal. Then, in late October, the New England Patriots called, and as Lynch has said, it took the 49ers all of about 10 minutes to say yes to making a deal. Was there some luck involved in that? Undoubtedly. But to their credit, the 49ers put themselves in position to make that move at any time by not forcing the issue and drafting or signing a quarterback they didn't believe in. Grabbing Beathard in the third round also appears to be a worthwhile investment, as he look capable of becoming a solid NFL backup. With Garoppolo in place, the 49ers finally believe they have the stability they've long been seeking at the game's most important position. While that's mostly based on optimism right now, it's better than any of their recent alternatives.
The game plan: The 49ers didn't waste any time executing their game plan for the position this offseason, a plan that consisted simply of signing Garoppolo to a big-money extension. In fact, quarterback is one of the few areas on the team in which we can safely say they won't be making any major moves, though we can't rule out the possibility of adding another young arm to compete and develop. Garoppolo is the present and future starter, and Beathard did enough in his handful of starts last season to earn first crack at the backup job. Both are under team control for at least the next three seasons. More importantly, the Niners hope that having Garoppolo in place will make them more appealing to top free agents at other positions as they continue to build the roster.