Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: 49ers' Calculated Gamble for Jimmy G Paying off

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterJanuary 29, 2020

SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 19: Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers looks on from the sidelines against the Green Bay Packers in the second half during the NFC Championship game at Levi's Stadium on January 19, 2020 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

How a second-round pick paved the Niners' road to the Super Bowl, the upcoming fight over the NFL schedule and why the big game may be the equivalent of a track meet. All that and more in this Super Bowl edition of the 10-Point Stance.


1. Square deal

Don't let anyone fool you. When the Patriots traded quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers in the middle of the 2017 season, few saw him as being capable of leading San Francisco to a Super Bowl less than three years later.

In fact, as a few scouts reminded me this week, there was a wide belief that if Bill Belichick was willing to trade a then-39-year-old Tom Brady's primary backup for only a second-round pick, something must be wrong with Garoppolo. When Belichick gets rid of someone, it's like the kiss of death.

It turns out those people were wrong.

"I loved my time there," Garoppolo said this week as he prepared to lead the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV, later adding, "I won two Super Bowls in my time there, so it wasn't a bad start to the career."

Not bad at all, Jimmy.

The trade that sent Garoppolo out west turned out to be one of the few in which both teams benefited. Belichick's gamble that Brady was far from done turned out to be right. The Patriots went to the Super Bowl that season, losing to the Eagles, then went back to the Super Bowl the following year, beating the Rams.

The deal did leave the Pats with a potential QB conundrum as Brady decides what to do in free agency. But it's hard to say the trade was a mistake since they got to two more Super Bowls in the ensuing years.

The 49ers, meanwhile, got a franchise quarterback who will likely be good for years to come for the relatively low price of a second-round pick.

It's been a stunning turnaround for an organization that had just released Colin Kaepernick the previous offseason. Prior to acquiring Garoppolo, the Niners were cycling through quarterbacks such as Matt Barkley, Brian Hoyer, Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard. 

Even after they acquired Garoppolo, the torn ACL he suffered early in the 2018 season forced them to endure another disappointing year.

But 2019 has been different. Garoppolo and the 49ers are both back in the title game, and it was all thanks to a trade few thought would work.

Football is funny that way.

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2. The never-ending deal

Elise Amendola/Associated Press

A hat tip to Darren Hartwell of NBC Sports Boston for this, but as simple as the deal might have appeared at first, the Patriots have been cashing in on the pick they received for Garoppolo for years:

• Patriots trade Garoppolo to Niners for 2018 No. 43 pick

• Patriots trade No. 43 to Detroit Lions for 2018 No. 51 and No. 117 picks

• Patriots trade No. 51 to Chicago Bears for 2018 No. 105 pick and 2019 No. 56 pick

• Patriots trade No. 105 to Cleveland Browns for 2018 No. 114 and No. 178 picks

• Patriots trade No. 114 to Lions for 2019 No. 73 pick

• Patriots draft linebacker Christian Sam with 2018 No. 178 pick

• Patriots trade 2018 No. 62 (own pick) and No. 117 for No. 56 pick,  and draft cornerback Duke Dawson

• Patriots trade 2019 No. 73 to Bears for No. 87, No. 162 and 2020 fourth-rounder

• Patriots trade 2019 No. 56 and No. 101 (own pick) to the Rams for No. 45 pick, draft cornerback Joejuan Williams

• Patriots draft running back Damien Harris with 2019 No. 87 pick

• Patriots trade 2019 No. 97 (own pick) and No. 162 to Rams for No. 101 and No. 133, draft offensive lineman Yodny Cajuste and quarterback Jarrett Stidham

That is...a lot.

The tentacles from this Niners-Pats deal are among the most extensive in the history of NFL trades, and they will potentially reverberate for years, maybe even decades.


3. Lead, and they will follow

Gail Burton/Associated Press

One thing that has always struck me when talking to 49ers players about Garoppolo is how much they respect him, and how they came to appreciate him almost immediately.

Cornerback Richard Sherman has mentioned this to me (and others) several times this season. On the whole, Niners players say Garoppolo is one of the fiercest competitors and most decent people they've ever played with. He's been able to command both the offense and the locker room the way other top quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees have, but minus the credit most franchise QBs get for being on that level.

It's time we start thinking of him in exactly that manner, especially if he plays well Sunday.


4. Don't blink

As impressive as the Niners defense has been this season, one NFC scout told B/R he believes San Francisco will have a difficult time accounting for Kansas City's overall speed.

"That's the fastest team I've ever seen," he said of the Chiefs.

Speed like that will put constant pressure on the 49ers, according to the scout, and they'll eventually crack.

Granted, that's all theoretical at this point, and the 49ers do have a knack for wrecking offensive lines. And a wrecked offensive line breaks up all of that speed.

The Niners aren't too slow themselves, according to Next Gen Stats, but how they deal with the Chiefs' speed likely will tell the story of the game. 


5. Take it easy

David J. Phillip/Associated Press

While spending some time around both teams this week, it's immediately apparent how loose they are.

Others during Super Bowl week have appeared more at ease—teams like the Buffalo Bills before Super Bowl XXV—but the Chiefs and Niners are close.

A big reason why are the coaches, neither of whom are trying to micromanage all of the personalities that are a part of these teams. The coaches trust their guys and seem willing to let the players be themselves.

It's a smart approach that has worked all season, so why change things now?


6. A step in the right direction

Steve Luciano/Associated Press

Katie Sowers, the first female and openly gay coach in Super Bowl history, is an assistant for the 49ers. Niners players absolutely rave about her.

Her presence at the Super Bowl is a welcome change for a league that, for much of its existence, has often not treated women and people of color well when it comes to coaching and management. That's a longer conversation for another day. 

Could Sowers make the move to head coach? Based on her abilities and the views of her players, yes, absolutely. All it would take is one progressive owner and team.

While there don't seem to be a lot of those in the NFL, the track record she is creating with the Niners will hopefully convince someone to give her the chance.


7. Hard bargain

Phil Long/Associated Press

The NFL and its players are currently in heavy negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement. One of the bigger sticking points (if not the biggest) is the league's desire for a 17-game season.

There's a chance it will happen, but it's far from a lock.

One team union representative said a number of his NFL brethren hate the idea of an expanded schedule because they believe an extra game would be physically devastating.

"It's a really tough sell right now," the rep said.

He doesn't see the union's stance changing soon and thinks the issue could spark a huge fight between the players and owners during the CBA talks. The current CBA is due to expire after the 2020 season.


8. No debate

David J. Phillip/Associated Press

One of the more ridiculous notions floating around Miami this week is that Chiefs coach Andy Reid needs to win this game to make it to the Hall of Fame.

Um, no.

He's already a Hall of Famer.

No, Reid hasn't always been great in the playoffs, and he sometimes manages a clock the way a toddler manages eating spaghetti and meatballs. But he took the Eagles to the NFC title game five times, advancing to the Super Bowl once. And he's has taken the Chiefs to the playoffs six times in seven seasons, losing the AFC title game last year to the Patriots.

Reid is the seventh-winningest coach in league history. He's transformed two different franchises into perennial playoff contenders. There isn't a lot to debate here beyond the lack of a ring, which isn't a requirement to reach Canton. He's a Hall of Famer regardless of whether he walks away Sunday with a win or a loss.


9. Baltimore's bumper crop

ORLANDO, FLORIDA - JANUARY 26: Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens reacts to winning MVP Trophy after the 2020 NFL Pro Bowl at Camping World Stadium on January 26, 2020 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
Mark Brown/Getty Images

If you were to pick one team that's a good bet to be at the Super Bowl next year, it's the Ravens, and not only because of Lamar Jackson.

Lost in their 14-2 regular season and stunning playoff loss to Tennessee is how well this team is set to contend for years to come. The Ravens have a deep roster with 13 Pro Bowlers, which tied the 2007 Cowboys for the most in NFL history, per the Elias Sports Bureau (via ESPN Stats & Info).

So long as Jackson stays healthy, Baltimore should be contending for trips to the Super Bowl for quite a while.


10. The All-Good Hands team

David J. Phillip/Associated Press

Who is the face of the league?

It's probably Patrick Mahomes, and if he plays well in this Super Bowl, it will definitely be him.

The way he has comported himself so far this week has been amazing. He gets every part of what it means to be an NFL quarterback, on and off the field. The maturity he needs to demonstrate, the need to speak for the league, the responsibility he has to lead his team in word and deed—all of it.

But he isn't the only candidate, and it has been years since the league had so many quality options. Besides Mahomes, Jackson and Garoppolo have strong cases to make. And what if OGs like Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady have great seasons next year? I'd even add Christian McCaffrey to the list of candidates.

In short, the NFL is poised to be carried well for a number of years with the stars it has on the field now. And for a league that all too often stubs its toe, that's a good security blanket to have.


Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL. 

(Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly asserted that the Patriots traded the second-round draft pick they received in the Jimmy Garoppolo trade was later traded to the Atlanta Falcons for receiver Mohamed Sanu. B/R regrets the error.)