49ers' Path to 2021 Success If They Stick with Jimmy Garoppolo at QB
We've already seen one big-name quarterback traded this offseason, and more could be on the way. The Detroit Lions sent Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for Jared Goff and a pair of first-round picks, and the Philadelphia Eagles could be close to moving Carson Wentz.
According to ESPN's Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter, a Wentz deal could come within the next few days. Might the San Francisco 49ers be one of the teams interested in the Eagles signal-caller? It's entirely possible.
Lions coach Dan Campbell told Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press that the 49ers were involved in talks for Stafford. According to Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer, however, San Francisco never made an official offer.
Whatever was or wasn't discussed between San Francisco and Detroit, Stafford isn't a 49er. Wentz might not be either, if he's even a target. If the 49ers are interested in moving on from Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback, there's no guarantee they'll actually be able to do so this offseason.
Financially, it wouldn't be an issue, as the 29-year-old has just $2.8 million in dead money left on his contract. However, San Francisco would still need to nail down an upgrade.
The 49ers need to prepare for the possibility that Garoppolo is the starter in 2021. Can they get back to the Super Bowl with him under center? Sure, but it's going to take a little work.
Here, we'll outline three steps San Francisco will need to take to rebound with Garoppolo under center next season.
This may seem like a common-sense step, and to a degree, it is. The 49ers had their 2020 campaign derailed by injuries to players such as Garoppolo, star tight end George Kittle, defensive centerpiece Nick Bosa and wideout Deebo Samuel.
Getting those players back to 100 percent in time for Week 1—and ensuring they stay there as long as possible—will be the first goal San Francisco needs to accomplish.
Garoppolo was limited to just six games last season, and he was fairly mediocre in them—he had a passer rating of 92.4—largely because weapons like Kittle and Samuel weren't always on the field.
The 49ers were mostly healthy in 2019, and Garoppolo played well enough to win 13 games and reach the Super Bowl. There's little reason to think he can't guide San Francisco back to a deep playoff run with the right supporting cast, but the team will have to get, and stay, healthy for him to have that.
Re-Sign Trent Williams
A big part of Garoppolo's supporting cast is his offensive line.
If the 49ers are going to keep him upright and away from pressure, they need their line to be in an optimal configuration. They will likely require re-signing left tackle Trent Williams, who allowed just four sacks in 2020, according to Pro Football Focus.
However, re-signing the 32-year-old isn't going to be an easy task. San Francisco is projected to have more than $21 million in cap space, but he is looking to gauge his value in free agency.
"It's been 11 years in the league. I have yet to see a franchise left tackle go to the open market. I think it would be interesting to kind of see what the value holds," Williams said, per Kyle Posey of Niners Nation.
Of course, the Oklahoma product is far from ruling out a San Francisco return.
"I’ve always maintained the same thing. I think San Francisco is my number one destination, and we'll see how things work out," he added.
Bringing Williams back into the fold would go a long way toward making Garoppolo the best quarterback he can be.
Reload the Defense and Running Game
San Francisco's best chance of success may come by utilizing the same formula that worked in 2019. The 49ers ran the ball well, played disciplined defense and allowed the game to come to Garoppolo. Running that formula back, though, will likely require some new additions in the offseason.
Among the 49ers veterans scheduled to reach free agency are cornerbacks Richard Sherman, Jason Verrett and K'Waun Williams, running backs Tevin Coleman and Jerick McKinnon, and defensive end Solomon Thomas.
As is the case with Williams, it would be wise to re-sign a couple of these key contributors, but the 49ers don't have the finances to bring everyone back. Instead, they'll have to examine budget options in free agency and focus on the draft.
Given the discounted salaries of rookies, it would be wise for the 49ers to place much of their draft focus on reloading the secondary and the backfield. If they can do that, they can forge a roster similar to the one that nearly took home the title at Super Bowl LIV.
*Contract and cap information via Spotrac.