The San Francisco 49ers might be tempted by the potential availability of a quarterback like Dak Prescott or Deshaun Watson, and they'd be silly not to pursue a perceived upgrade because starter Jimmy Garoppolo has lacked consistency and durability in San Francisco.
But that doesn't mean the 49ers can't win with a healthy Garoppolo, who undoubtedly comes cheaper than those potential upgrades.
And that really matters because the Niners are projected by Spotrac to enter the 2021 offseason with merely $11.4 million in salary-cap space and key players Trent Williams, Richard Sherman, Solomon Thomas, Jaquiski Tartt, Kyle Juszczyk and practically every cornerback on the roster scheduled to hit free agency next month.
They also possess the No. 12 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft, which is a bonus for a team that won 13 games just a year ago before injuries ravaged the roster in 2020.
The 49ers are a run-oriented, defensively driven team. That formula got them to the Super Bowl 12 months ago. It even had them leading the Kansas City Chiefs by a double-digit margin in the fourth quarter of that game.
Garoppolo didn't play well in that fourth quarter, but the 49ers likely still would have won their first title in a quarter-century if not for the fact that head coach Kyle Shanahan stepped off the gas and made several poor decisions that let the Chiefs come back to win.
That alone is proof San Francisco can succeed with Garoppolo, who would cost a reasonable-by-current-standards $26.4 million in 2021. The $2.8 million hit associated with parting ways isn't overly injurious, but it would be a far-from-ideal cost when combined with whatever they'd owe Prescott (likely at least $33 million per year) or whatever they'd have to give up for Watson (potentially three-plus first-round picks).
Garoppolo's 2018 season—his first as a Week 1 starter in the NFL—was wiped out almost entirely by a torn ACL, and his 2020 campaign was derailed by a pair of ankle injuries. But in 2019, he was the NFL's eighth-highest-rated qualified passer, he posted the third-highest completion percentage in the NFC, and his 8.4 yards-per-attempt average ranked third in the league.
During the final six weeks of that season, the 2014 second-round pick completed a league-high 76.2 percent of his deep passes for a 117.7 rating. During the final seven weeks, no quarterback who threw more than 20 passes in the fourth quarter of one-score games (or in overtime) had a higher passer rating than Jimmy G. And his full-season third-down completion rate of 69.2 percent topped all qualified passers.
He wasn't close to as effective when he took the field between ankle injuries in 2020, but it was also obvious the 29-year-old was far from 100 percent.
Altogether, the 49ers have won 22 of his 30 starts with the team. He deserves another shot at recapturing the magic we saw from him down the stretch in 2019.
Again, none of this means Shanahan and general manager John Lynch should be satisfied with the status quo at quarterback.
It's a cliche, but you have to explore every opportunity to improve, and Watson, in particular, could represent a clear upgrade. Is that upgrade worth several first-round picks? Maybe not when you consider Shanahan's effective system with Garoppolo, as well as the promise shown in his only full season as an NFL starter.
Still, it's possible Watson will favor the 49ers over other suitors and use his no-trade clause to force the Houston Texans to accept an undervalue trade offer from San Francisco. That's not an impossibility considering the talent on the 49ers roster, though the new regime in Houston insists it does not intend to trade the 25-year-old superstar.
So don't be surprised if the 49ers give Garoppolo another shot in 2021, and don't be shocked if he performs well enough to help them rejoin the Super Bowl picture next January and February.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012. Follow him on Twitter: @Brad_Gagnon.