Fans, coaches, and players know Jimmy Garoppolo.
They know his strengths — the ones that were a big part of the Niners’ successes in 2019 and 2021, leading to a vocal group of fans calling for him to start before Trey Lance’s broken ankle.
They also know his weaknesses — the reasons Lance was starting in the first place.
There’s simply not much to be discovered about the 30-year-old quarterback. He is what he is. He’s good, but he’s not great.
Yet all week, I can’t shake a strange question:
What Jimmy G will the 49ers get for the rest of this season?
The Niners No. 10 has been, effectively, two quarterbacks since he arrived in San Francisco.
There was the Garoppolo we’ve come to know and expect since he signed what was once the NFL’s largest contract in the offseason before the 2018 season.
But what if Garoppolo could go back to being the quarterback that arrived in San Francisco midway through the 2017 season?
That Garoppolo was a freewheeler. He didn’t know the playbook — even the simplified one head coach Kyle Shanahan installed for him, so he pushed the ball all over the field, including deep.
That Garoppolo was fun. That Garoppolo brought the Niners organization back to life. The Niners could use that Garoppolo in 2022.
Garoppolo took over the starting job in 2017 after the starter (then CJ Beathard) was injured in a game in the rain against the Seahawks at Levi’s Stadium.
The Niners won their final five games of the season under Garoppolo. He threw for six touchdowns and was intercepted five times during that stretch, but for a team that was desperate for something good — anything — after years of misery, Garoppolo provided it.
“I love doing that stuff,” Garoppolo said of his swashbuckling play. “In ‘17, there was a freedom where me, the receivers, tight ends, we had a good chemistry going. And when you get that with offensive skills and a quarterback, it makes for a tough offense.” ”
Then he changed. We only saw flashes of that 2017 Garoppolo once he signed his long-term contract, of which he is now in his final season.
He didn’t push the ball deep down the field as often. He stopped throwing to the sideline. Even his intermediate passing percentage went down.
Was this the true Garoppolo, or was it Shanahan coaching the fun out of his quarterback?
The interceptable passes, it should be noted, were not coached away. Soon, the risk was not countered by significant reward, as there was in 2017.
“In ’17 I was learning the offense, so Kyle would call some plays and I wouldn’t know exactly how to read it, but you’d kind of figure it out as you went,” Garoppolo said. “Just the more and more that you learn in the offense and get the knowledge of the offense, I start to figure out what Kyle’s thinking and vice versa, but there’s obviously just some back and forth between the play caller and quarterback.”
The rest of the NFL is also wondering which Garoppolo the Niners will get in 2022.
Because if the 49ers’ once-again starting quarterback is once again the quarterback he was last year, the rest of the NFC — much less the NFL — will only have to worry about the Niners so much.
If that 2017 Garoppolo is back, well, that’s something that will need to be addressed.
That could entirely change the expectations around these Niners.
There are two ways to look at Garoppolo’s 2022 reprise: He has everything or nothing to lose over these 15 games he has under that big Niners contract.
Either way, here’s hoping that he lets it rip.
“I’d love that,” Garoppolo said. “I think we’ll see that as we go forward, but I don’t know, the more freedom you have as a quarterback, obviously you play better, you’re more confident and good things will happen.”