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Jimmy Garoppolo Is a Worthy Gamble for the 49ers

San Francisco is rolling the dice on the soon-to-be 26-year-old that could cost them more than just a second-round pick

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After a blockbuster trade Monday night, it appears the Patriots and 49ers both believe they have their quarterbacks of the future. For New England, it’s Tom Brady. For San Francisco, it’s Brady’s longtime backup, the passer who looked to be waiting in the wings should the 40-year-old ever retire: Jimmy Garoppolo.

Take it away, Adam Schefter:

The Patriots spent much of the past year insisting that they would not trade Garoppolo, their second-round pick from the 2014 NFL draft. Now they have, and in return, New England will get a second-round pick, but one that will be significantly higher—the Pats picked Garoppolo with the 62nd overall selection three years ago, and the 49ers are 0-8, putting them on track to send back a second-rounder in the 33-to-36 range. That’s borderline first-round value, and the Patriots are used to picking in the late 20s or early 30s with their first selection. The 49ers are likely giving up more than just a second-round pick to get Garoppolo, though. The soon-to-be 26-year-old will require a pricey contract extension this offseason. Just think of the leverage Garoppolo has—the 49ers just traded a near-first-rounder for him! What is the team going to do, let him walk in free agency? Even if the Niners put him in this season and he struggles, it’s hard to think they’ll cut their losses so soon. San Francisco didn’t just give up a second-rounder for Garoppolo, but potentially tens of millions in cap value as well—GM John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan must believe he’s worth it.

Whether he is or not is a true roll of the dice. Though Garoppolo has been sensational in his two career starts, completing 71 percent of his passes for four touchdowns and zero picks and a 119.0 passer rating, the small sample size makes him difficult to evaluate. Garoppolo could easily be the second coming of Matt Cassel, who looked great taking over for Brady in 2008 but never blossomed in subsequent stops in Kansas City, Minnesota, and Tennessee. Shanahan reportedly was enamored with Garoppolo before the 2014 draft, so perhaps he still believes in what he saw on Garoppolo’s college tape years ago. But trading for a guy in need of a new contract is very different from drafting a rookie.

Garoppolo certainly won’t come into the best situation in football. Shanahan, who architected the Falcons’ world-beating offense last year, was supposed to be the offensive wunderkind to revive San Francisco, but the 49ers and their depleted roster have struggled in virtually all facets of the game en route to a winless start to the season. They came into Week 8 ranked 28th in offensive DVOA, and the play under center has been abysmal. Starters Brian Hoyer (who the Niners released after acquiring Garoppolo) and C.J. Beathard have thrown for a combined six touchdowns and seven interceptions while completing 56 percent of their passes for 6.0 yards per attempt and a 71.0 passer rating. It’s not been pretty, though no one would blame the Niners’ struggles solely on their two quarterbacks—the entire offense has been unable to move the ball. There is no doubt that Garoppolo will have a tougher time in the Bay than he did in New England—where he mostly held a clipboard and looked handsome—whether he earns the start this season or next.

But at least Garoppolo offers hope. Hoyer and Beathard were not the future in San Francisco, and if the 49ers don’t believe in UCLA’s Josh Rosen, USC’s Sam Darnold, or Wyoming’s Josh Allen—all top quarterback prospects who the team could have the chance to select in 2018, assuming they declare for the draft—then going with a guy who has shown high-level play at the pro level can’t be seen as a bad move.